Why Does Change Take So Damn Long?


From the New York Times:

With Cuba cautiously introducing free-market changes that have legalized hundreds of thousands of small private businesses over the past two years, new economic bonds between Cuba and the United States have formed, creating new challenges, new possibilities — and a more complicated debate over the embargo.

The longstanding logic has been that broad sanctions are necessary to suffocate the totalitarian government of Fidel and Raúl Castro. Now, especially for many Cubans who had previously stayed on the sidelines in the battle over Cuba policy, a new argument against the embargo is gaining currency — that the tentative move toward capitalism by the Cuban government could be sped up with more assistance from Americans.

Even as defenders of the embargo warn against providing the Cuban government with “economic lifelines,” some Cubans and exiles are advocating a fresh approach. The Obama administration already showed an openness to engagement with Cuba in 2009 by removing restrictions on travel and remittances for Cuban Americans. But with Fidel Castro, 86, retired and President Raúl Castro, 81, leading a bureaucracy that is divided on the pace and scope of change, many have begun urging President Obama to go further and update American policy by putting a priority on assistance for Cubans seeking more economic independence from the government.

There’s more>>>Changes in Cuba Create Support for Easing Embargo

(Photo above (c) New York Times, 2012)

Daring to Visit Our Wounds

havana's life
Havana’s Life (Photo credit: Giulia Barbero)

and those of our parents. Ana Hebra Flaster, “a writer working on a memoir about her family’s journey from Cuba to New England.”

I LIED to my father, told him we were on Cape Cod when, in fact, we were bouncing around the battered streets of Havana in our friend José’s 1953 Chevrolet Deluxe, the one with the new Toyota engine but no working gauges on the dash. Nothing about Cuba is easy. Not the politics, not the crazy convertible peso and definitely not the getting there. But as a Cuban-American trying to connect with the last twigs of our family tree in Havana, the biggest obstacle I faced was my father’s disapproval.

There’s more. . .

Caine’s Arcade


From Colossal:

This is the story of a nine year old boy named Caine who built an elaborate cardboard arcade inside his father’s used auto part store. A dollar gets you four plays, and two dollars gets you a five-hundred turn FUN PASS. Business was slow until independent filmmaker Nirvan Mullick spotted the arcade and plotted to change Caine’s life forever. Watch the short film and if you feel as weepy and joyous as I did, head over to his newly established scholarship fund. And can I just say, what an amazing dad to support, encourage, and allow his son to pretty much overtake his storefront for the sake of fun and creativity. (via mefi)

A Havana Welcome

English: Fishing at the Malecon at sunset. At ...
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(Author’s Note: The following is an excerpt from a work in progress, From Mountain Road to Easy Street, a novel or a memoir, still not sure. This is a first draft so I hope you can overlook any typos or imperfections. The action being described by the narrator corresponds to events that happened on a day like today thirty-three years ago. The previous installment can be found HERE. Thanks for reading).

“The next day we flew to Havana and the crew on the flight was the most serious crew of stewardesses I had ever seen. Attentive, but serious, like they didn’t care if you ever flew their airline again.

But when we landed and they opened the cabin door and I started walking down the steps and the Caribbean breeze hit my face and the smell of Cuba hit my nostrils like the aroma of an attic full of memories that you haven’t visited in a decade, I found myself crying and the emotion I felt wasn’t one of sadness or joy either, it was a mixture of the two, almost in equal proportion.  I looked around and I saw tears rolling down my father’s face and the other passengers were no different and I saw a black stewardess pretending that she had something caught in her eye but I suspected that, forgetting the instructions she had received, she was caught in the enormity of the moment for a group of returning members of a dysfunctional family searching for meaning, and connections and some peace under the blue of tropical sky.

“The same tension we had felt in Mexico followed us through customs. The fact that most people we came in contact with wore the olive green of the Cuban law enforcement apparatus –- which had not been the case in Merida -– was a stark reminder that we were back, voluntarily, in the island-prison everyone had fought hard to escape. I noticed how the older members of our traveling party grew more apprehensive, especially when it was time to open up the bags to be inspected before proceeding. Again, the demeanor of those responsible for examining the contents was striking in its seriousness. Not a smile, not a word, except the very necessary, not even a look into our eyes as if we were all dangerously contagious and a friendly exchange of any sort would be fatal.

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A Valentine’s Day Like No Other


Author’s note: This was first published 2/14/10. It is still my reality, that of millions of Cubans and others around the world who’ve suffered the same fate as I throughout our imperfect history.
Cuban refugees arriving in crowded boats durin...
Image via Wikipedia

Forty one years ago today I became an exile.

I left Cuba on a day like today as a fourteen-year-old with my seventeen-year-old sister, traveling through Spain to get to the promised land: Southern California. This is where our cousins — the ones that sent for us — had settled. An American friend of theirs from church had donated the money to pay for my airfare. My cousins had paid for my sister’s.

In Spain we stayed with friends that were making the same trip but who were ahead of us by a couple of months. My parents were to join us later in Los Angeles, if everything worked out. It was not until years later that I was able to comprehend how big an if that had been.

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When a Close Relative Dies in Cuba


You can’t grieve with the rest of the family, you can’t call and sometimes you don’t find out for days. If you live here, you can’t really travel there overnight.

Last week my uncle on my mother’s side died in Cuba. Last night it was my aunt on my father’s. The older generation is dying off.

Justo and Maria Teresa. I had not seen either one of them in over thirty years. I remember their sweetness and their apolitical nature. These two belonged to the family faction that continued talking to us, even after my parents announced their plans to apply for an exit visa to go North. On my Dad’s side, Maria Teresa was the exception. Even though she was married to a military man, my aunt kept coming around and we continued visiting her.

My Mom’s side of the family was less involved in the Castro government. They were less “political,” so not much changed between us, even after our status was degraded from typical citizens to counter-revolutionary worms on account of our political preferences and our travel plans.

Whenever I hear that someone in my family has died, I always picture the reunion on the other side with those that left before. These must be happy reunions, I imagine, because before the Castro brothers decided to impose their brand of paradise on our little paradise, our family got along just fine. The split in the family started showing in the early Sixties, right around the time that the Cuban Revolution was hijacked by a bunch of hoodlums.

Right around that time, the effects of the new socio-political order tore up the work that previous generations had done to keep us together.

Each time a relative dies over there, I’m reminded of the first time it happened after we had settled here in 1970. I was when my grandfather died.  It was in 1976. We heard about it from a cousin in Florida. It was a very painful experience for my father who adored Grandpa Baldomero. Somehow he managed to find out the name of the funeral home in Havana where the service was being held. He called, desperate to connect to his mother, older brother and three sisters. He asked for his older brother by name, when the funeral director answered the phone. He waited for any member of the family to come to the phone.

A few minutes the director was back on the phone. There was no one there by that name, he informed my father — even after he agreed originally to go get one of his relatives.

I remember Dad’s cries filling our railroad apartment in Union City after he hung up the phone. The sight of a crying father really impresses a teenager. I never forgot it.

We didn’t talk about it afterward but we all knew what had happened. My uncle was the national director of some Communist ministry. He didn’t want to appear to have a relationship with anyone who had renounced the Revolution that he so valued. A call from the United States, even if from a grieving brother, could compromise your revolutionary standing. My Dad eventually, if not instantly, forgave my uncle. He understood his blind, political fanaticism. Me, I’m not so sure.

Families members on different sides of a political — and physical — gulf. The reality of life in exile.

Everything Changed Then


(Author’s Note: The following is an excerpt from a work in progress, From Mountain Road to Easy Street, a fictionalized memoir. This is the final scene in this chapter. These are the most difficult words I’ve ever written. The action being described by the narrator corresponds to events that happened on a day like today thirty one-years ago. The 1,800 + paragraph without a break is no accident. It felt as if I wrote it without breathing. The previous installments can be found HERE, HERE and HERE. Thanks for reading).

“The drive west to San Juan y Martinez would normally take a little over two hours. It lasted a lot longer. At times I feel that I am still driving the Carretera Central, the distances measured in inches not kilometers, its stretches and turns, holding, but refusing to release, the answers to the central questions of my life, the original destination continuing to elude me. Continue reading