Cuba: Then and Now

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As the daughter of a Cuban refugee, this recent Foreign Policy article caught my eye.

The founding generation of Cuban émigrés[…]arrived in Miami traumatized, their lives uprooted and their homes and possessions confiscated. They rarely if ever returned to the island, and in their long absence constructed a nostalgic image of Cuba that bore little resemblance to reality. They looked at the American policy toward Cuba as a means of catharsis and compensation; with their support, the embargo went from being a means of achieving a policy — the strategic containment of communism — to a policy goal unto itself.

My mother was born in Havana, Cuba.  Her father was a police officer and the family lived happily and comfortably.  That all changed in 1959, the year of the Cuban Revolution.  My abuela (grandmother) hated Castro, her sister supported him.  The revolution divided families, emotionally and physically.  In 1961, at the age of 11, my mother came to the United States with her older brother.  My grandparents stayed behind.  It would be four years until they were reunited.

I grew up in an anti-Castro house.  My grandparents swore they would not return to the island until Castro was gone.  They voted Republican, as did many Cuban Americans, because they never forgave President Kennedy for the botched Bay of Pigs invasion.  But times change, and over the years I have seen my mother’s views on Cuban policy evolve.  She’s seen the failure of the economic embargo and she now believes in normalizing relations.  She is not alone.

Consider the results of a December 2008 poll of Cuban-Americans in Florida’s Miami-Dade County conducted by the Institute for Public Opinion Research at Florida International University, which found that 55 percent of the respondents were in favor of lifting the embargo — the first time a majority had said so since the institute started polling in 1991. A full 65 percent were in favor of the United States both resuming diplomatic relations with Cuba and loosening the additional restrictions placed on travel to and trade with the island by the George W. Bush administration in 2003.

It has been nearly 50 years since my mother set foot on Cuban soil.  President Obama has already eased travel restrictions to the island, allowing people like me to visit family.  Next year I plan to do just that, and I hope that my mother will come with me.