Gender & Identity, Life

No, I don’t want to hear about your fucking trip to Cuba

Those bastards took away my mother's childhood. They took away my father's youth.

My parents are Cuban refugees.

My dad was a leader in the student-led resistance to the Cuban revolution. One day he called home to tell his mom that he was going to be late, and when his mom told him “don’t worry about it,” he knew he could literally never go home again. He went underground that day.

By the time he was 25, it was too risky for him to keep up his exploits. Rogelio “Francisco” Gonzalez Corzo, the head of their group, had been murdered by the communists, and my dad had already had one too many escapes with death. So, he was forced to seek refuge in the Venezuelan Embassy, and pray that they could get him out. For several months, my dad, and a group of several dozen other Cubans, were stuck Assange-style in the Venezuelan Embassy in Havana, waiting to escape Cuba to Venezuela with only the clothes on their backs.

They swapped clothes amongst them, so they wouldn’t be stuck wearing the same thing they had come into the Embassy with for weeks on end. I don’t know how my dad survived the ride from the Embassy to the airport. I think if it were me, I would have died from the anxiety.

When my mom was 12, she was put on a boat to New Jersey with the Salesian nuns fleeing the Castro regime, and wouldn’t see her family for another year. One of the nuns stole the few pieces of gold my grandparents had given her to smuggle out.

When I was 12, I asked my mom why it had to be her, and not one of her older siblings. She said that my grandparents did what they thought was best at the time.

In the years since, I’ve gathered that my grandparents failed at least twice before fleeing, because every time, my oldest aunt would tell the nuns at school (who were communists). So, my grandparents started having to keep my aunt home from school, because that was the kind of thing that could get my grandfather sent to jail (at best), or maybe even killed. By that time, two of my mom’s older brothers were at a Salesian seminary abroad. I think my oldest uncle might have already been 18 by then, too, so the next one up to bat was my mom.

Because of her minor status living alone in the US, she was given special priority by the US government and was able to get the rest of her family out of Cuba within the year. Many others weren’t (and aren’t) that lucky.

Her younger brother, my tio Juan, was put on a plane a few months after my mom left with specific instructions to not call his uncle when he landed in Miami, because my grandfather told him ‘he has enough kids already.’

When he landed, he was picked up by Operation Pedro Pan, which took him to a camp where the boys his age were being housed. He would stay there for several weeks, until he found out he was going to be sent to Montana. He had the presence of mind to look at a map, and when he saw where it was and realized how cold it would be, his 10 year old brain said ‘fuck that,’ and called his uncle to come get him. Luckily, he only had to stay with my great-uncle for a few weeks, because my grandparents made it to Miami with the rest of the kids soon after.

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My mom says she was lucky though, that no matter how traumatizing her year in New Jersey was, the struggles her family went through in the first year in America were worse.

In the decades since coming to the US, my dad has dedicated himself to exposing the human rights abuses of the Castro regime. For over 30 years, my dad and his Centro Democratico would hold yearly fundraisers to crowdfund their trips to Geneva, where year after year, they would present the violations of the Castro regime to the UN Commission on Human Rights, until it was dissolved in 2006.

Growing up, my dad always told me how lucky he was, because he was the only one of his friends to never have been put in jail. He had only been arrested once, and miraculously released. My dad’s best friend was El Padre Loredo, the first priest to be imprisoned by the regime and spent over twenty years in prison. There was Alcides, who survived two months in a drawer, so the experiment was scrapped and the torture method wasn’t used on others. There was Alberto, who spent 32 years in prison. There was Prida, whose first name I can’t remember, who would come over to our house and talk about the torture he endured as a political prisoner, and how the Florida Citrus canker was a plot of the Cuban government in equal measure.

The Plantados were a fixture of my childhood. The Plantados, or the the immovable ones, spent decades in prison for refusing to compromise their morals. I personally know the three men named in the Wiki article, particularly El Negro Penalver as they called him, who was a close friend of my dad’s until his death a few years ago. Armando’s wife has been a close friend of my mom’s for over 40 years. Angel Mora used to tell 9-year-old me about the struggle to reintegrate into his family and society, once he was released and exiled.

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I still remember vividly the first time someone talked about visiting Cuba for tourism. It was one night, over a decade ago, someone asked one of my cousin if she would go to Cuba. This cousin wasn’t raised in Miami and is only half Cuban. Her response at the time was a vague denial, something about not being able to do that to her mom but how she’d like to one day. I was maybe 14 at the time, but I remember being incensed.

Two years ago, a girl I was interning with in Doha asked me for tips to see ‘the real Cuba’ on her upcoming trip. I told her that was impossible, because as a tourist, she would never see ‘the real Cuba’. That ‘real Cubans’ barely have food to eat, so was that the kind of experience she wanted?

So, no, I don’t want to see your fucking pictures of picturesque beaches and 5 star resorts, you fucking ignorant, insensitive idiot. I don’t want to hear about your perfectly curated trip. I don’t want to think about how much fucking money you spent, money that’s going to straight into the pockets of the bastards that took everything, everything from my family. Those bastards took away my mother’s childhood. They took away my father’s youth. They took away everything my grandparents worked so hard for.

They took away the lives of tens of thousands of Cubans who dared dissent.

So for that reason, I don’t fucking want to hear about it.