Here in Southern California, the news came to us on Friday night, November 25th.
I’ve been chewing on everything that’s happened and taking in the scenes unfolding, particularly on social media, since that night.
That night began like any other around my home.
My girls, along with some family and friends were settled in to watch the Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life. It was going to be a six-hour-binge-watching-marathon-of-Gilmores party and we were ready with all the foods.
We were already halfway through the 2nd episode and on our fourth pass over our heavily laden table when I received a call from my sister. That was odd for her to be calling on a Friday night and made me a bit nervous.
Bad news seems to sneak up on you at weird times. Ask anyone who remembers where they were when they heard that John F. Kennedy had been shot. Or how they got the news of the Twin Towers being attacked. You never forget.
And so it was when I asked my family to pause the episode we were watching so I could take the call. That, in itself was an odd thing. In our home, we don’t take calls while we’re together enjoying our family time.
But I knew something was up and I was worried something had happened to my mom.
“Breaking news! she blurted out, Fidel is dead!”
Wait. What? I sat there, blinking stupidly for a minute. She did not have to spell out which Fidel she was referring to. There is only one who’s death would warrant an excited late night call.
I relayed the news to the rest of the fam and we cheered and then quickly pulled out phones and tablets to verify. By the way, Twitter knows everything as it’s happening in real time, but that’s not important right now.
It was true. Fidel, was dead. And on Black Friday, too. The irony was not lost on me. I had too many words and not enough.
— Marta Darby (@Smrtqbn) November 26, 2016
It’s difficult sometimes to describe what it was like growing up in a Cuban exile family. Yes, the word is exile. We left our country grudgingly in 1961. “Until this thing with Castro blows over,” my dad would say. Our exile would only be temporary.
For those that find that word “exile” difficult to comprehend, the living of it was doubly hard. We left a home and place and people we loved. Because of Fidel. Destroyer of Families.
Fidel was larger than life. “El Caballo,” he called himself. And he was present in every Cuban home, at every Cuban dinner table for years and years and years. 57 to be exact. Fidel. Uninvited Guest.
He was the reason we fled the comforts of our beloved homeland. He was the reason we never saw our tightly-knit family again. He was the reason we had to struggle to begin a new life, in a new country, and learn a new language, and assimilate into a new culture. Fidel. Divider in Chief.
He was the reason for people disappearing from their homes at all hours. He was the reason for all the misery. Can you imagine people being in so much despair to get a decent meal and a way to have a normal life that they risked everything and took to the sea in homemade rafts? So many of those lives ended in watery graves. Fidel was the reason. Fidel. Creator of Despair.
We never even bothered to say his last name. There was only one Fidel. The Cause of All Misery was known by one name.
It was a sad thing when we had Cuban cousins visit years later. I’m talking about the 90’s now and even one who visited last year. Even here, at my own dinner table, in the safety of my Southern California home, they would not even mention “The Name.” They pantomimed pulling on their chin, so afraid were they to name his name. Fidel. Author of Terror and Fear.
Ay, Fidel. You brought so much despair and division to so many lives. Years later your malevolent presence was still being felt in my home in Mission Viejo. Fidel. Thief of Lives.
But then on Friday we got the news. Fidel is dead!
Surreal was the first word that came to mind. We now live in a world where Fidel doesn’t exist. And for Cubans this is a cause of great celebration. It was not the communist government that ruined our lives – of course, it truly was – but behind it all was Fidel. Fidel changed the course of so many lives. Fidel. Mastermind of Destruction.
I called my mom, Luza who is 102 years old. “Mami! Fidel murio!” (“Fidel is dead!) She took a moment. In recent years she has taken to saying she forgives him for everything. I think she’s becoming more and more aware of her own mortality and doesn’t want to enter into eternity with grudges. I love that about her.
Slowly and thoughtfully she said, “Mira cuantas vidas jodio. Tendra mucho que explicarle a Dios.” (“Look at how many lives he’s ruined. He will have much to explain to God.”) Then she crossed herself. Fidel. Outlived and Forgiven by Luza.
I have been reveling right along with the many thousands of Cubans who took to the streets of Miami waving their Cuban and American flags and banging on their pots and pans. It’s not that we are celebrating the death of a person so much as the End of A Terrible Evil. Fidel. The Bane of the Cuban People.
Reading eulogies and remembrances of him, I’ve been struck that so many left out the descriptive words: dictator, murderer, tyrant. I have way too many adjectives to even list.
His apologists tout the access to healthcare and the rate of literacy in Cuba as if that could somehow make up for the lives he destroyed and the many who have been tortured and continue to this day to rot in his dreadful prisons. Or the many who lost their lives by firing squads or trying to flee the terrible regime. My dad used to always comment that there are many countries – the United States being the leading one – that have healthcare and literacy without having created a gulag. Fidel. Comunista de Mierda.
Ah, my Dad. This is the bittersweet moment. He waited a lifetime, as did so many Cubans, to see the Fall of Fidel. Fidel Castro is dead. But I did not get to call Papi to give him the news and celebrate and watch him smoke his celebratory cigar. That’s when the tears came for me. Fidel. Thief of Joy.
My life, thankfully, has been charmed. My family of origin left our island home and managed to stay together and thrive here in the U.S. I’m so very proud to be an American citizen. My life and my family’s legacy continues.
Many others were not as lucky. I have aunts, uncles, and cousins still living in Cuba. They are still being controlled in what they can do and where they can go and what they can think in their island prison.
This week they are in Mandatory Mourning. The state dictates that they must do this and so they do. The images that you see of Cubans crying because Fidel is dead is probably mingled with fear and hope. Fidel. Master of Propaganda.
What will his death mean for the people of Cuba? Time will tell. At long last, the Cuban people can close the chapter on the last half century of brutality. I am hopeful for change, but I don’t expect anything to change overnight. However, I do know one thing for sure:
History will not absolve him.
Get out the pots and pans, my friends. The death of this tyrant must be celebrated. Fidel. Dead Dictator.