2. A Living Legacy - The one where my mom turned 96 and had her photo taken with (almost) everyone in my big, fat, Cuban family.
3. Amy's Trip to Cuba - The one where Amy Kikita (my daughter) goes to Cuba and shares how she experienced the island and the people and how she ended up meeting Cuban dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez of Generacion Y. This link is to all the posts from her trip.
My dad passed away on December 11th, 1999. He and my mom would have celebrated their 60th anniversary just 3 weeks later on December 31st.
To this day, when asked how long they were married, my mom will always answer, "Casi 60 años." Translation: "Almost 60 years."
It's as if she feels like she's lying to just say 60 years. She has to add the "casi." Almost.
Every December 31st she gets phone calls from old friends and extended family. No one forgets that my parents were married on New Year's Eve.
But December will always be bittersweet. December will always have that "almost" attached to it.
On March 3rd of this year, my daughter, Amy Kikita took my father's ashes and scattered them in Pinar del Rio, keeping a promise I had made to him so many years ago. She wisely chose a very specific and easily identifiable spot in case his descendants ever want to visit him there. (Read all the posts about Amy's Cuba trip here.)
This year, as part of our Christmas video, I cut together a piece documenting Amy and Luza's trip to Cuba. It includes the reunion of the Perez-Puelles siblings and Amy's visits to the sites of my childhood memories.
The lyrics to the song, La Cuba Mia (by Celia Cruz) talk about going back without looking back, living to forgive, and returning without bitterness to my Cuba.
My dad returned to his Cuba this year. "Almost" 50 years after he left.
Rest in peace, Papi.
La Cuba Mia - Celia Cruz
Quiero pasear sin amargura Por la calle de tu recuerdo Y rescatar por fin al niño de mi pensamiento
Porque el tiempo y la memoria (porque el tiempo y la memoria) Juegan juntos en nuestra historia
Se me fue toda una vida (se me fue toda una vida) Y tu imagen no se me borra, no, no, no
Quiero volver sin mirar atrás Poder vivir para perdonar Quiero sentir, quiero regresar A la Cuba mía
(quiero volver sin mirar atrás Poder vivir para perdonar Quiero sentir, quiero regresar A la Cuba mía)
Se me confunden con los años Las imágenes en mis sueños Pero te sigo recordando Tierra mía cada momento
Con el son y con la clave (con el son y con la clave) Con el sol y la arena suave
Y mi mente se imagina (y mi mente se imagina) Caminando por santos suárez
Quiero volver sin mirar atrás Poder vivir para perdonar Quiero sentir, quiero regresar A la Cuba mía
(quiero volver sin mirar atrás Poder vivir para perdonar Quiero sentir, quiero regresar A la Cuba mía)
(quiero volver) Quiero volver, quiero cantar, Quiero abrazar y disfrutar A la Cuba mía
(quiero volver) Seguro que a allí volveremos Y en tu nombre cantaremos Como lo quisiste tú
... a la Cuba mía
(quiero volver) sin mirar atrás (poder vivir) para perdonar (quiero sentir), quiero regresar (a la Cuba mía), a la Cuba mía
(con tu arenga y tu son, oye Conquistaste al mundo entero Y cuba fue lo primero siempre Dentro de tu corazón... Celia)
(quiero volver sin mirar atrás Poder vivir para perdonar Quiero sentir, quiero regresar A la Cuba mía, a la Cuba mía A la Cuba mía)... a la Cuba mía.
(The following post was written and lived by Kikita. It is dedicated to her Big, Fat Verdés Family.) **WARNING: You may need tissues.**
My grandfather, Rodolfo Verdés, died on December 11, 1999.
I never called him "Abuelo." Instead I affecionately called him "Papi" as did all of his children and grandchildren. My grandmother, Luza, never called him by his first name. He was always "Verdés" to her. He was always "Verdés" among his brothers and sisters and their children and grandchildren. It was a sign of respect. He was the ultimate father figure. He worked hard and he loved his family deeply.
On his 50th birthday, he began his life all over again in the United States. I don't know all the sacrifices he made for his family, but I know they exist. I know that he went wherever there was work and sometimes that meant being away from his wife and children for long periods of time.
I also know that every one knew that he loved them. Somehow, despite his absence, there was no doubt about the love he had for his children and grandchildren.
I know he was quiet, but when he DID say something it was bound to be brilliant and, often times, hilarious. He had the BEST sense of humor.
I know his favorite color was red and that it had nothing to do with his politics. I know that he loved Cuba passionately, loved the United States for welcoming him, and he hated the (c)astro dictatorship just as passionately.
I know that there is plenty about him that I don't know and, when I get
to heaven, I intend to ask him all of it.
I know that I miss him.
And I know that he had asked my Mami to take his ashes back to the province of Pinar del Río (where he had been born) and scatter them in the Valley of Viñales. I wasn't there when he asked, so I don't know if he specified whether he wanted her to wait until Cuba was free or not or if he just wanted to be there. To be honest, I didn't know anything about Viñales. It was just a name to me. But not anymore.
I now understand the breathtaking beauty that is the Valle de Viñales and why he would want his ashes scattered there.
And I know that I'm the only person who can tell you where he is now.
When Luza, my abuela, asked me to go with her to Cuba there was no doubt in my mind or in anyone else's that Papi's ashes would go with us. Papi had given Mami instructions about what he wanted, but Mami will not be going to Cuba anytime soon and the ashes had already been waiting for ten years. I worked impossibly hard calling all over the country to make sure I could get the ashes to Cuba. It became obvious that I wasn't going to have all the paperwork I had been told I needed and so I was faced with a dilemma. After much discussion, it was decided that I would "smuggle in" only some of the ashes. That way I would be keeping the promise Mami had made to Papi, but that he could still wait for a Free Cuba for the rest.
I don't think I can explain to you what it was like to separate out some of his ashes to take with me. I wanted to laugh at the absurdity of the situation and I wanted to weep at the same time. It was an adventure, and it was a heartbreak. It shouldn't have had to be that way, but it was. I didn't want to get to the airport and have his ashes confiscated. Can you imagine? Waiting so long and coming so far and then having the ashes confiscated by the communists running the joke of an airport? What would they even do with them? Would they have made me turn around? Would they have just tossed them out? (I would not put it past them.)
I never told my grandmother how I got the ashes into Cuba. I told her to trust me and that I would get it done. I think she might have fainted if she had known I brought him in as Lancome face-powder. (I know that Papi would have gotten a kick out of it, though.)
I made sure I had the poem he requested and I had a "recent" photo of him.
My cousin, Waldo, and his girlfriend, Mille, came with me on the road trip to Pinar del Río. We wore red in honor of Papi. It was a beautiful day and it was a beautiful drive.
I was detached for most of the drive, until we were actually in Pinar del Río and I realized: "This is where Papi grew up." That was when the first wave of emotion hit. It hit me a second time when we stopped to take pictures of the Valley of Viñales. I had never seen anything like those mountains before. (In fact, they weren't really mountains, they were "mogotes" - but that is not important right now.) Seeing them I understood why Papi would want his ashes scattered there and I was again choking back tears.
Waldo is wonderful for comic relief and asked if I just wanted to toss the ashes off the ledge where we were standing so we could go home. I laughed and told him that all I needed was to get next to one of the mountains. We drove and drove and I started to get antsy, especially when the clouds were starting to threaten rain.
When Waldo headed towards this crazy mural depicting evolution, I thought he was making another joke about what we were doing.
As if to say, "Well, Verdés was a dinosaur, so why not park him there?"
That was not the case. There are many roads across the valley. There are any number of mountains and countless places to stop. We could have stopped at the third "mogote" on the left after you pass the blue shack, but how would anyone ever find it again if they wanted to? And how would we put the rest of the ashes in the same place once Cuba was free?
So . . . the Mural de la Prehistoria was the place. I climbed up onto the mountain side and pulled out the poem. I stood under the chin of the red dinosaur and silently prayed that the wind wouldn't throw the ashes in my face when I scattered them.
I read the poem. I scattered the ashes. I placed a sprig of wildflowers on the rock. I left the photo and the poem there.
And then I exhaled. It was March 3, 2010.
When we finally got back to the house, I told Luza about our day and
where we finally scattered the ashes. She gave me a hug and a quiet, "Gracias,
Amy." After 10 years, it was finally done.
It is father's day.
Papi is in the Valle de Viñales and he has a spectacular view.
That is the only gift I could give him.
Feliz Día de los Padres, Papi. Te extraño bastante.
There are plenty of things about my trip to Cuba that I haven't written about for various reasons. One of those reasons is that I went back to school this semester. School started exactly 4 weeks before I left for Cuba so I made sure to clear my trip with my teachers. I went back to study Spanish, so my teacher was happy to excuse my absence. I was back in class exactly 12 hours after my plane landed in LA. I was back in class, but I was lost. They were in the middle of discussing past preterites and my (recent) past was all too present in my mind to worry about their preterite past.
(Are you confused yet? Yeah, me too.)
One of the reasons I had taken the class was to learn the very thing I'd missed while I was away, but that's not important right now.
Where was I? Ah, yes. The past. Cuba. I've already talked about how excited I was to attend a meeting of Cuban Dissident Bloggers, but I left out some of the mind-numbingly boring stuff.
Kiki, "mind-numbingly boring"? In CUBA? With DISSIDENTS? Seriously?
A whole hour of learning about punctuation in Spanish. While I was thrilled to be in that room and feeling like I was a part of history, I was also feeling pretty bored and thinking, "When is this lecture ever going to end?"
I hate to admit that in such an amazing moment I was beginning to wonder if it was worth it.
BUT, ignoring my internal boredom, I paid attention and even participated a little.
Then I took pictures with some of my heroes and continued my journey. The journey that has no coincidences. The journey that helped me get caught up in class. The journey that eventually brought me to today.
I have been down with an ugly case of tonsilitis. Without going into detail, just know that I still have my tonsils and when they decide to get sick and swell, they do so with gusto and great pain. (Basically, I was in bed for 3 days sipping water, sleeping, missing school and occasionally reading.)
I wasn't feeling 100%, but I knew that I'd be taking my Spanish final early since I would be in Miami(!) the day of the test so I dragged myself to class to learn one last thing before I take my final next week. The first thing we did in class was have a test. GREAT. And my teacher, who knew I had been sick, handed it to me anyway. DOUBLE GREAT. Now I had to take a test on a bunch of stuff I'd never learned and my grade would suffer and . . . wait.
I thought I was hallucinating when I looked at the title of the test:
"Signos de Puntuación"
Needless to say, I aced the test and am not too worried about my final. ;-)
**Note: I am well aware of the fact that we abuse punctuation in this blog. That there are times when we use unnecessary commas, parenthesis, etc. We do it on purpose. We do it to sound more conversational and make the reading easier on your eyes. =D
Kikita wrote this post about her recent trip to Cuba; depending on the kind of person you are you may or may not need tissues.
Have you ever had one of those moments where you thought, "Dang it! I should have taken more pictures!"?
I am having one of those moments.
At the time, I was worried about running out of battery power or something. At the time, tears were streaming down my face.
At the time, I didn't know how to capture the intensity of the where I was and what I was feeling.
It happened the way all great moments do, suddenly and without warning. It was not exactly part of the plan.
The Plan was to have a quick lunch at my cousin's house, stay only as long as was necessary to be polite, and then drive to Matanzas while it was still light out.
The Plan was proceeding perfectly. The lunch of chicken, veggies, black beans, white rice, and yuca was delicious.
Time was flying by between all the stories, laughter, and sheer joy of just being together.
That's when I asked if they knew where "Casa de la Loma" was. It was the last house my familiy lived in before they left. It was the house Mami always talked about. It was the house I'd tried to picture a thousand times in my head. It was the house whose address I knew by heart.
Still smiling and laughing, we all piled into the little rental car and traveled the few blocks over to Avenida de la Loma and stopped in front of #33.
I was rather dumb-struck and so I just took a picture of the outside number and stared wide-eyed.
My cousin (well, MAMI's cousin), Regina, rang the doorbell and asked the people living there (a French diplomat and his wife) if we could go inside. They were very sweet and showed us THE. WHOLE. HOUSE. Since Mami's cousins Lupe & Regina were with me, they told me whose room belonged to whom. I could barely speak. I couldn't stop my eyes from leaking. I kept forgetting to take pictures. I suddenly understood how "the house in the back" worked.
One of the most striking and intense things for me was being there with the primas who kept saying:
"I remember this courtyard being a lot bigger."
"I remember playing in this room with your Mom."
"I remember this hallway being a lot longer."
As we walked through the house, I pictured my mother as a five-year-old running down the long hallway. Or looking down from the top of the stairs. I kept trying to imagine what it would have looked like through her eyes.
As the tears of all that my family lost flowed down my face, there were new things that I began to wonder. I knew my mom's story, but she is the youngest of 6. There are 5 other stories I didn't know. 5 other stories. 5 siblings who lived in that house. 5 other points of view. (And that doesn't include my grandparents, I was just thinking about the kids and how they must have seen things differently because of their ages.)
I think that my impromptu visit to Casa de la Loma in the Nuevo Vedado, near the cemetary of Colón, looking over the river Almandares was one of the biggest moments that effected me on this trip. It changed my perspective of my family's story. It brought home to me just how tragic it all is. It has inspired me to seek out everyone else's story. And as I hear their stories, I don't have to imagine what the house looked like. I can see it. I was there.
My trip to Cuba was many things and I saw all kinds of things. I guess it was sort of magical. Some of the things I saw were as legendary to me as the Sphinx or Stonehenge or the Eiffel Tower.
I knew the video of my mother being dragged into the water of Varadero by heart. I knew the games they used to play. I call out "Buenos Dias, Familia!" knowing it is what the viandero used to say. I knew that they would get up super early to eat breakfast because my abuela, Luza, would make them wait THREE HOURS before letting them swim. I knew that they would HATE to come out of the water for lunch. I knew that they would swim until it was late. I knew the games they would play in the water. I knew Varadero was "the most beautiful beach in the world."
What I didn't know was the sense of urgency I would feel when I first saw the sign that let me know that I had finally arrived.
I didn't know how desperate I was to dig my toes into the soft powdery sand. I didn't know that I would burst into tears the minute the water came rushing to meet my feet.
I did not expect to feel such a sense of loss and longing. I did not expect to wish so hard that things were different. That Mami had continued to grow up there and that I too had been able to grow up spending my summers in that same water. I didn't know HOW beautiful "the most beautiful beach in the world" was.
(it was really bright so I had to squint)
I couldn't go swimming because it was VERY windy AND there were these beautiful blue blobs all over the beach . . . I think they're called Portuguese Man o' War? ;-)
I was in Varadero all day and made it "hasta la puntica" just in time to see the sunset.
I kept thinking over and over, "I'm really here. I made it. I've made it to the very end. The very tip."
It was dark by the time we made it to the place where Mami had spent her summers, but I didn't care. The sign was still there. Villa Obdulia. I stood in front of that house and pictured my Abuela with all her kids, my tias y tio y Mami. I wish it had been earlier in the day, I would have knocked on the door. A neighbor told me there was no one home, so I wouldn't have been able to go inside anyway. It didn't matter. The name of the house was still there. I had found my own personal Stonehenge.
I didn't care that I couldn't go swimming. I had felt the warm water. Mami's water. I had felt the soft powdery sand. Mami's sand. I scooped up the sand and packed as much as I could into a ziplock baggy for Mami, but then I pulled out another small container just for me. To remember my moment. It wasn't just a beach in Mami's memory anymore. Now it was mine too. It had become a part of me. A part of my memory.
NOTE: Added by Marta 3/26/2010:
My sisters and cousins on the porch of our beloved Villa Obdulia. Circa 1960. Read that post here.
Most of the decor in my home is bright and colorful and Cuban-esque.
My "theme"? I was originally going for Cuban Beach Cottage. (Our home is small.) And so, I have collected posters and art and maps and things that are a throwback to the simple days of my Cuban childhood.
These three framed postcards, for example, are of 3 places that I remember vividly: (from top to bottom) Varadero Beach, The Hotel Nacional de Cuba, and the Malecón.
I've written many times about how many of my earliest memories are of the beach. Specifically Varadero Beach in the Cuban province of Matanzas.
I have been to some beautiful beaches in my lifetime, but I still believe (as do most Cubans that I've met) that there is no beach on earth that compares with Varadero.
I vividly remember digging my toes into the soft powdery sand. I can practically smell the sea air. The water was walk-right-in warm. It's one of those perfect sensory memories that is seared into my brain.
Ah, Varadero! How can anything compare with the memory of your perfection? The most beautiful beach in the world.
Amy Kikita brought back some souvenirs from her Cuba trip. Some were gifts from the cousins and uncles. Some she chose herself at one of the flea markets.
There was a baseball hat from Los Industriales, some goat-skin maracas, a baseball bat & ball for Jon with his name carved into it, some jewelry for Lucy, wooden cooking utensils (how apropos!), an unusual wine-bottle holder.
How much fun we were having! We opened gifts and she told us the stories of how she came to acquire each one and who and where they were from. We laughed and celebrated the thoughtfulness of each item.
In the midst of this rowdy exchange she pulled out one last bundle which reduced me to tears...
It was a container made of heavy marble. (I have an extensive collection of small boxes/containers from all over the world, but that's not important right now) This one was from the amazing Hotel Nacional.
I thought this was "el colmo." ("the ultimate.")
Until she handed me the ziplock bag full of sand from the most beautiful beach in the world.
I am still speechless. Gracias, Mimi.
I'm the little girl in the white dress, all Shirley Temple curls and big red airplane-size hairbow. Please go back in time with me to the Varadero of my childhood.... (bring tissues...)
The following post was written by Kikita; who has recently returned from a trip to Cuba with her 96 year old grandmother.
Every day that I was in Cuba, I would get home to Tio Timbiriche's after a long day of adventuring and the question "Los Viejos" would ask me was always the same, "What did you see?"
And every day I would start my response with, "The question is: what did I NOT see?!?"
And I would proceed to tell them all the wonderful things I had seen, and I very carefully left out all the things I did NOT see; rather, all the things I was not supposed to see.
Part of my reasons for locking these things away was because they were looking at me with such joy on their faces, the way parents watch a child on his/her first day at Disneyland. They were looking at me and waiting to hear stories of places they have known and loved their whole lives, especially my abuela. I would not disappoint my audience. I would tell them what they wanted to hear and I chose my words carefully. I was even careful about what I wrote in the little journal I was keeping . . . and a good thing I was too, because one night Tio Timbiriche asked to see my journal. My heart just about stopped, but I made sure he didn't see anything but the beautiful things I was supposed to be seeing. The rest I was saving for now.
I did not tell them about the long walk to Yoani Sanchez's house.
I did not tell them about the view from her patio.
I did not tell them because I did not "SEE" it. When, in fact, I did more than just SEE it. I FELT it.
Every where I went, I could feel the oppression. But sometimes it was hard to see.
It reminded me of a "What's wrong with this picture?"
Some things were glaringly obvious:
while others were not:
I didn't talk about all the doctors I saw in the streets because they can not afford a car. I didn't talk about the constant presence of olive green uniforms anywhere I went. I didn't talk about the "Punta de Control" checkpoints we had to drive past. I didn't tell them how scary and wrong it felt slowing down to almost a crawl while not making eye contact with military operative who could decide to pull us over for whatever reason. (Luckily, we never got pulled over.) I didn't talk about how I thought it was strange that not only were there militarios everywhere, there were police too.
I didn't talk about how seeing Che Guevara's image every place I turned made me want to vomit. In fact, the day I was coming from Yoani's house, I was so worried about my "cover story" that I shut off my emotions completely in order to get the proper pictures I thought would be requested of me later. No pictures were requested.
I did not hear the indoctrination of the Cuban people first hand when someone mentioned Orlando Zapata Tamayo and called him an idiot for dying because "he wanted a bigger tv." (Let me clarify that: the woman did not know the real reason why Orlando Zapata Tamayo had gone on a hunger strike. She thought it was because he had wanted a better tv or a microwave.) I didn't turn on the radio and hear that Cuba was the FIRST country to send aid to Chile and that Cuba also sent the MOST aid.
Yes, of course I saw the Granma. Yes, I saw the newspaper too.
I didn't see the tin roofs.
I didn't see the look of hopelessness in the eyes of some of people.
I didn't see the broken benches at a park near where my grandmother used to live.
I didn't see any propaganda.
I didn't see a buildings that looked to be on the brink of collapse
I didn't see graffiti. I didn't see my family members cleaning their plates as if they had no idea when they were going to eat again.
I didn't see the outside of homes.
Only the inside.
I DID see the manisero, but I didn't see how old he was or that he had a cane.
I didn't hear someone say, "No, park further forward. There's a camera watching this corner."
I didn't see a sign for nominations for the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution posted above an elevator.
And, finally, I didn't walk up a set of super steep and narrow steps to a room of MAYBE 300 square feet. I didn't see that there was a full-sized bed with thread bare sheets in front of me. I didn't see the grey slab of cement floor. I didn't see the bathroom that looked to have enough room for a sink, a toilet, and a stand-up shower. I didn't turn to see a pin-pan-pun (cot) pushed up against a short wall that would stop only a small person from falling down the steep stairs. And I defintely did not see that on top of those thread bare sheets were two little girls between the ages of 3 and 5 playing and laughing. I did not see the small refridgerator or the small counter or the hot plate serving as a stove. I did not see a pregnant woman arrive at this place she called home. I did not hear one of the little girls wave at me and say, "Adios!" as sweetly and innocently as possible. I didn't wonder what her future held. My heart did not break.
What did I see? What DIDN'T I see, THAT is the question.
My whole life I've grown up hearing the songs about how beautiful Cuba is. I've seen the paintings. I know Cuba is beautiful. I've always known.
"Pearl of the Antilles"
"La Reina de la Mar Caribe"
"Cuba Linda de mi vida"
Despite constantly hearing it growing up, something happened when I was actually there, standing in front of things I'd seen and heard of my whole life.
I found myself constantly in awe. It really was beautiful.
Looking out at the ocean . . .
or Havana . . .
or just pine trees . . .
or the Malecón . . .
or hills . . .
or El Cristo . . .
or even a sunset . . .
I wanted to dance. I wanted to sing. I wanted to paint. I wanted to write.
I wanted to drink it in forever.
Every song about Cuba and it's beauty became instantly more meaninful to me once I had seen it with my own eyes.
Now as I listen to these songs that made me smile as I grew up, I want to cry. They are inspiring a fresh sense of loss. A new understanding of how painful this exile is. They are bittersweet. They celebrate the beauty of Cuba while mourning its loss.
And I now feel more fiercely than ever the desire to see freedom for my people.
Here at MBFCF we try to stay focused on family and Cuban-American life. We try not to get too political, but we definitely do not keep our positions and beliefs a secret. If you've been reading for any amount of time, then I'm sure you know where we stand. That being said, it would be impossible to keep politics completely separate from a Cuban-American family, because it was politics that originally ripped our families apart.
Seven years ago, Mami, Adam, and I were planning to take a missions trip to Cuba with our local church. We were getting all of the paperwork ready to go when something happened to change Mami's mind. The (c)astro government was arresting political dissidents in a crackdown that would come to be known as "La Primavera Negra" (The Black Spring). The political unrest on the island worried Mami to the point that she changed her mind about going and we went to Miami instead. (Hey, I'm not going to complain, we had a fabulous time, but that's not important right now.)
During the crackdown, that began on March 18th and lasted two days, there were 75 dissidents (SEVENTY-FIVE!!) arrested. They ranged from journalists to librarians to human rights activists. Some have been paroled. Most remain in prison. Our good friend, Marc Masferrer, at Uncommon Sense has the whole story.
Tomorrow, seven years after we canceled our original trip to Cuba and now immediately following my return from the island, Mami and I will be attending a private screening of a documentary titled "Oscar's Cuba."
A brave film-maker by the name of Jordan Allot was in Cuba working on another project when he heard about Dr. Oscar Elías Biscet González. Jordan then took it upon himself to expose the truth about Dr. Biscet's reality. Dr. Oscar Elías Biscet González is a Cuban dissident who had served a 3 year prison sentence, was released, and was re-arrested about one month later during the Black Spring and then sentenced to 25 years.
His crime? Exposing the horrendous communist government practices of: slaughtering newborns and forcing abortions on women with problematic pregnancies.
If you'd like more information about the film itself, you can find it at www.oscarscuba.com.
Here in the U.S. we have the liberty to freely speak our minds. That is completely intolerable to the current Cuban government. And so they round up the free-thinkers. They imprison, beat and torture those who dare to disagree.
But there is movement in Cuba of political dissidents and it's growing each day. Those of us who are free and believe in human rights would do well to support those who are not free and whose basic human rights get routinely trampled on.
Marta here. Back in February of this year, my friends over at Babalú blog and Uncommon Sense posted a link to a Cuban dissident blogger whose name was Regina Coyula.
I was a little shocked. I have a Cuban cousin with that name, but I knew her family to be hardcore communists. However, when I clicked on the link, I saw her familiar face. It was Regina. Blogging about the harsh realities of life in Cuba today.
This photo was taken in Cuba in 1959. I'm the 2nd cowgirl from the left. Regina is over to the far right.
Unable to contact her, we surreptitiously sent a zip drive with Amy (brilliantly attached to a make up bag - see that photo in this post) and hoped and prayed for the best.
Amy was able to not only meet and spend time talking with and interviewing her, she got to go on A Dissident Adventure with her in Havana.
By some amazing chance (or Divine Intervention), I was able to get my cousin Regina alone and deliver the flash drive. What struck me was how grateful she was not only for the flash drive, but for the make-up that came with it. She LOVES make-up.
While she went about pulling out the various compacts, we were having the most amazing conversation about her blog, La Mala Letra.
She told me that she is not afraid, which is why she has her picture and full name on her page, but her family is. She does it for herself more than anything because she just couldn't stand to keep quiet any longer. She had been a strong communist for over 20 years and then became disillusioned with the "Revolution."
While I was in awe of her courage, what impacted me even more was her view of what she is doing. She explained that she does not expect to make any big change by herself; that she feels like one small pebble falling from the ceiling each day, but hopes that one day she will look around and so many other pebbles will have fallen that the ceiling will collapse.
Her son was born 16 years ago and she has been wanting a better life for him ever since.
This is him and his friend, Brian, being teenage boys. My eyes well up every time I watch this. He is a junior in high school. After he graduates he will have to serve in the military for at least a year before going on to college. He is the best English speaker in his class and asked me when I was coming back, but then decided he would like to visit California better. I think he looks like a combination of Lucy and Jonathan. He was such a sweet boy. It kills me to think of what possible future he has if he has to continue growing up on the island prison.
Regina woke up one day not too long ago and realized she HAD to do something about it. And not just for her son. She wants the youth of Cuba to have hope for a better future instead of just hoping to one day leave. She said she writes what she sees. She writes about the realities of Cuba. And she is part of a group of bloggers that meet on a weekly basis at THE HOME OF YOANI SANCHEZ. YES!! Ms. Generación Y herself! My eyes began to leak when I heard that Regina was going and I practically begged her to take me. I explained that I had harbored a secret hope that I would be out walking somewhere and just run into Yoani.
But . . . I was staying in the house of Tío Timbiriche, a communist. Regina and I shared the sentiment that we absolutely adore our family, especially Timbiriche, and that is why we never discussed politics in front of him (or the youngest of abuela's siblings: Mari, who is also a firm believer in "la Revolución). Because there was no way we could tell the truth about where we were going, Regina told them she was taking me to La Plaza de la Revolución.
I couldn't believe it. I was participating in dissident behavior! Lying to everyone and keeping a big secret in order to go to a meeting . . . AT YOANI'S HOUSE.
We had to take a couple of buses. And then we had a long, hot walk. But I smiled when I saw the door.
And I couldn't believe how many people were inside. There were easily 25-30 and more showed up over the 2 hours while I was there. Honestly, it reminded me of a prayer meeting.
And seeing all those people gave me a new hope for the future . . .
For Cuba. For Cubans. For LIFE in general.
And then they asked me questions that I felt like I had no business answering.
"What do the Cubans over there think of us?"
"What do people say about us?"
"Sometimes people send me gifts and I'm embarrassed to take it, why do they do that?"
I just kept telling everyone how much support they had from "la Yuma." That people were for them and would do whatever they could to help. That they send gifts because they want to help and don't know how. I told them to be encouraged because they WERE making a difference.
One of the guys from the group, Porno Para Ricardo was there.
I couldn't help feeling like a fish out of water. These people were incredibly courageous. They risked their lives every day. What was the worst that could happen to me? I get deported? Sent back to my comfortable life in Southern California? While these thoughts were swirling in my head, the other thing I kept thinking was "They are just people trying to make a difference."