Tuesday, February 19, 2008

a few thoughts on cuba (kinda)

i grew up in miami, florida in a section of town called carol city. carol city was mostly black. some caribbean, but lots of african-americans too. carol city sat right next to opa-locka and hialeah. opa-locka was mostly black as well, while hialeah was known to be largely latino (i didn't know the term latino at the time, and the assumption, at least in my family, was that most, if not all, latinos were cuban, so we said hialeah was cuban. i have no idea if that is actually true.)

i went to school in two major areas, neither of which was my own neighborhood. i went to school first in aventura, a section of north miami beach about 20 minutes from my house. the school i attended had a gifted program. in order to get permission to attend the school, i took an i.q. test at the age of four and then had to go in for a one-on-one interview. i had to prove my worth to a very kind woman named ms. hagan, who told me i was very bright and helpful, and buzzed around like a little bee. that interview sealed my fate. if i had not impressed ms. hagan, i don't think i would be where i am today.

i then went on to win a scholarship to a prestigious private school in 6th grade. throughout my middle school and high school years, i was surrounded by the cuban privileged, people who chanted "castro no, cuba si!" in p.e. i heard stories of houses seized and midnight flights to new york city from havana, tales of jewels left behind.

it wasn't until i was in college that i realized that cubans could be black, too. this was not from a lack of understanding of the caribbean, mind you. but there was something about the way that cuban rafters were always allowed to stay, and haitian rafters were always sent back, that suggested to me that cubans were always lighter and "righter" than people like me. my family was lucky-- our relatives lived in the bahamas, and coming to america always seemed easy enough, as long as they went back to nassau eventually and only spent their time here scrubbing floors/laying concrete/curling hair. my cousins would come through for year or two, sleep in an extra room, on the couch, convert the garage, while they made some money, and then they would head back, never to really be seen again.

i went to college in california. it was there that i learned that all latinos are not cuban or brasilian or ecuadorian or puerto rican or colombian. not all latinos ate black beans and white rice and danced samba and merengue and hicieron lechones in the backyard. it was in california that i ate my first tortilla and had homemade salsa for the first time. these were not things "we" did. it was in california that i got the crazy (according to my family and friends back home) idea to study abroad in cuba. i decided to see if things were really as bad as everyone said they were.

what i learned in cuba changed my way of seeing. i don't agree with everything fidel castro has done, or, even, the length of his rule. there is also something to be said about the people that remain in a country that has been neglected by the rest of the world for so long as a result of our american bullying. there was structural inequity in the capitalist cuban state that, as a matter of course, transferred into the revolutionary state in certain ways. there was no mistake about who was left behind to suffer at the hands of a capitalist, cold-war usa. i will only say that more current cuban nationals look like me than did any of the kids i knew back in miami.

i wrote my grandma a postcard from havana. it pictured three cuban girls in school uniforms. i told my grandma that i couldn't believe what i saw.

"cuba could be our country, grandma," i said. "i see you and me all around."

cuba could my country. and for that reason more than any other, i hope this transfer of power is simple and sound. i hope my friend yordis is released from prison, and that the embargo is lifted. i hope that the capitalist world will not take advantage of a country of young people that are so naive in so many ways. i hope those people who could be my people survive.

si se puede?

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