For 53 years, the Cuban exile community in South Florida and other parts of the world has been combating the Castro brothers and their totalitarian system of government. We have been fighting what seems to be, at times, an endless battle. A struggle we live each day over a café Cubano or by reminiscing with our grandparents about the Cuba of the past.
In the past several weeks my colleagues and I at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami, have been overwhelmed by the media asking for our reaction to the rumors that Fidel Castro is dead. For many of us Fidel died a long time ago. He is irrelevant, a symbol of the past.
The first generation of Cuban exiles that arrived in Miami in the 1960s was the generation of my parents. They left everything behind in pursuit of freedom. They had to start all over again. They struggled to make ends meet in a new land with a different language and culture. But they never forgot their homeland.
More than a half century has passed and the Cuban exile community along with other exile groups that left their homelands for similar reasons have built a world-class city called Miami. As a friend told me the other day, “To understand the world, you must live in Miami first.”
The many sacrifices my parents’ generation made have given my generation and that of my daughters the freedom that 11.2 million Cubans on the island do not have. We are proud to be Cuban Americans living in the greatest country in the world.
Very few of us will return to live in Cuba. Some of us might buy a retirement home and live there for several months once Cuba is free. Many of us will return to help our brothers and sisters rebuild a country destroyed by political greed. However, for most of us, the United States is home. The home of our children and our grandchildren. The home where many of our parents are buried without seeing Cuba free. We will do everything to protect the words in the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights, which grant us so many freedoms. The same freedom so many Cubans on the island thirst for.
In reality, we won! The Cuban Revolution failed. We do not need to continue to react to Cuba’s propaganda machine. We are not “Miami’s Mafia,” as the Castro brothers often refer to us. We are a proud Cuban-American community and citizens of the United States living in a free and democratic society. We should concentrate our efforts on the future of Cuba and its people.
When talking to Cubans on the island during my last trip seven months ago for the pope’s visit, I found that most of them no longer believe or support Marxist ideology. They care very little about politics. The revolution that promised them so much has failed to deliver and yet they are asked each day by the government to make more sacrifices in the name of socialism. As one young woman told me, “I want to leave, anywhere but Cuba. I want a better future. I want to taste freedom”.
As Cuban Americans we want Cuba to be free. However, the reality is that a democratic system of government will not be built in one day and far less the transformation of human values and attitudes to support a vibrant civil society. It will take time.
So as we prepare to elect the next president of the United States, let’s not ever forget those on the island that fight each day for freedom. Let us continue to fight for them. But let us also recognize that we won! The Castro brothers lost!
Andy Gomez is a senior fellow at the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami.