If it weren’t for me, Barack Obama would not be president.
This might seem like an overstatement, and perhaps I’m exaggerating just a little bit, as the United States is a complicated union, after all. But that’s what we do — we Cubans — we exaggerate. I’m an ABC, an American-born Cuban, to be exact. And despite my hyperbole, there is actual truth to what I write.
In 2008, I convinced my Cuban-American mother to vote for Obama. This past election, my skills of persuasion reached my Cuban-American grandfather, who is 90, and who, in his 32 years of exile, had never voted blue before. This is important because my family is central to the coveted and stubborn Miami-Dade County vote, which influences the 29 electoral votes of Florida. The state, it can be argued, that brought Reagan into power and assured the 2004 election of George W. Bush. A state that has, ironically, been red for years.
The reasons for leaning right in the past, for this particular voting bloc, are manifold. Mostly they have to do with the Bay of Pigs and a particular kind of Cuban-American hatred of the Kennedy clan, who Cuban Americans consider their grand betrayers. And yet, this year, the tides began to turn. And, in Florida, we know a thing or two about tides.
I, like others of my generation, have changed my parents, much like our parents changed the country. We are a lot like President Obama himself. Born to immigrant parents, we worked hard to make our way up through college, and graduate school. I didn’t run the Harvard Law Review, but I was summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa at Barnard College. I’m not a politician, but I too like to play with words. And, I too have “dreams from my father.”
There are thousands like me, men and women who were born in Miami, have left and come back to change it. We’ve seen the world, our nation, and learned the differences between Missouri and Mississippi; Maine and Montana. Our English is perfect, but Spanish runs inside us like an ancient river coursing through, opening Cuban tributaries that spill into our American selves. Many of us took in Obama’s Hope and Change and we spread it to our parents, we are part of the contagion that turned our red state blue.
Unlike previous generations, I do not stand with the old men at cafe corners drinking Cuban coffee, and swearing never to return to our cursed, embargoed, no-go island, until Fidel Castro’s death. I do not mean that pejoratively — I love many of those old men, know them personally, and understand the feelings that drive their decision never to return to an island whose dangerous dictatorship has hurt them so. But I cannot stand with them on the embargo. Knowing that it is a complicated endeavor, I want an end to the embargo; I want to meet my Cuban counterparts, those Cuban-born Cubans of my generation.
On Jan. 14, Raúl Castro allowed Cubans to leave the island of Cuba without exit permits. On Jan. 20, Obama was inaugurated, once again, as president of the United States of America. Given what I believe to be our part in Obama’s re-election, I feel we have the right to ask for a few things.
I am not a fool. I know that despite Raúl Castro’s promises, Cubans will not be allowed to leave the island with ease. Some dissidents have already been denied passports. There will be red-tape like only the Castro regime can think up. I know, too, that Cubans will not be completely free because of this new decree. Far from it. I know different kinds of walls will rise to meet their departures from the island, their foreign visits, and long-awaited escapes. I know that the luxury of an escapade versus an escape is far from their reality. My only hope is this: that we, on our end — our American part of the equation — do not continue to put up walls as well.
I long for a bridge to my past. Since 1959, the United States and Cuba have been silently at war. And I cannot help but wonder why my generation should continue to be punished, both inside and outside the island, for a long-lost revolution. Ninety miles, the distance between Cuba and the southernmost-tip of Florida, has stretched itself out like taffy to encompass worlds. I only hope that in the next four years, these 90 miles can lose the hyperbole of their figurative distance, and shrink down to the reality of a 40-minute plane ride.