In Hialeah, watching Obama’s speech with recently arrived Cubans

Mabel Abreu, Yudith Arronte and Yuleidis Calbó, waitresses at Tropical Restaurant in Hialeah, watch President Obama’s speech from Havana on Tuesday
Mabel Abreu, Yudith Arronte and Yuleidis Calbó, waitresses at Tropical Restaurant in Hialeah, watch President Obama’s speech from Havana on Tuesday

Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald reporters watched President Barack Obama’s speech with Cubans on the island and in Miami.

Many businesses in Hialeah took a break Tuesday as owners and employees stopped in front of television sets to listen to President Barack Obama’s historic speech in Cuba.

“Ay ay ay!” several diners and waitresses at the Tropical Restaurant on Ninth Street and East Sixth Avenue shouted in unison when Obama mentioned civil rights during his address from the Gran Teatro Nacional in Havana, broadcast nationally in Cuba.

President Barack Obama encouraged Cubans to embrace democracy and its leaders to tolerate dissent and criticism, during a much-anticipated and nationally televised speech Tuesday that highlighted how much the longtime foes have in common.

“Free elections and food on the table. Boy! They are going to tell him to shut up,” one woman shouted as she left the restaurant.

Like her, other youths and adults, some recently arrived and others exiled for decades, sighed or teared up as they listened to the U.S. president when he spoke about the Cuban people’s need to decide their own affairs. Some predicted that Cuba’s government-controlled TV channels would stop transmitting the speech, while others speculated about how Cuban leader Raúl Castro reacted when Obama urged him to “not fear the voice of the people.”

“They must be grabbing Raul to keep him from silencing him,” one waitress said.

“Maybe Cuban TV has already cut the broadcast,” someone at a table shouted. When the crowd laughed, the person added, “Now they're going to explain that it was a technical problem.”

The speech was transmitted in its entirety on the island, according to several reports.

At the Hialeah restaurant, three waitresses were glued to the TV set, gasping when Obama spoke in Spanish. Almost simultaneously, the three covered their mouths and gave a long “ooooh” after the U.S. president recited a famous line from a poem by Cuban independence hero Jose Martí.

“There's a lot of hope in Cuba because of the Obama visit. I can't say it will change anything politically, but it gives hope to the people,” said waitress Mabel Abreu, 39, who arrived from the island eight months ago. “This visit can really unite the two people because it changes the perspective of many people in Cuba who have a view different of the people here.”

“For example, in schools there we… start every day saying, ‘We will be like Che.’' But you get here and Che is a murderer,” said Abreu, referring to Cuban revolutionary hero Ernesto “Che” Guevara. “It's a different panorama on both sides.”

Yusleidis Calbó’s eyes teared up when Obama referred to Cubans who migrate, “leaving everything behind.”

The 31-year old waitress, who also arrived from Cuba eight months ago, lived in the neighborhood of Centro Havana, one block from the San Cristóbal restaurant where Obama and his family dined on Sunday.

“He passed by on the same street that I walked every day when I took my son to school,” she recalled. “My mother sent me videos of the passing vehicle. The people in the neighborhood saw everything. They were super happy.”

Some of the people at the restaurant also commented that the image of an accessible president that Obama has projected during his visit to the island is not something that Cubans see very often.

“What a shame that when Obama hops on his plane, everything in Cuba will return to what it was,” Calbó murmured, almost talking to herself as she walked away from the TV toward the end of the speech.