Op-Ed

Cuba, U.S. better off if their doors stay open

Garcia
Garcia

On Friday, all eyes will be on Miami, where, rumor has it, President Donald Trump will announce his changes to U.S. Cuba Policy. I will be here, as part of the Cuban-American community, and specifically as an American-born Cuban (ABC), and contrary to what everyone seems to believe, I will be devastated at the loss of U.S.-Cuba aperture, if that’s what Trump decides.

Among Cuban Americans, I am far from alone.

While most media outlets continuously present Cuban Americans as hardliners, and so “viscerally anti-Castro” that they are blinded to the benefits of aperture, this is a patronizing stance that not only is untrue but dangerous to America’s understanding of itself.

More unchanging than the Cuban immigrant community is the representation of it, despite the facts.

According to the Pew Research Center, “Cuban registered voters have been shifting toward the Democratic Party for more than a decade.” We constantly read that the Cuban-American demographic has political pull. The opinion we receive most often is that without Florida, George W. Bush might not have been elected in 2000 and 2004. And yet, very seldom do we hear about the fact that Miami-Dade County, the hub of the Cuban-American population, went blue in 2008.

So why are we still talking about 2000 and 2004, instead of the present and the future?

Cuban Americans are no longer the “viscerally” hardline Republicans the media still make them out to be. I am a registered voter without party affiliation. My Cuban-American mother voted for Obama, twice. In this past election, she voted for Clinton, as did I. My 94-year-old Cuban grandfather, and 85-year-old Cuban grandmother, both voted for Clinton, despite having voted Republican most of their lives.

This shift has been happening for a long time, partly because my generation has grown up in the United States and we, necessarily, have differing point of views from the generations that came before us. In some instances, we have even instigated change in our parents. Other Cuban migration waves have also made their way to Miami, with varying perspectives, slowly chipping away at the Cuban-American hardline.

According to the Florida International University Cuba Poll, which has been monitoring the pulse of Cuban Americans since 1991, 69 percent of all Cuban Americans support the decision to open diplomatic relations with Cuba. That number rises to 87 percent among the younger generation of Cubans; and 74 percent of all Cuban Americans that responded to this poll favored the lifting of travel restrictions to Americans.

What these numbers mean is that Sen. Marco Rubio does not represent me accurately when he lobbies for a “hardline” with Cuba.

Miami is a microcosm of the nation. There are very narrow margins at play both in this city and in the country. These narrow margins are the places where misrepresentation reigns and opportunism can find comfortable bedding, if we are not careful.

In the next four years, more American-born Cubans will be able to vote; newer-wave Cubans will become citizens, also becoming eligible to vote. What the FIU Cuba poll shows is that the Cuban American is dynamic, complex, and changing. We are people, not a construct. What the majority of Cuban Americans and ABCs believe is that Cuba and America will be better as countries if the door remains open between the two. We very much want human-rights abuses to stop in Cuba, and we understand our parents’ longing for freedom. But we also understand that freedoms perish in the dark, on both sides of our divide.

Trump will not be representing me or my fellow Cuban Americans and ABCs as a community, if he rolls back Obama’s U.S.-Cuba policy. What Obama did for Cuba when he opened the creaky Cold War gates that stood between the United States and the country of my roots was to make Cuba real again to Americans. He brought it out of the dangerous zone of dehumanizing nostalgia and imagination.

It’s time not only to tear down the walls between Cuba and the United States, but also between Americans and the perilous construct of the Cuban American as antagonist. It’s only when that construct comes crashing down that we’ll be able to see anything clearly.

Vanessa Garcia is a Miami-based writer and the author of “White Light,” one of NPR’s best books of 2015.

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