Just a few years ago I — and so many others — would have expected mass protests at the thought of the Cuban and American flags being raised at each other’s embassies. Then, weeks ago, just that came to pass, and not a mouse was seen banging a cooking pan with a wooden spoon in our own Little Havana.
How time has changed us. I see real maturation on the U.S.-Cuba issue, but also know that so many have taken a wait-and-see attitude, with arms crossed. I urge Cuban Americans on the sidelines to take charge of their destiny and not allow others to define destiny for us. We can (1) hang on to the chapter that has already been written, or (2) accept it for what it is, and become a relevant contributor to the future. My God, we have so much to give!
As the pope spoke in Havana's Plaza de la Revolución, I could not help but reflect on our need to adjust to today’s realities. Many of us have become better persons, better contributors to society by virtue of the opportunities given and what we have learned from our experience. Today, all — on the island and here — could help rebuild a new and stronger Cuba: a Cuba of tolerance, a Cuba of choice, a Cuba of tomorrow, a Cuba with a better future with the United States.
I do not underestimate the pain suffered by mothers and fathers when a son or a daughter disappeared after taking to the sea, dreaming of a better and freer life. How can any of us forget the mass executions and the imprisonment of thousands because they disagreed on a policy? How can any of us forget being branded as “worms”? How can children forget the day they were separated from their families, placed in the hands of strangers in a foreign land, not knowing if they would see their parents again? Nonetheless, we have a choice, albeit not a painless one.
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A story reminds me of our own experience: Eva Kor and her twin sister, Miriam, were separated from their parents (never to be seen again) at a Nazi concentration camp. These beautiful girls were among thousands of children who became the subject of deadly experiments by Dr. Josef Mengele, the infamous Angel of Death. These children saw friends awaken in the morning, and never return to bed. They saw horror that no human being should witness. Eva and Miriam ultimately gained refuge in the United States, as have millions of us from all over the world. Eva became a business leader in real estate, raised a family and outgrew anger and bitterness. As years passed, she wanted to be free — really free. She forgave her long-ago enemies — the guards, the abusers, the torturer. She simply decided that those people would no longer be permitted to enter her mind and control her feelings. She became free when she chose to move on.
Today, approaching 65, I am leaving a time of traditional productivity to enter the age of playing with the grandchildren, enjoying the beach and reading a book. But as a Cuban American, grateful to my country of birth and truly in love with my adopted country, I have made a choice: I will forgive. I will help rebuild. I will contribute. We want to do the best we can by those who follow us.
Most of us want nothing in return for our contributions. There is no ulterior motive. We will close the chapter behind us; we will not be the stereotypical angry old people. We will contribute ideas and experience. We won’t be ashamed to tell others that capitalism works. Indeed, capital is needed for growth, improved healthcare, better housing, the updating of infrastructure, communication at the speed of lightning — and, yes, the liberation of the mind so as to focus on a greater good.
May God bless the future of Cuba. May God bless our great United States.
Michael “Mike” B. Fernandez is chairman of MBF Healthcare Partners.