In the wake of President Obama’s historic visit to Cuba very little has been discussed about Miami’s Cuban community and the extraordinary restraint, resilience and political maturity Cuban-Americans of all ages displayed in the face of what seemed like an exile apocalypse.
The president’s visit to Cuba, stirred many emotions in me and most Cuban-Americans in Miami. I don’t know one Cuban or Cuban-American who has been spared of the vortex that was and is the Castro brothers’ revolution — the emotional vacuum of family separation, the effects of having to rebuild in a strange country from scratch, and the uncertainty of living on the hyphen of a mix’n‘match cultural identity, etc.
The sight of an American president, especially one that I voted for twice, shaking the hand of Cuban dictator Raúl Castro would surely be gut-wrenching. Days before President Obama’s visit, a cautious, nervous, uncertain yet hopeful feeling hovered over Little Havana and other areas of town densely populated by residents of Cuban heritage throughout South Florida. For better or for worse, all most of us have ever known is distance and hostility between Havana and Washington — suddenly, a rug seemed to be pulled out from under us.
Many Cuban Americans (including me) did not feel, and still begrudge the fact, that the Cuban government has not done enough to warrant a presidential visit. Raúl Castro has done little to loosen his dictatorial grip on the Cuban people in the 15 months since President Obama announced a policy shift towards Cuba. Cubans in Miami braced ourselves for another Pope-like visit to Havana, where few truths are said to or in front of the despots — leaving it instead to pundits to find and interpret meaning. The anemic papal sojourns always felt like an unsatisfying meal to Cuban-Americans.
It also did not help the mood surrounding the president’s trip that as the visit approached, the myopically, damn-the-facts description of Miami Cubans as “extreme right-wing zealots” was part of most national stories surrounding the unprecedented trip. For years, particularly after the Elián González fiasco, Cuban Americans in Miami have endured the wrath of the national media. Not much has ever been made nationally of the fact that many Cuban Americans have been voting for Democrats for quite some time — nearly half (48 prcent) voted for President Obama’s re-election in 2012.
The reality is that despite the ominous uncertainty of the president’s trip, Miamians, Cuban Americans and non-Cuban Americans, kept it together. Cubans expressed support and disdain for the president’s trip in a civically responsible way. There were no radical, unruly demonstrations or violently emotional outbursts.
There was also a sense of respect and sensitivity from the non-Cuban communities in Miami that was not present during other controversial happenings or eras in the Magic City.
While many non-Cubans support President Obama’s rapprochement towards Cuba, they have demonstrated a great sense of care and understanding for their Cuban neighbors, who are scarred by the fallout of the Castros’ revolution.
I found a great deal of deference and respect for my feelings among my non-Cuban peers and friends.
On March 22, President Obama changed the course of history. He delivered a succinct yet complete speech. The president’s remarks lasted a little over half an hour, yet I felt like my whole life was being reflected in his words.
The president dissected the differences between the United States and Cuba (in the presence of dictator Raúl Castro) and while doing so he spotlighted in detail, for the world to note, what an archaic, Draconian state Cuba is. He spared no detail in depicting and exposing American democratic values.
In the midst of what seemed like a prosecutor’s closing arguments accented by references of Celia Cruz, ropa vieja and Pitbull, the president uttered, “In the United States, we have a clear monument to what the Cuban people can build: it’s called Miami.”
And just like that, President Obama legitimized and justified my family’s lifelong struggle.