Cuba: My Vicarious Nostalgia

I was born in 1978 in Miami, FL, exactly 18 years and 11 months after Fidel Castro’s revolución in Cuba.  My father, a political prisoner and member of the contra-revolucionario movement (the MRR), evaded his trial (most probably a firing squad) because Costa Rica granted him a visa.  He was 17 and that was 1961.  My grandfather, who was a sergeant during Batista’s regime and had retired by the time Fidel assumed power, also joined the movement after Castro took all of our family’s possessions.  That was the revolution, and that is my family’s history.

My father met my mother during a business trip in Colombia and shortly after they wed and had me.  I grew up between Barranquilla and Miami, “la otra provincia de Cuba.”  Papi and Abuelo Juan were very proud Cubans who made sure to keep their culture, traditions and history very much alive within me.  Papi would teach me Jose Martí poems, Cuba’s most famous poet, philosopher, and teacher, and proudly prompt me to recite them in front of my abuelo.  They taught me Cuba’s history and politics, how to smoke puros (they were tabaco farmers in Pinar del Río), play dominó and burro, and of course made food, traditions, and music an integral part of my life (I actually know the Cuban national anthem).

For over three decades, Cuba was this forbidden, magical, yet tragic place I deeply longed to see but wouldn’t dare to visit.  I was morally shackled to my family’s honor and couldn’t disrespect them by leaving our hard earned dollars in the hands of the Castros.  Years passed, my grandfather passed, my father’s health deteriorated and the situation in Cuba remained the same.  And so the day came when my father accepted the reality that he would never return and finally, finally gave me his blessing, “Loren, yo entiendo que quieres ver a tú ‘patría’…ves baby, porque yo me voy a morir sin poder regresar.”  And that, was all I needed to hear!

December 31, 2015 would mark my 40th country and most memorable trip.  I flew direct from Miami to La Habana and in 30 minutes was transported to another world frozen in time!  Before booking my trip, I vouched to stay only in casas particulares in order to be closer to the people and help them financially.  If I was going to Cuba I was going to live, eat and struggle like they do, a lo Cubano.  I wanted to experience their reality no matter how difficult it would be.

4 days in La Habana, 2 in Pinar del Río, 2 in Varadero and 2 in Cienfuegos.  Every moment in Cuba felt like home. I was living in this sort of vicarious nostalgia.  La Habana was incredible and insanely gorgeous, the most run down of neighborhoods were picturesque; so much beauty in those very traces of beauty.  However, life in La Habana is a hustle; resources are scarce and everyone is trying to make do with what they have.  One morning it took me over an hour to find breakfast and it was here where I learned a valuable lesson of resolver y conseguir.  Pinar del Río was hands down my favorite!  The guajiros welcomed me like one of their own.  The highlight of my trip was my visit to Consolación del Sur, the city where my paternal family is from.  I was able to find our family friends, Las Jimaguas Cabrera, who burst into tears when they realized who I was.  One of them, Teresa, lived in my family’s house for 43 years after they left.  She took me to “our” house and I was cathartic! I cried in disbelief, my two feet were actually planted on my family’s soil…right there right then.  Before leaving, el viejito Juan said, “esperar es tiempo…nosotros no esperamos, tenemos esperanza” and then he cried.  I sobbed uninterrupted the 45 km from Consolación to Viñales.

Varadero was beautiful but unfortunately had torrential rains and mostly cloudy. Cienfuegos and the famous El Nicho, pristine waterfalls in the middle of the mountains, were amazing!  I partied with some locals there, the WiFi card dealer, who had made two attempts to leave in a balsa, his wife and the vianda vendor who had done 8 years of hard time for robbing a tourist.  He said he did it out of la necesidad.  The WiFi dealer’s wife, said my father’s mother had brought me here and that she loved white flowers.  I cried.  Indeed, Abuela Clota loved gardenias and my Abuelo had even planted a tree for her in their house in Miami.  Although, Abuela Clota died when I was 2, they say the night she died I woke up screaming her name.  Abuela Clota, gracias por acompañarme en Cubados gardenias para tí!



Open letter to Cubans & Cuban-Americans

Open letter to Cubans & Cuban-Americans with love and respect,
I’m the granddaughter of Sargent Juan Medina from Consolación del Sur, Cuba who served under Batista and retired when Castro assumed power. He later joined the MR-15, the contra-revolutionary movement against Castro, when they took our family’s properties. My abuelo was very well-respected, some say even feared, and high in the ranks of the movement. I’m the daughter of Jorge Medina, who fearlessly joined the MR-15 at the young age of 15. Both were imprisoned for fighting for freedom and at 17 when the regime sought after my father to send him to a firing squad, he fled. With that being said…
If you left in the 60s or you’re a Cuban-American who has never stepped foot on the island, then maybe you should re-consider your position on Obama’s visit & his attempt to restore a relationship with Cuba. Yes, Cuba oppresses its people, yes they violate human rights, yes there is no freedom of speech. Similarly, China, another communist country, oppresses their people and US Americans have been doing business with China for decades. There are approximately 62 MILLION Chinese girls missing due to their 1-child policy law who are literally left on the doorsteps of orphanages or even on the street but who cares right because we are not Chinese? Well, I care and so should you! So, if you’re an advocate of human rights then be fair and be an advocate across the board, go ahead and throw all your electronics and half the clothes in your closet in the dumpster and moving forward only purchase fair-trade items made by people who are truly FREE! Bienvenidos to capitalism my friends, a not-so-perfect system where divide and conquer is our foreign policy and a land where most of us pledge allegiance not to “god” but to Benjamin Franklin, a country whose national anthem should be changed to Wu-Tang’s “C.R.E.A.M.”
Perhaps, Obama is having a dialogue that could potentially give people an opportunity to rise above, not just financially but maybe even with a revolution. Indeed, with or without the embargo the Castros will continue to benefit financially BUT without the embargo the people will have a chance to rise above and have access to technology. Fax machines changed the course of history in Germany and Twitter did that for Egypt. There is hope for Cuba.
I agree with Presidente Obama, let’s leave the past in the past. Us Cubans should pat ourselves in the back for all we have accomplished. Miami is proof of that. The past was unfortunate…don’t forget but let it go and let’s think about how we can help the Cuban people rise above!
And before you give your opinion about a place that you haven’t been to or lived in for 50 years, I encourage you to go to Cuba yourself and have an open dialogue with a lot of people who are surviving due to tourism for one. This is not black or white, it’s grey and all 50 shades of it.
Don’t think for a second that the situation in Cuba doesn’t break my heart because I was there 9 days and cried every single day…but fair is fair, so if you’re going to stand for freedom then let’s be a voice for ALL who don’t have it.
Loren Medina