Knowing Where You Come From To Know Where You’re Going
I’ve been keeping a secret: very soon, my mom and I embark on a heritage trip to explore the culture of Cuba, visiting Havana and other western parts of the island. We’ll visit the home she once lived as a young girl, the streets she played in, the school she attended before her parents immigrated to the United States as political refugees in 1968. We’re visiting Cuba’s eco-village devoted to reforestation, a well preserved colonial town from the sugar trade era and, of course, a few days relaxing on a white sand beach.
It feels impossibly shallow to say that I’m excited because, honestly, this is a trip of a lifetime; a decades long dream that felt would never come to fruition. And not because of the embargo or travel restrictions. Going to Cuba is an act of rebellion as a Cuban American and in my family. It’s not something you do without deep consideration.
When you’re American of Cuban descent (and especially the closer you are to your family’s immigration story), visiting the island is not about checking a box on your travel list. It’s not about travel trends or capturing cute Instagram photos. For me, I know that going on this trip is potentially offensive for those that feel strongly against the Castro regime and the political system that forced their exile. I’m doing it anyway.
Image credit: Balint Földesi
The Culture of Cuban Americans
I was a political science major in college and devoted my research to the studies of Latin American governments and the Cuban revolution. What happened to my family (and to many immigrants) is beyond the comprehension of so many of my American peers. We can’t even fathom being imprisoned for speaking out about political candidates (just check your Facebook feed), yet I have family members that were. America is not perfect, but it is one of the world’s greatest democracies that affords its citizens beautiful liberties not found elsewhere in the world, specifically in Cuba.
Personally, as this decision relates to my Cuban family, if my grandfather were still alive, he would be pissed. Though I’ve always had a rebellious nature, true to my Cuban ancestry, and would have gone earlier despite his opinion, I felt strongly that my first trip to Cuba should be with one of my parents. So I put my dreams on hold for them.
For many years, neither my mother or father were willing to go… until now.
Image credit: Guillaume Baviere
The Culture of Cuba Today
On this trip, I’m excited to explore the culture of Cuba today. While I’m excited to document my mom’s first time back to her mother country in over 40 years, my curiosity is ecstatic to take all those years of academic study to the real streets of Cuba… today. As it is now. Not necessarily as it was in the past, when my grandparents made the legacy changing decision to move their family to the United States. And then to California.
My father is supportive of my inaugural trip. We’re even planning a family trip together with my husband and kids later in 2017. My grandmother, the matriarch of my family, refused to go with us, though. She and my grandfather made the promise to never return until Cuba was free and democratic once again. But Mami is also very, very proud of the evolution that has taken place in her lifetime; that she is able to watch her daughter and granddaughter land on the shores that she fled with just one suitcase. She was 25 years old, an immigrant to a strange land and what she has accomplished in America is nothing short of inspiring. But after 50 years in the United States, she knows that when forces of change are unearthed, the tide is impossible to stop.
I’ve been keeping a secret and maybe it was because I had to let the reality of this dream sink into my soul. Dreams do come true. And while sometimes dreams bring you to America, they also sometimes take you back to Cuba.
Featured image credit: Les Haines