Watching The Elections from Cuba Has Solidified My Beliefs
It’s been 24 hours since I returned from Cuba – the first visit to my parent’s birth country and the realization of a lifelong dream. I can’t wait to share every detail with you, but on our last full day on the island I had the unique experience of watching the United States elections unfold from the lobby of my Havana hotel. And it’s given me some perspective.
In Viñales that day, I was taken aback at the sight of the American flag flying beside a Cuban flag. For the first time in my life, the symbols of my very identity fluttered together so effortlessly. They danced gracefully, in unison, without tension. It was one of the most beautiful images I had ever seen, despite the vast valley vistas behind me, and I had to take a moment to hold back tears.
Internet and satellite television aren’t so easy to come by in Cuba, so I was surprised to come back to the hotel after a long day of touring the western countryside of Pinar del Río to find CNN airing at the hotel bar. I ordered a bottle of water and, before even taking my bags up to the room, sat down to watch the early commentary.
Not too long later, the bar and surrounding area started to fill up; the Cuban staff came from around the bar to get a better view of the TV; the salsa band packed up early for the night.
Let me say a few things, being that politics in America has a culture of division and conflict that makes me uncomfortable to confront: first, I knew this presidential election would have the outcome that it did. Though numb with sadness, I’m not at all shocked. Not.at.all.
In 2008, I volunteered hours and hours to the Obama campaign in Nevada as he ran to beat Hillary for the Democratic nomination. Obama was so vested in taking Nevada in the primaries that he even surprised the precinct captains of Clark County (that’s where Las Vegas is) with a visit. I got a last minute call from Campaign HQ of the possible visit and stuffed his two books into my bag. Obama DID come to our meeting (complete with an army of secret service), signed both of my books and laughed at my nervous energy as fellow volunteers took our photo. That day, then presidential hopeful Barack Obama spoke to us about the important work to be done in Nevada and about doing it with audacious hope and passion. He made his army in Nevada that day and I was proud to be part of it.
It’s a moment I leaned on as doors slammed in my face and call after call of uncomfortable confrontations with “conservative” Nevadans who called my candidate a monkey or worse. And then I worked harder. I believed in Obama and the America he represented with pure, audacious hope, passion and work ethic.
So while posting discontent on social media and calling people out (versus calling people into) the democratic process is one way to engage the system, it takes way more organizing, an insane amount of fundraising and a much greater commitment from a large, passionate base for a candidate to get elected. A couple Facebook posts aren’t going to do the trick. We need to do smarter.
Secondly, in all fundamental ways, my political views have been in direct conflict with my Cuban family for all of my adult life. Unless you’ve argued with your Cuban family on such topics before, you might not understand the gravity of what I’m about to say:
I believe in an equitable distribution of wealth through taxation. I believe in a balance of secular power. I believe that a country is only as great (and safe) as the most marginalized people among the population. I believe in universal healthcare, free education and the assurance of basic needs for all. I believe in human rights and freedom of speech. I loathe racism and the hate crimes that are done in the name of “conservatism” and “Christian values” or “family values”.
Especially after my time in Cuba, I believe that freedom is NOT free. I believe in paying your damn taxes as the debt owed for getting rich in this fertile land of opportunity. I believe that our poorest should never go without food, education or a respectable roof over their heads – and not because it’s the right thing to do, but because our society is safer when relative deprivation isn’t so disgustingly obvious. Get it together, America.
I did not campaign for Hillary Clinton. I didn’t campaign for her in 2008, nor in 2016 and knew of only a couple people who actually did. I did, however, vote for Hillary Clinton because she earned it. She was the only qualified candidate, having given decades of her life to public service (like real service, not the social media/reality television version). Her track record on policies that impact marginalized groups in the 1990’s was horrendous, at best, and rooted in a popular consensus that was not diverse or in the consideration of minority groups. After the debates, I believe Hillary conducted due diligence to understand the concerns of the diverse constituency she would serve – to her benefit – which included me and my family.
The day after the elections, I was traveling back home. Eventually, I let the emotions flood my face in Mexico City when I could stream Hillary’s concession speech in privacy (you just don’t speak out on these topics in Cuba). I’m safely back home now (I LOVE YOU, CALIFORNIA!!!), have discussed the election with my rock and foundation, my husband, and am feeling the hurt inflicted by the collective voice of our country.
Apart from his utterly privileged and violence-inducing rhetoric, I’m most fearful of the power and coattails this new president has earned in Congress. Chance are very high that many Americans will feel a negative impact on his first 100 days in office as the Republican party holds the majority in all sectors of our government.
As he makes America great again, I’m looking over my vacation plans and the National Parks I want to explore with hesitation and have left Cuba – a land demonized throughout my entire life – with hope and optimism for their people and a deeper conviction in my beliefs.