A couple of weeks ago I woke up to something I very rarely see - my father’s country’s name in my Instagram feed and in the news. Thousands of Cubans have taken to the streets to protest the living conditions the government has inflicted upon them. Their COVID cases are rising, their health infrastructure is crumbling, rapid inflation is preventing citizens from getting enough food and the people desperately need aid from their leaders. Civilian reports of the protests are being shut down, the internet is being heavily monitored, activists are being arrested and endangered, and the U.S. government is in early talks about intervention. Protest in many other countries, ours included, is something that occurs regularly. An injustice happens and the people push back openly with varying levels of success. But in Cuba, the people have been so controlled for so long that this type of resistance to the government has not happened in decades, so this is a historical time for the Cuban people.
I want to be very clear about something, because I have met many people who feel the need to pontificate about Cuba in a way that, quite frankly, pisses me off. There are a lot of things about Cuban history and politics that are complicated and nuanced and difficult to understand, and a lot of it I myself do not have a firm understanding of, but this I know: Cuba’s problems are a direct result of a few greedy, selfish, violent leaders (there and here in the U.S.) taking resource and power for themselves and leaving the people to fend for themselves and take care of each other. Cuba is not a socialist country in practice, and it’s not even really a communist one, only in name and theory. It is, for all intents and purposes, an authoritarian dictatorship. Fidel Castro’s government and the government that claims to govern today lured the people into a false sense of security with the promise of socialism, communism, and equity. A wolf in sheep’s clothes. They then proceeded to bleed the country and its people.
I watch these protests with a lot of apprehension, because as dangerous as protesting can be in the U.S., in Cuba it is not built into a constitution or recognized as a right, it is a punishable offense. But I also watch with immense pride and admiration. To look in the face of a seemingly all-powerful entity and say “no, this is not how I will be treated” and to risk your life and freedom for a better world takes such courage and strength. To know that these people and I share the same ancestry gives me hope, resilience, and even more fervor to make where I live a more just place. Cuba’s situation is pure nuance. Revolution, communism, and the Castro reign mean different things to different Cubans depending on who you ask. But above all the narrative we should be focused on is that the Cuban people are not being taken care of.
Despite a long history of oppression, Cuban culture thrives because the people breathe life into it and care for each other with an abundance of compassion and generosity (at least the people I have had the privilege to meet while there). When people’s cars break down because of lack of import access, they pick each other up. Most of the houses are open air, partially because of the climate I imagine, but it also feels like it cultivates a feeling that everyone lives in the same structure, the same home. When I was in Cuba I was offered help (and food and coffee and a drink and safety and a story) by almost everyone I met. There's a sense of community there that I as an American can’t really fathom receiving from my neighbors. It’s an amazing place and to watch it in turmoil is affecting me more than I thought it would.
My heritage as a Cuban and white American is fraught with contradictions. My family had enough money, access, and connections to leave the country when things got dangerous and unstable, which is not something many people could do. But when they arrived in the U.S. they became political asylum seekers, had significantly less money, and were subject to racism where they were resettled in Texas. I not only have the duality of colonizer and colonized between my two halves, but woven into my Latin ancestry. It all lives inside me, hurt and struggle alongside responsibility and harm. Many Americans have this dynamic in their racial and ethnic identities, which means, if we are truly living ethically, we have to constantly balance healing our generational wounds with moving towards real and tangible accountability.
In the past few years, I've become very interested in the ways in which our ancestors inform how we live now. Watching this place that has such a large part of my heart fight for its freedom, watching people who I have never met but feel a connection to stand up to their government, I feel like I am not just one singular life force, but part of an ancient and vast tapestry of people and stories and struggles that weaves back to me and radiates out from me. I hope at this moment that there are people in Cuba who can feel their ancestors and distant relatives across the world rooting for them.
There are some individual activists collecting funds and donations (see this link), but most of what we can do right now is show our support and listen to Cubans who live in Cuba about what they are experiencing and what they need, and then try to do right by them.
Cuba - estoy con todos ustedes.