Another loss. That’s what this already feels like to so much of Miami, before the “historic” baseball game was even played. As if the Cubans who fled to this country haven’t already felt enough of those losses over the decades. Lost childhoods. Lost roots. Lost families. Lost land. Lost freedoms. Lost lives in the ocean that divides Cuba and America like the million miles of distance between desperation and hope.
So much happy coverage on the television this week. Historic visit! America and baseball celebrating themselves. President Barack Obama and Derek Jeter and ESPN head toward communism like it is another cruise port, so many symbols of Americana descending on a rotting island stuck in the 1950s, and it doesn’t feel quite right back in Miami, like watching a funeral morph into a party. The history of my own people feels like it is either being ignored or trampled here, and I’m not quite sure which of those feels worse.
I’m not too emotional, but I cry just about every time I write about Cuba. My pain is very much borrowed. My grandparents and parents endured it so that my brother and I never would. But it stings just the same. The fear and desperation of my grandparents combine with the suffering and sacrifices of my parents to produce on odd combination of sorrow and guilt and gratitude that won’t stay down.
I’ve never known anything but freedom. My grandparents and parents made sure that was so. But now my grandparents are dead, and my parents are old, and the Cuban regime that strangled them somehow lives on ... lives on to play a baseball game with our country this week. America extends its hand toward a dictator who has the blood of my people on his own. And now my parents, old exiles, have to watch Obama and Jeter and ESPN throw a happy party on land that was stolen from my family ... as the rest of America celebrates it, no less. That’s going to hurt, no matter how you feel about the politics.
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The embargo didn’t work. I get it. America does a lot of business with dictators. I get it. And my parents aren’t close-minded, heartless or blinded by unreasonable rage. They’d be all for normalized relations with Cuba if it meant helping, you know, the citizens of Cuba. And maybe this will. Or maybe it won’t. But why would my parents trust a communist government built atop a lifetimes of lies?
My parents were put on planes as teenagers by their parents, not knowing if they’d ever see each other again. How desperate would you have to be to send your not-ready-for-the-real-world 16-year-old away to a foreign country without knowing if you’d ever be reunited? A lot of things have happened to Cuba since my parents fled it. But change doesn’t appear to be one of them.
The ocean between our countries is filled with the Cuban bodies that tell the story, lives literally thrown to the wind in desperation, hoping to reach America’s possibility-soaked shores on boats made of old tires and wood and poverty’s debris. No free press. No elections. No freedom. That’s the Cuba that still surrounds the baseball diamond where we play this game. That’s the Cuba people still get on makeshift boats to flee today.
My mother? All this happy news coverage has brought the bad memories back. She has some post-traumatic stress disorder from the communism. She feels it in her heart whenever she is shipping medicine to her brother stuck back in Cuba. She feels it in an esophagus that hasn’t worked right since she was put on that plane, the communism literally choking her a little bit with every breath she has taken since.
She had her phones tapped back home. She endured neighborhood spies coming into her home whenever they pleased. She attended services for students and intellectuals killed for fighting for elections and a constitution. She was chased through the streets by police dragging chains for attending those services. Her brother was a political prisoner. Whenever she visited him, she wondered if the fresh blood on the firing-squad walls might be his. He spent almost 10 years in that prison for his politics. Why would she trust any of that today?
Understand something please: My parents are exiles, not immigrants. It is an enormous difference. They didn’t come to this country looking for money. They left money behind and came here to risk poverty. They did so because they were exiled from a land they didn’t want to leave and still miss, a land they will not visit until this regime is ousted or they see real change that can be trusted.
My grandmother put my mother on a plane believing that they might see each other again in three months. It took 12 years. Grandma put her on a plane because she couldn’t stomach the idea of both of her children being in jail at once, her son for his politics, her daughter for trying to go to church to remember the dead. Three militia members with machine guns broke into her house at 3 a.m. looking for my mother days after she had fled. Grandma is dead.
Our pain is not particularly unique in these parts. Miami has so many stories like this. You’ll find one in every barrio or bodega. So you’ll forgive us if we aren’t much in the mood to play ball with a dictator who still has the blood of our people on his hands, no matter how much ESPN and Obama and Jeter dress it up.
Fidel Castro outlived my grandparents. His regime continues to haunt my old-exile parents. My pain might be borrowed. But, damn, as that sting returns to my eyes, I can assure you that it is real.
Dan Le Batard is a Miami Herald columnist.