I’ve always felt I lived on the hyphen of both the Cuban and U.S. cultures having moved to the States with my parents as a young child and raised in the Midwest all my life, but also with the deep Miami Cuban roots that most of us Cuban-Americans share.
When the opportunity presented itself to use my academic status to organize a college group class to Cuba in 2004, I seized the opportunity to visit the place of my birth and to explore my life long interest of finding my paternal Cuban roots lost after the 1959 Cuban Revolution. That powerful experience inspired my first full length novel, Mango Rain, which I also published in Spanish under Lluvia de Mango.
In July of 2016 I returned from my second trip to the island, once more overwhelmed by the incredible natural beauty and paradox that is life in Cuba. Although my focus this time was on research for two upcoming novels, Mimi’s Path (El Camino de Mimi) and All Return (Todos Vuelven) with connection to the eastern provinces of Cuba, an unexpected gift presented itself to me on this trip as Cubans were interested in talking about their modern life on the island. I did not tape or photograph anyone, not wanting to inhibit what was shared, but back in my hotel room I feverishly paraphrased in my journal what I heard from these hotel employees, taxi drivers, archeologists, historians, artists, doctors, photographers, poets, writers, all eager to help me, their Cuban-American sister, understand them and their situation.
Despite the daily difficulties and tribulations that the ordinary Cuban citizen faces with limited financial resources and opportunities, a beautiful thread connected and intersected every one of my conversations with the people I met and interviewed in Havana, Baracoa and Holguín: a deep love of country, pride of culture, and hope for a future that maintains what is good in their life while providing change.
And what is good in their lives?
They pointed to the clear blue skies and the musicians engaging passersby with their intoxicating salsa sounds. They spoke of the deep connection to family and friends given that most people don’t move very far away from their original homes. They complained about lacking aspirin, pencils, soap, and having to figure out ways to make money for anything other than bare necessities due to the low government run employment salaries, but they spoke proudly of their free education, medical care and having learned to enjoy simple pleasures.
Everyone in today’s Cuba has figured out over the almost six decades of socialist rule how to make do - resolver - around the system, and as a visitor to the island one quickly begins to understand that life there is a constant struggle and contradiction as a society which in many ways is standing still also deeply longs to move forward.