What does it mean to be Cuban?

The story of the Cuban people has always been one of resiliency. Our history is one of ingenuity with a people who are always ready to face adversity. Since the rise of the Castro regime in 1959, the culture and economy of the island was flipped on its head. The island would become a political pawn of the superpowers USA and USSR during the Cold War. Over the course of the next two decades, the two would go back and forth in their fight for influence over the newly declared Communist Party of Cuba from embargoes to covert ops to the fabrication of military bases. I remember stories my mom would tell of Cuban schools beginning to force students to learn Russian over English and teaching them the Soviet national anthem. The turn over to Castro was one that had its people transfer ownership of their land, property, and business for the collective, their labor for a country that would no longer care for them, and turn over their rights in the process.  

What does it mean to lose your rights?

Collectively, our community and country take the value of rights for granted. Imagine being fined or sentenced to jail time for disagreeing with a large group of people. If you happen to disagree with your current leader you would be sent away to a jail or labor camp. Being an independent thinker is punished. Striving for success is punished. A lot of Cubans including my parents and grandparents came to escape this and offer their children an opportunity for better. An opportunity to think for themselves and to build a life for themselves that could be grown and cultivated. The United States provided my family with that opportunity.

What does it mean to be an immigrant?

My family came in with nothing; no currency, no home, no language to communicate with, and only a very small network of people already here. Being able to know someone here in the U.S.? That was lucky.

My family would work 40+ hours to begin to establish themselves. This is the first time where they would be able to keep their share of their works value. Their wage was immediately several times higher than it was in Cuba. Their opportunity to use it to access necessities increased exponentially. They were set to follow the American Dream. The dream that as long as you are willing to work and learn and put in effort. With enough time and some right choices, the sky would be the limit. If not in your lifetime, then at least your children's.

How it influenced my perspective:

A lot of people say that the US economy is not fair. That some people just start out behind and stay that way. I argue that it in fact has opportunity for growth everywhere. Coming in with no family, no money, and not even the language and turning it over into a life with a roof over our heads, a warm meal every day, and quality education for my brother, my cousins, and I proves this to me. I had only to look up to see what was done to conceive what is possible. I lived my life in that way. Life always threw some challenges, but adapting my perspective and my work ethic ALWAYS resulted in improvement. 

Why is this movement important?

The current uprisings that have been starting up throughout our precious island has more meaning than ever. Let's not be egotistical. This is not about the U.S. embargo. This is caused by the relationship of a people and their government. A government that gets first dib on every cent and item that enters its coasts. This is a government where if you had a little extra and wanted to give to your neighbor or sell to a business would send you to jail or punish you. A government that sends you out to labor camps as a kid and mandatory conscription into its military. 

There are videos right now of 14 and 15 year olds in riot gear trying to hold back the people because they simply do not know any better. Their government has told them that this is what you must do. When parents resist, they say I'll send your significant other and your grand parents into the army. There is only one way of doing things in Cuba and that is whatever the government asks you to do. 

In my lifetime alone, I have been able to witness 2 other uprisings in Cuba in where the people gather for more rights and freedoms. This is met with violence and minimal and temporary concessions by its leaders. For the first time ever, the Cuban people have technology to show the world and their peers what is going on. The TRUTH about what is going on, not a filtered announcement that the government has put out. The people are asking for a chance to better themselves and their home. A home that is falling apart and in dire need of infrastructure support. I have been to Cuba over a dozen times and I can tell you that the city of Havana is filled with potholes and homes that have roofs that are collapsed or about to. Access to electricity is never guaranteed and rolling blackouts are common every night. Access to internet and information is limited only to an exclusive group of people who the government favored.

What does it mean to me to be Cuban?

So what does this mean to me and what does it mean to be Cuban? I can only answer this for myself, but for me it means a symbol of hope that I can one day return to my parents home country and share in the re-building of a country that is destined to be great. Filled with people that are able to repair 1950s cars with rubber bands and screws, with people that can make 6 lb. of rice last for months, and with a people that can always manage to do more with less - they are primed to begin their path of bright new future for their island. The only thing holding them back? Their oppressive regime.

What can you do?

Listen. And share the voices of your Cuban-American friends, families, neighbors, and colleagues. We are not asking for pity or mercy or hand outs. Just share the message, listen, understand, and support in the way that you would any of the other marvelous movements that happen throughout the year. The attention to the Cuban ordeal will not last forever, but while it is here, take note of its significance for not just the Cuban people, but its lead into freedom. Cuba is not alone and we are already seeing change in countries such as Haiti and Venezuela. People's voices must be heard. But for today - my Cuban voice will ring true.

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