A personal essay on two Cubas on July 26 in Miami
July 26 — Miami is the haven for the Cuban exiles — those that ran from the revolution in the 1960s and 1970s, and those who later left because of the economic conditions created by the U.S. blockade imposed on the Cuban people.
It is also where I have called home for 20 years. I grew up in Miami surrounded by the Cuban exile community, raised by them in fact. My grandfather came here from Cuba at the age of 10 in 1961 and was later joined by the rest of his family.
My grandfather left Cuba because he did not want to raise his children around war. Having seen the Bay of Pigs invasion, he was hesitant to have his children see any more war.
Therefore, I was raised hearing only bad things about the Revolution. It wasn’t until I became 13 that I researched the Cuban Revolution and asked my father hard questions about the state of Cuba pre revolution that I discovered the truth.
Cuba needed a revolution and the policies set forth by Fidel Castro and the 26th of July Movement actually were good for the Cuban people. It put education within reach of all Cubans, not just the wealthy. All Cubans could now go to the doctors and hospitals of Cuba. Medicine, health, education and freedom were now rights and not privileges of the Cuban people!
I left Miami about four years ago to attend school in West Virginia, and even though I feel at home among the natives of West Virginia, home is still home, family is still family. I went back this summer to visit my great-aunt, my Tía, who was like a mother to me.
I arrived in Miami on July 25 and drove through the same slums and ghettos that I had left. They looked more decrepit than ever. I was driving on the same broken roads through the same traffic seeing the same abandoned houses, but with different homeless people sleeping outside them.
I turned on the radio to hear the same generic reggaeton the local stations broadcast that objectifies women and makes them nothing but sex toys. I drove through all this to get to my Tía’s small one-bedroom apartment right in the middle of the worst part of Little Havana, where crime is high. This does not stop her landlord from charging her $750 a month for rent; she gets only $800 a month from Social Security, but this was the cheapest apartment in the city that she could find.
Even though she has to borrow money from family every month to eat and pay her bills, Tía still offered us food and coffee when we arrived.
The next day dawned and it is the day that is ignored in Miami, the 26th of July. A day that, for me, signifies the beginning of New Cuba and Cuba’s real independence; this has been ignored in Miami by the exiles.
I drove around Miami to parts like Coconut Grove and Coral Gables, where the exiles built up their presence over the years and which have become centers of Cuban-American wealth. They are very well maintained and beautiful, also very expensive, places where neither my Tía nor I could ever hope to live.
What is my point in all this? It is this: Miami is Little Havana, and Cuba, but the Havana and Cuba of 1958, the Cuba of the dictator Fulgencio Batista. It is a city with corruption not only in politics but in the police force and in the education department as well.
I started remembering all the scams I heard about growing up, scams committed by the Cuban exiles, most of whom had political ties and ties to “Free Cuba” groups. I remember driving through Little Haiti and Liberty City, areas of color in Miami, and how poor they were, are and have always been. How gentrification is destroying these communities faster than the crack and the gangs that run through the streets.
Only the tourist areas and the areas where the richest and well-known Cubans like Gloria Estefan and Andy Garcia live look affluent. They also claim to be advocates for the Cuban people.
This is precisely what Cuba was like before the triumph of the 26th of July Movement on Jan. 1, 1959. Only the parts for tourists were kept beautiful. Women were treated like prostitutes, and housing was not a guarantee.
The beach side was beautiful and no one ever spoke about the poverty in Cuba, much like no one knows, speaks of nor cares about the poverty in Miami. Those in power were corrupt and the police force was in the hands of those corrupt politicians who sold their country to the imperialists. Most of Miami is not being bought by Donald Trump and other developers, leaving many homeless. Those of color were segregated into poor areas like Cocosolo, Cayo Hueso, and Jesús María.
So on the 26th of July, I was in Cuba, the Cuba of the past. The Cuba where Batista is still god, where those who are not of the ruling class do not matter. This is the legacy of the exiles that came to Miami. They transported their system, their “Cuba,” from the Island to Miami. With it they brought all the corruption that came along.
If ever they dare to ask why Cuba needed a revolution, let them look into the mirror and realize that they were the problem with Cuba and are now the problem of a city I hold dear to my heart and that many call home.
In solidarity with the Cuban people and all those suffering here under imperialist, capitalist dictatorship, I say to you: ¡Hasta la victoria siempre! ¡Socialismo o muerte! (Ever onward to victory! Socialism or death!)