“We are ‘Cubexicans’” exclaimed Fearless when recently asked where he was from. Joe and I burst into laughter. Cubexican is, of course, a made-up word. 100% of Joe’s family is from South Texas where it is said “we didn’t cross the border, the border crossed us.” 100% of my family is Cuban where both of my parents left in exile during the early days of the revolution. As Cubexicans as we are culturally, I have never set foot in Cuba and Joe only lived in Texas for four years when he was young. We were both children of traveling families living around the globe.
I spent much of my life overseas in Brazil, Morocco and Chile though I have been back in the US and in Miami, the hub of the Cuban exile, for twelve years now. My kids speak broken Spanish, we eat black beans and rice often, and I can’t live without my “cortadito,” the Cuban machiatto.
In light of the events of this week and the re-opening of dialogue between my two countries, the island has been on my mind. I am also getting ready for noche buena, or Christmas Eve. Though not as religious as my parents would hope, a loud noche buena full of lively family trying to talk over each other is part of my Cuban heritage.
My parents, having left Cuba as teenagers and losing everything they had, are staunch conservatives. They came to this country with virtually nothing, and built their way back up the old fashioned way: through hard work. Anything remotely not capitalist was considered communist and hence a clear and present danger. I get it. It’s a gut reaction, PTSD of sorts.
I was born when my parents were already midway up the ladder. I didn’t live through repression or hard times, and much to their discontent lean to the liberal left. It’s a touchy subject, and no one discusses politics at noche buena/Christmas Eve.
So I am wondering what will happen tonight. It seems almost inevitable the subject of Cuba will come up given that for the first time in 50 years there has been a shift in policy. President Obama has opened communication with the island.
My parents, because of their history, are against any move unless it’s ousting of the Castro brothers, Cuba’s dictators who have ruled since they left in 1959. I respect their opinion. After what they went through, speaking to the Castro’s is equivalent to negotiating with the Devil himself.
Yet I can’t think of it that way. Fifty years have passed. FIVE – ZERO. My parents have lived outside of Cuba longer than inside, and though they remember a Cuba of their childhood, that country no longer exists. Entire generations have been born and lived under a communist regime. They have had to survive in a framework that most other communist countries have long abandoned. A forty two year-old mom of two sons, born and raised in the island, is probably very different than I am. She has lived under a communist regime her entire life, and has had to learn how to make due with rations, vouchers, and lack of liberty. A Cuban-American mom of two sons who came to the United States in her twenties, is also probably very different than I am culturally. She has been brought up in communism and had to change and adapt to life in “El Imperio,” or as Cubans call the United States … the Empire. The three of us are Cubans, two of us are Cuban Americans and yet we are all very different.
The woman in Cuba, from the little I have read, is probably welcoming this new opening of the market. Chances are she has a relative in the United States that is sending back monies to help her and she might believe, though with a fair amount of mistrust, that things for her might just be about to change drastically. The second woman, the Cuban American who came to the United States in her twenties will probably have family still living on the island, and if relations between the two countries are normalized, then she might have an opportunity to visit her home country more often and send resources more freely. And then there is me … to whom Cuba is a complete mystery and who is not really affected by the decision at all other than to potentially include Cuba on the list of trips to plan sooner rather than later.
The ones who seem to be against this, are my parents’ generation. Those who have lost most and who equate any speaking to the Castro regime as a deep betrayal. They say President Obama was naive, he exchanged three criminals for one prisoner of war. He misused a historic opportunity and settled for too little. President Obama did more than exchange prisoners, he set the stage to opening a dialogue and lifting the embargo that for fifty years has given the Cuban regime an opportunity to blame the Empire for all of it’s economic woes.
Though I did study Political Science, this is not a political blog. It is about fitness, so here is how my thoughts on Cuba translate into my own health journey – or vice versa. I don’t know what the right answer is here, and though my family might just consider me a naive liberal fool, there are some things I believe in deeply:
- Nothing changes if nothing changes. If I am unhealthy and want to get healthy, I need to change something. If I am still the same person, with the same mindset, doing the same things, and eating the same foods I cannot expect to get healthy. If what we want is change, then we must be willing to do things differently. Enough with the embargo already.
- You cannot change mindsets in isolation. All you can do from the outside is look in. I had Mandy, a nutritionist, try to work with me. She gave me all the information I needed to lose weight and get six pack abs. I had access to her all the time, yet I rarely called. In the end I learned I didn’t really want to give up my eating habits, bad as they were. Just knowing about a different way of doing things wasn’t enough. It was such a drastic change (not the diet, but my mindset) that I would need Mandy to shop for groceries, cook, and be in my house holding my hand until I eventually grabbed hold of the changes. We need to be IN Cuba to change Cuba.
- You might be wrong … but what if you are right? When I told my parents I was going to do a triathlon, my mom tried to discourage me at every corner. It was such an outlandish idea that she was fearful I would get hurt. Today, she sees how triathlon has been a positive influence in my life, and though still afraid, she actually supports me. Had I not tried, I would’ve never known. So what if this turns out to be a mistake. Could things really get any worse than a country where if you need an operation, you need to find your own thread for the stitches?
- Big changes take time, and make messes. I am a very different person than I was four years ago when I first raced, and I am not done evolving. I am not an athlete just physically; I have become an athlete mentally as well. I no longer believe things are out of my reach … they might just take time or may have to be adapted. But anything is possible, and having a free Cuba is too. It may not be the way my parents originally envisioned their return home, but it CAN happen.
I cannot believe that easing relations with Cuba is a mistake. Am I simplifying things? Absolutely. Is it a complex issue? Of course.
But even if your counterpart is a wall, you still need to touch it in order to climb it. For this Cuban-American the announced shift in policy provides the first step, an opportunity for a breakthrough.
Then, maybe my children will be able to see both Texas and Cuba and when they say they are Cubexican, perhaps I might not need to chuckle.