In May 1981, my mom and her family were forced to leave their home in Havana, Cuba. They, along with thousands of others, sought asylum at the Peruvian embassy, no longer wanting to live in a country where they could be brutally punished for not conforming with the Castro regime.
My family came to this country during the Mariel Boat lift, part of the 125,000 Cubans who came to the United States after the embassy incident. I was born in Miami several years later after my mom met my dad, another member of the Mariel exodus. He, too, had escaped to freedom.
Conforming in Cuba was out of the question. My grandfather had never allowed his kids to participate in the mandatory Communist Party youth groups. My grandmother, God rest her soul, never gave up on her Catholic beliefs, despite the widespread condemnation of Christianity under communism. Because of this, they were punished regularly by the dictatorship.
This is the nature of the government with which my president, Barack Obama, has decided to establish ties. The unelected dictator who leads the international cartel known as the Cuban military could soon visit my White House.
Oppression Is Baked Into the Castro Regime
To this day the regime oppresses its own people on a daily basis, just as it did my family so many years ago. Since my family wouldn’t bow to the regime, the regime decided in the 1970s to starve them into submission. It cut their already meager food rations. After a while, they had no choice but to leave.
But here’s the twist. My family members were among the lucky ones. Yes, government goons vandalized their home. But many other homes were totally destroyed, their occupants physically assaulted in the streets. Government-sponsored mobs called them “gusanos,” the Spanish word for “worm,” meaning traitors to the revolution, and pelted them with rocks and eggs.
My family were lucky, too, in that they were able to flee to this country. At first, my mom’s family of seven moved into a tiny house in Miami. During the day they went to school, and at night they worked as janitors.
Growing up second-generation Cuban American in Miami essentially defines you. By the time I was 10 years old, I could recite the poetry of Cuba’s independence hero José Martí from memory, knew that Fidel Castro’s birthday sometimes landed on Friday the thirteenth (coincidence, I think not) and that nothing was better than a little Cuban cafecito.
Normalizing Relations with Cuba Is a Betrayal
We children of immigrants were also told the heartbreaking realities of Cuba, and knew never to trust the false narratives the Left painted. You know your family back on the island will never have enough to eat, enough clothes to wear, or sufficient medicine to take. They’ll never be allowed to vote or to decide their careers. The Communist Party makes that choice for them.
That’s why my generation, Cuban-American millennials, continue fighting for freedom on the island. My friend Rudy Mayor recently wrote of the burdens of my generation taking the baton from our parents’ generation, and put it this way: “It is indeed a heavy burden and responsibility considering the giants that you are inheriting it from.”
In the days following President Obama’s announcement, there has been much prattle in the press about my generation cheering what Obama has just done. Here’s what else has happened in the past few days: Cuba’s leader Raul Castro reaffirmed his commitment to communist rule and declared the regime has “won the war.” Shortly thereafter, a Cuban gunboat sank a vessel filled with 32 would-be migrants.
Conceding the moral high ground that our country had enjoyed until now, my president now refers to Cuban dictator Raul Castro as president—a man who was never elected and whose only claim to power is that he is the biological successor of his ruthless elder brother, Fidel Castro.
My generation understands Cuban reality, and we also feel the pain of what the president has done. Don’t count on our support for “normalization.” We will never betray our parents, or the country of their birth.