Fifty-two years ago on Valentine’s day, a three-year-old boy boarded a small plane with his older brother, older sister, and mother. Unsure why Daddy wasn’t with them, he boarded at his mother’s direction and left behind a life he would barely remember.
This family was one of the quarter-million Cubans who had been welcomed to America by President Lyndon B. Johnson’s so-called “freedom flights.” These flights during the late 1960s and early ’70s accepted a combination of the lower and middle classes of Cuba who had lost jobs, livelihoods, family members, and rights to the Castro regime.
Arriving in America with little money, no husband, and three children, the young woman was determined to make a life for herself and her children in America. This woman was willing to risk her life and that of her children for the mere opportunity to succeed.
As she will tell you, the Cuban people have a grit comparable to no other’s. They are hard-working, loud, stubborn, and passionate. She constantly recalls stories to her grandchildren about how difficult it was to find her way in America, and reminds them how grateful they should be to live in a country so free.
The protests currently happening in that nation’s capital remind her of the lack of free speech in Cuba. She recounts watching Fidel Castro’s firing squads lining people up on prime-time television as an example to others.
While Americans protest not only in the streets of our cities but in front of the nation’s capitol and the White House without fear of retribution or punishment, Cubans hold those images in their minds. When they try to explain to the world what is happening to them, the Cuban government restricts their internet access. Indeed, the American dream is alive and well for everyone not too privileged to already live here.
I have been to Cuba but one time, and I remember it vividly. I recall the tour guide emphatically waiving his ration book as he was taking us past the meat market. I can still hear the excitement in his voice over how lucky he felt to have enough rice, beans, and soap for his family for the month.
I can still see the empty shelves. There’s no selection. No variety of prices. There is one of every item if you are lucky, and doubly lucky enough to afford it.
The woman I wrote of above has yet to visit her home country since she left because she cannot stand to see Cuba the way it is now. She speaks of her home with reverence and fond memory and knows it is not what she will find.
Fidel was supposed to be the savior. He was the man of the people for the people. Instead, food was rationed. Hospitals drained. People fled. Money devalued. Citizens starved and turned on one another. Corruption spread like wildfire. The country remains stuck decades behind the rest of the world in technology. Liberty remains only a pipe dream.
So what do Cubans do? They take to the streets waving the American red, white, and blue. Even an MSNBC opinion writer suggested there is significance in the fact that Cubans see freedom as American.
While here we protest for more government intervention by way of federalized election laws, free college, and control over Big Tech, Cubans of all ages take to the streets to demand the freedom we take for granted. Americans are so insulated from the outside world, and younger generations are far too desensitized to the evil despotism of communism. Moral and spiritual rot comes with making the government your god.
People under true oppression around the world know that freedom and liberty for all is the gold standard. Hardworking individuals understand that the chance to succeed with a little grit and a lot of time and energy is worth risking their lives to cross that 90-mile straight.
This is all something the U.S. conservative party used to understand. During the Cold War, one of the most effective strategies of the Reagan administration was the fervor with which President Ronald Reagan denounced communism as not only economically but morally bankrupt.
Somewhere along the way, we forgot to continue to pass on the message. Young people should care about communism in Cuba because it is communism in its purest and most raw form: Unsuccessful, deprived, and dangerous.
As a 20-year-old college senior, I am unlikely to provide a more insightful or nuanced solution to this problem than those well-versed in the subject, but this I do know: what happened in Cuba can happen here, and it is up to the next generation of Americans to find their American pride and stop it.
Some 32 years after boarding that plane, that little boy would meet my mom, give life to me and my younger brother, start his own company, and put his children through college. Some would call that an American dream. I call it heroic.
After making a life for herself, my abuela now has three successful children, seven grandchildren in or graduated from college, and three great-grandchildren all because she got on a plane seeking the chance to make something of herself. She is the hero who made my dreams possible.
My Cuban pride runs deep and I feel for the people, yet deeper still is my American fervor for human freedom at home and abroad. If this generation does not soon realize the cries of the Cuban people for what they already have in America, this nation may soon lose its place as the flag waved in protest for freedom.
I have spent my entire life hearing about the horrors and atrocities my grandmother escaped, and I will never forgive the Cuban regime for taking my grandfather from me, but if there is anything these stories and experiences have taught me it is that the greatest privilege that exists is being born in the nation everyone turns to for liberty and protection.
We are quickly forgetting that, and God help us if we give it up willingly. If you have a prayer to spare, say one for the Cuban people; and it wouldn’t hurt to pray this generation realizes the magnitude of the situation.