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An Author Weighs in on Cuba

Desiree Cooper

Millie Jefferson

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A graffiti mural in Havana.
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Desiree Cooper: Cristina, how do you feel about the events unfolding in Cuba, from your vantage point?

Cristina Garcia: Honestly, it feels very distant. It's almost as if a relative, an old relative of my parents, or a great aunt far away, is ailing and sick and possibly on her death bed. And I feel sympathy, a certain degree of sympathy, but it's still quite far removed from my own life. I was talking to my father last night, I called to check in with him to see what the feeling in Miami was, because they are definitely in the heart and the heat of the exile community there. And he said (in Spanish), it's the basically the same dog just a different collar.

So, now, looking forward is there any hope for the future, any change on the horizon as 50 years of being Cuban exiles?

Yes, but I think that means different things to different people. For my parents' generation, I think they would love to see the day when Cuba moves more towards a democracy. I think for my cousins and people I know on the island, they're looking for more opportunities, both intellectually and travel-wise and monetarily. And I think for someone like me, who didn't suffer the direct privations, I am more in the wake of all this dislocation and upheaval and vengeance and partly participating because I am in an extended Cuban family. For me it's personal because of my family, but as a student of political science I am also fascinated to see what's going to happen there.

In your 1997 book "The Aguero Sisters," Constancia stands apart from the Cuban community. She even admits that she voted Democratic once. And it seems like you have been in conflict also as a member of the Cuban exile community. Is your experience as a Cuban-American similar to Constancia's?

Well, I think when I moved to Miami in 1987 there are certain things that made me feel very straight-jacketed. For me, to be Cuban in Miami at that time -- of course things have changed since then -- but to be Cuban in Miami at that time meant to hold certain political views, to be a big Reagan supporter. It meant all kinds of things. It was this panoply of expectations that defined you as Cuban. And if you were to deviate from that, you were really considered somewhat of a pariah. I had a hard time socially there just being a garden-variety Democrat during those times.

I think that has changed quite a bit. I think at least publicly, one dominant viewpoint that's hammered away on the airwaves and purported to speak for all the Cubans in exile and in diaspora, and it really doesn't. There are multiple viewpoints. Actually a good third of Cubans in Miami are registered Democrats but nobody hears from them because they are drowned out.

Cristina, you have written a lot based on your own experience as a Cuban-American. I understand that you have an excerpt that you would like to read for us from your book "Dreaming in Cuban."

Yes, this is from the point-of-view of Pilar Puente, who is a Cuban-American teenager in New York, and comments on how history gets made. She says:

"I resent the hell out of the politicians and generals who force events on us that structure our lives that dictates the memories we will have when we are old. Everyday Cuba fades a little more inside me. Everyday my grandmother fades a little more inside me. And there is only my imagination where our history should be."

Your daughter is named Pilar and she is a teenager.

Yes, God help me (laugh).

Is Cuba fading for her? For her is Cuba a dream?

She only went to Cuba a few times when she was a baby under five. So for her, Cuba is an uncle with a rabbit puppet. It means a friend that she made on the beach and taught how to say "chicken." It means getting halfway through my book, "Dreaming in Cuban," and putting it down when the new Harry Potter came along.

So, for her it's very Cuban-light. It's been diluted quite a bit. She is also made up of many different parts: Japanese, surfer, clarinetist. So, to her it's not as salient. It's not the fulcrum on which her sense of identity hinges.

You mentioned that you moved to Miami and you were a bit surprised that you didn't fit in there and one would expect that you would. If some of the hard-line Cuban exiles were to be able to go back to Cuba tomorrow, do you think they would have a similar feeling after longing for 50 years to go back home? What would they find when they got home?

Oh, I think it would be very jarring for them. And I think many older Cubans have not returned to the island not only for political reasons -- in other words they don't want to spend a dime there while Castro is in power, etcetera. But also because I don't think they want their dreams and their memories shattered. My father has only been back once and my mother has been back several times. I know that when my parents went back it was a devastating experience for them.

And I think it just burst that bubble of nostalgia. And now its been some years since they have been there. They live in Miami and now I can see that they have taken all of their nostalgia vitamins and its back in full force, but they don't want to deal with the new reality that is Cuba, honestly.


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