“Hoy me desperté en un mundo un poco más libre.” These were the words I posted on the day I found out about Fidel Castro’s death. I was relieved. Years of inter-generational trauma and pain seemed, for a second, to be healed. This was the first time I could afford to go home for Thanksgiving, and it seemed to all be for a reason. At the time I found out, I was away from my home and family visiting Cuban relatives in Sarasota and Port Charlotte, Florida. On TV I saw the celebrations and joy pour out of my neighborhood in Miami and the crowds start to grow at the La Carreta Cuban Restaurant just a few blocks from my house. I called my abuela and abuelo to share the news and hear them seem to awaken from their dementia and express a few moments of present realization and joy. The dictatorship that haunted them seemed to have somehow broken apart just enough to give them a minute of peace through all the pain their illnesses have given them. When talking to them upon returning to Miami this past Sunday, I became sad for those in my family who did not live to see this day and died not knowing what it felt like to see their oppressor finally pass.
While many people across the world, specifically in the United States, Latin America and Africa (there are intertwined histories here, look them up) seem to be puzzled at the celebration of a man’s death, I ask you to consider the Miami Cuban exile perspective. While I am not ignorant to the aspects of the Castro revolution that bring me immense pride as a Cuban-American—universal healthcare, brilliant doctors and vaccines, a highly educated and literate population, a resilient and proud culture of fighters, a stance against systemic racism—I ask you to attribute those successes and milestones to a hardworking resilient Cuban people that have done so much with so much of the world disconnected from them. I do not praise Fidel Castro because I grew up hearing about him throwing openly gay men into labor camps as counter-revolutionaries and torturing those who held different political opinions. I cringe at the mention of him in the media as “President” of Cuba when Castro never allowed free and fair elections, when I have cell phone videos of my relatives in La Habana filming Las Damas de Blanco getting beaten by police for peaceful opposition against the government, when I have heard my family talk in fear about how police watchdogs would find those who even talked about leaving Cuba and dealing with those people mysteriously being gone the next day. The Cuba my mom and grandparents left in the late ’60s was a Cuba where an openly queer man like myself would have been thrown into a UMAP labor camp because they didn’t fit Castro’s machista utopian views for a better Cuba. Fidel Castro is not the symbol of a revolutionary hero that should be plastered on a shirt as a sign of successful socialism. I refuse to accept his memory as a positive legacy, but rather as a regime that oppressed and continues to oppress almost all forms of political dissent. I grew up watching the tears of my family and community members while talking about their tío being beaten up for speaking out against Castro by state police or families sending their kids alone to the United States out of genuine fear for their safety in a Cuba where difference of opinion was not tolerated.
You may choose to remember Castro’s legacy differently, but do not dismiss the experiences of those who suffered under his oppression. To my Cuban-Americans and my cousins back in Sagua la Grande and La Habana, I love you and I hope this moment in history is part of a push to bring positive change to the island I have held in my heart for so long. This week I rejoice along with my family for finally feeling as though we are a small, small step closer to a Cuba Libre. Miami, la lucha sigue.