Cuban-Americans Cautiously Optimistic About U.S. Relations Lourdes Garcia-Navarro speaks with writer Achy Obejas about Cuban-American response to changes in U.S.-Cuba relations.
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Cuban-Americans Cautiously Optimistic About U.S. Relations

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Cuban-Americans Cautiously Optimistic About U.S. Relations

Cuban-Americans Cautiously Optimistic About U.S. Relations

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A view now from the Cuban exile community.

ACHY OBEJAS: I came to the United States in 1963. I was 6 years old. There were 44 of us on a 28-foot boat. We had escaped in the middle of the night.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Cuban-American writer Achy Obejas did not return to Cuba until 1995. She's lived there on and off ever since, and she's been writing a lot in the last few weeks about the shift in U.S.-Cuba policy. I asked her how the exiled community is taking this change.

OBEJAS: I think there's a kind of a wariness, but I think there's generally acceptance. There's been very few demonstrations against this, and those that have taken place have had very few numbers. For the most part, I think the Cuban-American community as a whole feels like this was inevitable - whether they agree with it or not - and so there's a certain level of acceptance just off the top.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What conversations have you been having with people? What have you been talking about with your family, with your friends?

OBEJAS: This actually has not come up.


OBEJAS: It sounds really bizarre. But it actually has not come up. And I think it's actually for a good reason, you know. My mom, who is my last living parent, is part of that generation that came over with very strong political convictions, very strong ideas about possible return to Cuba after the Castro regime. You know, she's very symbolic of her generation in a sense that as time has gone by - she's 84 now - you know, the possibility of a future in Cuba just faded. So Cuba became very, very abstract. Also I think there's a need to avoid intergenerational conflict. I don't know if you remember Elian Gonzalez...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The young boy whose mother drowned on her way to the U.S., and then he was forcibly returned to his father in Cuba, right?

OBEJAS: Right. There was a huge generational sort of schism. You know, the older generation was very much in favor of his being kept here. And the younger generation people, that is people like me who grew up here, we thought the guy need to be returned to his father. And a lot of families had tremendous divisions during this. I mean, my parents and I didn't speak for six months during that time. And I think that was a big lesson in avoiding gigantic political issues so as to keep a certain amount of family unity, especially during holidays. I've talked with several friends who tell me that they're sort of having the same situation with their families where it either hasn't come up at all, or it comes up in this very sort of marginal way.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You lived in Cuba as an adult. You live now in the U.S. One of the terrible legacies of Cuba's history is divided families. Do you think that the gap between the two communities can be bridged?

OBEJAS: Oh, yeah. I mean, it's being bridged now. This is the thing; you know, the older generation - this very staunch, anti-Castro, we-don't-compromise generation - it's dying out. That generation is not really moving the strings anymore. There's a younger generation that's actually composed of two different groups. One is the Cuban-Americans, the kids who grew up here, like me, infused with a lot of American values about democracy. And then there is this huge community of people who have come to the U.S. as adults, as young adults, in recent years - in the last 10, 20 years, people who are still very tied to the island, people who work so that they can invest in their families and the island, and they do make periodic returns. And so this bridge has been being built in a lot of different ways.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do you think that the two different communities, though, have a common vision of what Cuba ought to look like post-Castro?

OBEJAS: I think the Cuban-Americans have a sense of it. I mean, I think they imagine a kind of a liberal democracy. I think the folks who come from Cuba and have been here less time may have different ideas. I've talked to different people, and, you know, it's interesting to me because a lot of those folks grew up with, you know, the strongman, and I get this idea that they still think it needs something, that there's a sense of control - that Cuba still needs some sort of sense control. I find that so curious.

But I think one of the problems is that in Cuba, there's never been a space to discuss the possibility of a future outside of the socialist structure that's in place. And there were no specifics for most people. They want greater freedom of expression. They want to be able to, you know, have free enterprise. They want to be able to set up a business, but how that comes about is very mysterious and very abstract. But it's a place that is very important to me and hurts a lot when I talk about Cuba. The sadness is overwhelming because it's a great place with great people, but its history really, really condemns it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Thank you so much for joining us.

OBEJAS: Thank you.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Cuban-American writer Achy Obejas.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And an update now on a story from Havana we reported yesterday. The artist Tania Bruguera had planned an event there with a microphone inviting anyone to say anything about Cuba for one minute. Her event did not happen. She was detained by authorities yesterday, according to her sister's Facebook page. A number of other dissidents were also detained, making it the most significant crackdown since the shift in U.S.-Cuba policy. It was strongly condemned by the U.S. State Department. This afternoon, we learned that Bruguera was freed after 24 hours in custody.

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