I wasn’t born in Cuba, thankfully.
But the blood flowing through my veins has carried my family’s tears for 38 years.
I’m a second-generation Cuban-American. My dad left Cuba when he was one year old in 1956, three years before Fidel Castro overthrew Fulgencio Batista. My grandfather saw what was coming and did the smart thing.
My mother, meanwhile, fled Cuba with her family in the early 1960s after Castro took everything from them.
I’m telling you all this because as someone of Cuban descent, I’ve come to learn over the years when you talk to another Cuban you have to define your suffering.
The questions are the same: Were you born there? When did you or your parents leave? Did you get here by plane or on a raft? What did Castro do to you or your family?
It’s like an awful ranking system. And the more you or your family suffered, the more Cuban you really are.
And the thing is, I didn’t suffer one bit. My parents didn’t really either. They benefited from coming to this country. I received a great education, went on terrific family vacations and hardly spoke Spanish until I got married 13 years ago to a woman whose parents are much more Cuban than mine.
And yet, when I learned shortly after midnight Saturday that Castro had died, I felt something that caught me off guard, something that truly surprised me.
I felt sadness.
Not for the tyrant. Not for the man who had my father-in-law shocked and jailed for refusing to join Castro as a young man in his 20s. Not for the bearded [beast] who made my grandfather’s blood boil every time his name was brought up.
I felt for everyone in my family who didn’t get to see this day, the ones Castro outlived and who wished for his death every day. I cried for the ones who truly suffered through things I and many other young Cuban-Americans will never really truly be able to comprehend.
What is it like to lose your country? What is it like to have to flee oppression? What is it like to have to start a new life in a country you don’t even know the language of?
I’m grateful today for the life I have. Two days ago I was celebrating Thanksgiving in a five-bedroom cabin in the mountains of North Georgia with my parents, my two brothers, my wife and two daughters. I spent five days enjoying America and all of its wonderful gifts and charging it all on my credit card.
Somewhere in Cuba, some family member I’ve never met, some distant cousin with the same blood running through the veins will never know what it’s like to live the way I’ve lived. And I’ll never know what it’s like to suffer the way they have — to be hungry and living in a country where you can’t even get on the internet in 2016.
The man to blame for all this finally died late Friday night after nearly five decades of rule. His brother remains in charge of a country still run the same way it has been since my parents left it so long ago. And that’s probably not going to change anytime soon.
And yet, somewhere deep down inside my heart, there’s a hope that one day I’ll be able to go to that little island I’ve always heard about and read about and seen pictures of, and step foot on it when it’s finally set free.
I want to go there not for myself, but for my family who dreamed of this day and somewhere are still praying for the Cuba they left behind.
I want to go there so somewhere up in heaven they can pump their fists in celebration. I hope it happens. I hope to now live to see that day.
Until then, Rest in Peace, mis abuelitos.
That awful man is finally dead.