This weekend I went to a friend’s house for a BBQ. Thinking it would be just another lazy Saturday afternoon, trying to stay cool in the D.C.'s swamp heat, the day quickly changed to a heated political argument – about nothing else but Cuba.
Clearly my azabache black hair and Miami accent stand out among the blond preppy northeastern raised Smiths of the world that lace my circle of friends. I usually get the question “What country are you from?” Which I respond, “Miami.” That conversation quickly moves on to Cuba.
My interrogator usually tells me they think Cuba is so cool, or they make a silly comment if I can get them cigars, or even better, they tell me how someone in their family (or themselves) has gone to Cuba.
My usually positive demeanor turns sour, and I try to deter my passionate nature and tell them how I do not support any travel to Cuba and have never visited the island. I tell them I support the embargo and hate Fidel Castor. I also tell them how my grandfather was a political prisoner, a plantado, for 14 years in the communist island; his only crime was refusing the party.
Many times my interrogator is ignorant of the issues, and after a few words he/she realizes they don’t know anything about Cuba other then moments captured in a movie. Yet once in a while I get one of “those people” who feels the embargo is a stupid antiquated policy and that Cuba isn’t really that bad. Such was the case on Saturday.
As my blood begins to boil in the already sweltering summer heat, I try to keep my composure as this young man, probably about 22, tells he has gone to Cuba 3 times for cultural exchanges. How he studied architecture and believes the embargo only hurts the Cuban people. We debate in Spanish; he even speaks with a slight Cuban accent. For the next 30 minutes we go back and forth. My friends try to stop the conversation, as they have experienced this situation a few times and know how I get, but their efforts to get me to stop talking and start drinking beer with them are futile.
In the end his main argument was that the embargo has restricted products from the Cuban people and has restricted the freedoms of American’s to travel and share the views of democracy in the island. I citied the only embargo that exist in Cuba is the one imposed by Castro. I asked if he ever had a problem finding anything – of course not, he went to the tourist stores. I asked if he had to stand in line for food or waited in line in one of Castro's Cuban hospitals. No he hadn't, though he citied he knew the medical situation was not that great. But I did mention, he stayed in a Cuban hotel, a hotel Cubans can't go into, unless you work there or are a prostitute. I asked if he ventured around Cuba and saw it for what it was. He said he did architectural tours with a professor. I asked how many tourist do you see in Cuba – it is filled with people from all over the world, from democracies all over the world. I asked him, Are you so pompous to think the addition Americans are suddenly going to change things. I continued, Cubans know about America. They risk their lives every day to come to the U.S. In the end of the day the only reason you want the embargo to be lifted is not because of your concern for the Cuban people, but for your own selfish need to travel to a terrorist harboring state, which has an apartheid system, allows the largest ring of child prostitution and has hundreds of prisoners of consciousness.
Our debate ended with him walking away, rambling something about cultural exchanges were good, but he didn't know what else to say to me. Later that evening he apologized. By then everyone was annoyed by him and his persistence to debate with me, and so was I. But that is life in D.C. I don’t know if I changed his mind, but at least I made him think, hopefully for the better.
It’s amazing to me how many of “those people” I find in Washington. In clubs, hanging out with friends, even on a date (yuck!); but it never fails. I run into the Castro praising, Che lovers. I don’t mind the debate. Each time I run into “those people” my convictions grow stronger, my points become sharper and in turn my friends learn more about Cuba. Some times they even step in for me.
Though I was not born on the island, and my mother left when she was only 3 years old, Cuba is as much a part of me as breathing. And though the air may be a little toxic, we must keep breathing the fumes until Cuba is free. We will eventually all smell the sweet Caribbean breeze, and be able to arrogantly smile at “those people” but until then, we breath a little easier knowing we are doing our small part and wait for some air.