Fleeing the Cuban Revolution|Part II–Nina Wei

cubamerican1

Cubamerican Poster

Over the past week, I successfully incorporated an interview and a documentary, Cubamerican, into my analysis of the Cuban Revolution’s impact on Cuban Americans. Inspired by my last post examining the history of Cuban immigrants to the U.S. and the diverse social and political affiliations within Cuban American communities, I decided to interview T. Maria, who came to the U.S. from Cuba with her family at the age of two, and gain second-hand understanding of Cuban refugees’ experience during the Revolution. Cubamerican also offered me insights into specific Cuban Americans’ interpretations of their identity as an emigrant in the U.S. This post will be less informational than previous ones, centering on my reflections while serving as a conclusion to the unit on Cuba.

I designed the interview questions to gear towards learning about T. Maria’s struggles with her identity and experiences that altered her perception of Cuba. T. Maria first highlighted an integral part to her: being a Cuban “refugee” who holds onto Cuban traditions rather than an “immigrant” who is more willing to integrate into American society. Identifying as a refugee who fled under oppression during the Revolution, T. Maria depicts her embrace of her Cuban roots and constant curiosity towards her mother country. While T. Maria was growing up in a Delaware community where her family was the only Cuban-American household, the foreign culture and political views that were vastly different from her family’s challenged T. Maria’s perception of herself. She figured from her family’s preservation of Cuban traditions, music, and food, as well as her family’s hatred towards President Kennedy, that she was indeed raised in a “Cuban bubble,” isolating her from the wider American community. However, she later realized that despite these efforts to retain her Cuban identity, she was different from the Cubans who grew up in Cuba. By corresponding with her cousin in Cuba and learning the differences between the culture in her family and in her cousin’s, T. Maria found herself in an identity crisis, unable to determine whether she identified as Cuban or American. It was not until when she became a mother that she recognized herself as a Cuban raised in America(Alonso).

image

Iglesias, Screencap of ‘¿Qué pasa, U.S.A.?’

The documentary also narrates similar struggles of Cuban refugees to the U.S. by including an interview with Steven Bauer, the lead actor in America’s first bilingual sitcom—¿Qué pasa, U.S.A.?—which examines the lives of Cuban immigrants as they navigate their identities while being immersed in the American community. Bauer in Cubamerican shares that he was very similar to the character he starred as in his teenage years, who was convinced that he was different from Cubans who stayed in Cuba and was determined to be “American” by assimilating into American culture. However, the experience of performing in that sitcom and coming to understand those identity struggles through acting brought him the epiphany that it was possible to be Cuban without actually living in Cuba (00:39:11-00:41:16).

Besides grappling with cultural identities, I also furthered my exploration of generation gaps in Cuban-American communities last week. T. Maria explained that the most intense level of conflict existed between older generations and the understanding beginning to emerge among younger generations. For example, her view departed from her parents’ and older sisters’ on opening up Cuba as a way to foster peace between Cuba and the outside world. After traveling to Cuba this spring, T. Maria corroborated her perception of de-escalating tension among younger generations with her conversation with a bus driver in Cuba, Junior. Junior contrasted his parents excessive concern that American tourists would bring harm to Cuba with his firm belief that exposure to foreign cultures would benefit Cuba to a great extent. The importance of promoting forgiveness is also an essential theme in the documentary, as Orlando Diaz-Azcuy claims that promoting the understanding that conforming to Castro’s leadership was the only mechanism to survive for many Cubans is important to pacify conflicts arising within older generations between the Cuban emigrants and the Cubans who stayed (1:34:45-1:35:01). T. Maria also advocates respect and recognition of those who did not have the privilege to flee Castro’s oppressive regime as she recounts her sympathy towards Victor, a teacher she met on the Cuba trip who lived under the Revolution, when he shared the journey of his survival through the famine in the ‘60s with pride(Alonso).

Although I began the research focusing on mediating generational divide in Cuban-American families, it occurred to me that generation gaps also exist in Cuban families that stayed on the island. And that reconciling diverging views from different generations in native Cuban communities is of equal significance. Mutual understanding from both parties of the conflict would be the key to resolve misunderstandings that arose as a result of the Cuban Revolution. In addition, weaving their own identities living in environments filled with different cultural traditions is indeed a challenge for Cuban Americans, but also an art that inspires diversity and celebrates difference. Each person will decide which parts of the cultures they would like to blend into their own. Similarly, T. Maria expressed at the end of the interview, speaking from her role as a mother, that it is always her children’s freedom to decide on their identities and how much of their Cuban roots they desire to integrate into their characters(Alonso).

My research on the development of communism in Cuba and on the history of Cuban immigration to the U.S. served as context and a specific lens through which I could further develop my understanding of Castro’s interpretation of Marxist ideologies, his applications of communist ideals in  Cuban society, and the enduring effects of the Cuban Revolution. Castro’s nationalist identity combined with his turn towards the Soviet Union oriented Cuba in a communist direction, spurring radical changes that transformed Cuba and pressured around a million to take refuge in the U.S. Now, I have gained a deeper comprehension of communism in Cuba and its relevance to modern society through examining informational sources, an interview, and a documentary. I plan to complete the Cuba unit this week after reading a few excerpts from Waiting for Snow in Havana, and promptly start the next unit on communism in Cambodia.

Works Cited

Sources:

Alonso, Maria. Interview. 21 Oct. 2018.

Cubamerican. Directed by José Enrique Pardo, 2013.

Images:

Cubamerican Poster. 13 Jan. 2013. Projector & Orchestra, Tim Greiving, projectorandorchestra.com/cubamerican/. Accessed 5 Nov. 2018.

Iglesias, José A. Screencap of ‘¿Qué pasa, U.S.A.?’. Miami Herald, http://www.miamiherald.com/entertainment/article190855869.html. Accessed 5 Nov. 2018.

One thought on “Fleeing the Cuban Revolution|Part II–Nina Wei

  1. Alina Zhao

    This is a really interesting topic, Nina! It is great that you got a chance to interview someone who actually had the first-hand experience of being a Cuban American refugee. The one part I think you could make clearer is the role communism and the Cuban Revolution played in these people’s experiences. Apart from the fact that people were forced to leave their home country, why effect did Castro have on these people after they moved?

    Reply

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