Two Families, One Death, and the Beginning of Change

By the age of five I had already heard enough conversations about politics to know that I should hate George W. Bush and (pretend to) love Fidel Castro.

I’d often say  “I can’t wait for Bush to leave, then there will be Liberty” and my grandfather on my father’s side had me repeat it to other family members, showing me off as a ‘politically conscious’ little girl standing up for her country.

At that age I listened and repeated, not necessarily understanding, what adults said in hushed conversations behind closed doors.

My grandfather was a Colonel of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (Las FAR— Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias) and my grandmother was a civil worker of the FAR. Growing up under their influence, my father decided to attend the military school Camilo Cienfuegos as a means of achieving a military career. Despite gaining interest in pursuing aeronautics, my father was forced into military service and sent to war in Angola from 1987-89 during the battle of Cuito Cuanavale.

In this household, I spent most of my time as a child hearing his war stories, his pride in  servicing the government. My summers were spent elsewhere, vacationing with my mother’s side of the family— one that was against the government.

When the revolution became successful and as Fidel Castro took power in 1959, my grandfather’s motorcycle shop was brought down and then built back up, forced to function as a clandestine workshop.

For years to come, my grandfather on my mother’s side would be prosecuted. My grandmother, a soft spoken woman, tried to abide by the rules and stray from trouble by attending the Revolutionary Defense Committee meetings (CDR— Comite de Defensa Revolucionaria).

Disagreeing with the government was (and still is) punishable by imprisonment, and eventually death. Castro’s regime assigned committee leaders to city blocks to look out for activities residents would partake in— especially illegal ones— in defense against the revolution.

In 1994, my grandfather brought three of his sons to the United States, fleeing the communist government via boat like many have done since the revolution. My father also left the country in fear of government persecution.

We left the island four years later.

We arrived in 2008 just when President Obama started working on his legacy, forever impacting immigrants such as myself and my mother. Meanwhile we’d send phone calls, care packages, cash money and heartfelt letters to family members waiting to someday be reunited.

Eight years later, on Nov. 25, 2016, Fidel Castro was announced dead, after 57 years of leading the country to extreme levels of poverty, crime, and destruction.

When my mother received the news of the dictator’s demise, she half-jokingly said, “Now I can return to Cuba.”

The division between revolutionaries and anti-revolutionaries created a divide between both sides of the family with me as the common factor. But, now, as the outstanding symbol of communism no longer stands, neither does the divide within my family.

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