Wednesday, July 28, 2010

It Makes Sense

Although I was born in Miami to Cuban-born parents and attended arguably the most Cuban school in the world outside of Cuba (Belen Jesuit), I was not aware of how times were truly changing on the island until I attended the Cornell Conference and began my fellowship with Roots this summer. Up until that point I was so accustomed to and desensitized to the Cuban culture that I really had no intellectual curiosity regarding Cuba, its people still living there, and the state of politics and society. My parents left when they were little and my grandparents had to start a new life in Miami; none of them ever looked back, there was only time to move forward. As a result there was little pressure to learn about Cuba-present day, instead I heard stories of the old Cuba: the Cuba when the U.S. dollar and the Cuban dollar were at equal value, stories of the revolution, and most interesting to me, the romanticized revolution lead by a feared but respected figure, Fidel Castro. For some reason, I never felt I needed to look deeper.

I had traveled outside Miami and the country before but I had never lived for an extended amount of time outside my hometown. Living in Charlottesville, Virginia sparked an identity crisis, the identity crisis that has plagued many Miami-Cuban boys and girls who go out of state for college. I will admit, in high school I always had a thing against the cubanazos. In my head I would say “Come on, we get it, you’re Cuban! You live in Miami, not that cool.” But as the school year progressed at UVA I found myself looking back more and more often to the most Cuban aspects in my life. I bought a Cuba Carnaval poster for my dorm room, a cafetera to make Cuban coffee, and I even considered buying a Cuban flag to hang up. What was going on? I was becoming more Cuban than ever before, in the least Cuban place. And, on top of it all people were really curious about my Cuban background.

I thought about my parents’ culture shock stories when they left Miami to go to university in D.C. and the Northeast. It was definitely not sexy to be Hispanic. Because “El Exilio” dominated their cultural experiences, the American way of life was very foreign. It is safe to say that at least for their undergraduate years, it was very far from the typical “best years of your life.” I went back in my memory to stories my parents had told me about their lives before kids and so forth and none of the happy ones had to do with college. I began to realize that my experiences living away from Miami studying and working would be very different.

As I became involved with the Cuban American Student Association at UVA and later attended the Cornell Cuba Conference, it all began to make sense to me. It was almost as if my generation of Cubans, Cuban-Americans, and Cuba-lovers was the chosen one. The identity crisis characterized by feeling trapped in between two worlds, the Cuban and the American, was not a crisis or conflict at all. Instead I realized it was an opportunity, an opportunity to bring both worlds together in common interests.

Now working as a fellow with Raices and seeing firsthand the progress the organization made has allowed me to look further and see the vast potential we Cuban – American or lover – youth have to foster progress and change on the island. I am aware that the Cubans in Cuba are to be the authors of their own destinies, but I am truly excited to take part in making it possible to write that new chapter in Cuban history, or better yet, Cuban future.

Monday, July 26, 2010

FREEDOM for CUBA by Carmen Pelaez

English Version

Version en Español

A life full of dreams, dreams full of life...

Some people like to tell fiction stories, a product inspired by their nighttime dreams. Some people like to sit along the sidelines of history and narrate the facts, sprinkling their research data with a hint of their own take on things. I know that the latter certainly had a big impact in my life, given that, sadly, the educators that genuinely worry about their students' education nowadays seems to have somewhat plummeted; I found myself compensating for their lack of interest in my own education through books and curiosity. I have personally never enjoyed fiction as much as I have enjoyed learning about the facts. However, the trips, the experiences, and the years--and not that I have been on this Earth for too long--have helped me to come to the conclusion that the best stories are the ones told by those we call "regular people."

I grew up hearing about wonderful men and women who fought day and night to make the world a better place (as corny as it may sound to some people). Of course, one always dreams of becoming one of those someday; someone people will continue to tell stories about for some time. As we grow up, though, life and time have an art to shift things around--sort of like a macro life-altering feng shui. Slowly, our dreams of becoming the president of the U.S. or an astronaut become childish aspirations hampered by real life; the dreams of making the world a better place don't seem as tangible or as colorful. Suddenly, we have to quantify everything: if I go to this university, it will get me X kind of job that will allow me to make Y amount of money to sustain Z amount of kids. Then we look back and we're no longer the 10-year-old that dreamed of becoming an astronaut. But somehow we always think that 10-year-old was the better version of ourselves. At 10 one knows no boundaries, no governments, no politics, no races, no religions. At 20, we're already too caught up in the mess and mayhem of the world and the heroes we used to admire seem like people we're never going to be able to resemble.

The stories I hear from the people around me in Raíces de Esperanza tell me otherwise. During these past couple of weeks, after getting to know the Roots more deeply, I have come to the conclusion that we humans are fond of pursuing that which is already at our fingertips. The heroes that we read about in books (or those whose tweets we religiously read every time our smartphones vibrate) were not born with a label on their forehead or an outstanding biography. They were ordinary people who happened to be amazing leaders.

The Roots come from all different backgrounds, some were born in Cuba, some weren't, and some aren't even Cubans. But every single one of us has a story. Some of our stories are real tearjerkers. Most of them came to a happier resolution. All of them have a commonality: Cuba is one of the main characters. The other main character? The youth. I rest assured that Cuba’s future is bright, for it rests in loving hands of big dreamers fueled by an incredibly strong and passionate spirit. I am thrilled to be a part of this organization filled with extraordinary heroes I like to call brothers and sisters. Roots, keep on dreaming with childish enthusiasm—a virtue of true leaders.

“Keep true to the dreams of thy youth.”
- Friedrich von Schiller

~ Karla "La Boricua"

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Amnesty International Calls on Cuban Government to Grant Freedom of Expression

On this American Independence Day (July 4th), many will celebrate with flag waving and backyard barbeques. However, many take for granted their basic, assumed rights, such as the freedom of expression, whether in favor of or contrary to the national government and regime.

Amnesty International (AI), a global non-governmental organization drawing attention to human rights abuses, has recently issued a report (Restrictions on Freedom of Expression in Cuba) and called on the Cuban government to make changes to eliminate its “repressive machinery”. Any persons with opinions contrary to the government’s stance risk arbitrary arrest and harassment by officials—such as happened to Las Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White) earlier this year.

“The laws are so vague that almost any act of dissent can be deemed criminal in some way, making it very difficult for activists to speak out against the government,” said Kerrie Howard, Deputy Americas Director at AI. Other restrictions on journalists by the Cuban government include requiring all journalists to join the national journalists’ association (in turn controlled by the Communist Party) and restricting island access to certain blogs openly criticizing the government, such as Yoani Sanchez’s blog (Generation Y), blocked since early 2008.

Even now, digging into its own ranks, the government has expelled a high level party official, Esteban Morales, for acting as a whistle blower to corruption and writing on a state website that “people in government and state positions are preparing a financial assault for when the revolution falls”.

AI recognizes at least 53 political prisoners on the island and has called for their release. The Independent Cuban Commission on Human Rights estimates about 190 political prisoners, including AI’s fifty-three.

The organization also addressed the United States embargo, claiming the government was using it as a scapegoat to justify inadequacies at guaranteeing human rights. “[The embargo] is frankly a lame excuse for violating the rights of the Cuban people,” stated Ms. Howard. “The government needs to find solutions to end human rights violations, instead of excuses to perpetrate them.”

Amnesty International has demanded the government “revoke or amend legal provisions that unlawfully limit freedom of expression, end harassment of dissidents, release all prisoners of conscience, and allow free exchange of information through the internet and other media.”