I was 19 when the Berlin Wall fell. The free world cheered. But not my family.
"It's a trick," my father said.
Communists, my mother reminded me, were very clever people.
The events of the days and weeks that followed transformed a generation. Governments fell across Eastern Europe, dictators were swept away overnight, hundreds of thousands of people gathered in spontaneous celebrations all over the world. But the more the wall crumbled, the more my parents shored up their defenses.
At our house, there would be no celebrating this massive, international, badly-choreographed fraud.
My parents are exiles from Cuba. Castro and Communism was the two-headed monster of my childhood. At one point in my tender years I even came to believe that Fidel enjoyed the supernatural ability to monitor my private thoughts.
I grew up into a culture where nothing was what it seemed, where liberation meant tyranny, where hope begat doom and optimism was for the mentally deficient. My parents had had a rough lot of it. My mother's father lost his home and his life's savings to the revolution. My father's brother spent four years in jail as a political prisoner. Life had handled my parents roughly at a young age and deformed their ability to dream.
Not that my family didn't know happiness. On the contrary. Because so much had been taken from them, my parents clung to what remained: family and friends. Good food, good drink, hilarious company. These were concrete joys in an uncertain world and they cherished them.
As a result, we are a boisterous family, forever entertaining. But, for all our parties, we have never celebrated Nov. 9th. I couldn't even remember the precise date of the fall and I doubt my parents could either. For all I know, 20 years on, they still think it's a trick.
Me -- I've never agreed with my parents on politics. It's always easy for the generation that didn't suffer to take the broader view. But the older I get, the less that matters. All I know is that three of my grandparents have died waiting to return to their country. That for all that my parents have embraced in America, a real homeland will always elude them. And that half a century after the Cuban revolution, their native tongue is still a foreign one.
Maybe in their paranoia, my parents sensed a deeper truth back in 1989. No, the communists didn't leap from the rubble to scream "gotcha." But they ended up leaving a troubled legacy to the generation that succeeded them within the old Bloc. And to us, they left the booby prize of their sclerotic band of Caribbean comrades.
So it goes. Happy 20th anniversary, you clever tricksters.