07/05/2012 08:54 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Cuba on Independence Day


I have learned the hard way not to tell tales about the nobility of Fidel's original vision. Through my personal experiences in Cuba over these past 34 years, I admit that certain individuals and their poetic expressions have led me to the hardly objective habit of seeing that culture through rose-colored glasses.

I have conversely also learned via the school of hard knocks not to comment on the current trodden state of Cuba's poverty.

In an article for the Miami Herald last year I somehow, in a glaring moment of botched diplomacy, managed to grossly insult both factions of Cubans -- those in Miami who reviled me for using "noble" in the same phrase with "Fidel" and those in Havana who shun any American's pitying assessment of the plight of the population at large there.

The lifelong dream I have harbored and pursued with perhaps obsessive fervor, to swim from Cuba to Florida, is driven by a handful of forces.

There is deep personal passion, to chase and finally consummate what appears to be a seemingly impossible vision. There is a 62-year-old looking to carry a blaring message of empowerment at any age.

But there is no denying that this dream, for all it is about for me, is most definitely also about Cuba.

Millions of us worldwide, but especially here in the United States, have been fascinated by the mystique of this "forbidden" island so close to our shores.

We have become raging fans of The Buena Vista Social Club, among other famous Cuban artists: painters, poets, photographers.

We have stood in awe as this tiny, poor island has produced an illogical number of world-class athletes, from the myriad of talented baseball players to the Olympic boxers and runners.

We have purchased the books and paintings of the multi-colored, tall-windowed colonial buildings that charm Old Havana.

We have installed proud posters of Che on our college room walls.

We are aware of the advanced level of medicine and general education on the island.


The Revolution happened when I was 9 years old. Growing up near Miami, I suddenly experienced an influx of Cuban friends. I learned dominoes from the handsome fathers in their Guayabera shirts. The teenagers taught me to salsa. The garlic chicken, rice and beans in their kitchens still wafts through my memory.

When I stand on that Cuban shore this summer, one day very soon, to finally realize my dream of swimming all the way across, I will no doubt be filled with both the concrete reality of the difficulties that lay to the horizon in front of me.... and the surreal emotions of living with such a big dream for so very long.

But with each stroke as I head north will also be the love of Cuba, the hope that we are on both sides very close to opening our virtual doors and knowing each other day to day, nation to nation.

My dear friend, the esteemed Commodore of the famous Marina Hemingway in Havana, El Comodoro Jose Miguel Escrich, has written me, in honor of our 4th of July holiday:

Dear My Friend Diana
We wish that Everlasting love, peace, and prosperity be with
you and the people of USA today and always.
Commodore Escrich

This email from Commodore Escrich struck me in that his hearty congratulations, meaning that we are this week celebrating our Declaration of Independence, is more reverential than most of our own simple backyard barbeques.

Let me stay away from political opinion here. I'm simply lobbying to, at long last, render Cuba no longer "forbidden."