Like so many of my friends whose loved ones passed too soon, my father and grandparents did not live long enough to see the day when the most negative influence in their lives finally died. Nearly 57 years after taking power in Cuba, Fidel Castro finally succumbed to father time. As a child I always envisioned how the celebration would go ― what my father would say – what stories he would tell again for the umpteenth time. Sadly I was not afforded that privilege, but I knew my father well enough to know how that conversation would have gone. And here it is: My phone would have rung late on Friday night. Initially I would have worried because he would never call me at that time. But soon enough I would hear the outpouring of joy coming through the phone.
ME: What’s up, Dad?
DAD: Did you hear the news? That despicable son of b… is finally dead. Our tormentor is finally going to answer for all of the evil he inflicted on our people. Fidel Castro will never be able to utter one more vile comment about America or capitalism ever again.
I never saw my Dad cry, and I am pretty certain he would not have cried on this night either. Instead, Dad would have shared so many of the stories that shaped my childhood ― stories that instilled in me a hatred for totalitarians and a deep and profound love for America.
ME: So what now, Dad?
DAD: Nothing, son. I expect very little to change. You see, the world has moved on from its fear and hatred for socialist principles. It has been us, the Cuban exiles that have not been allowed to forget. While the rest of the world has gone about its business, our families that remain in Cuba have been left to suffer the humiliation of living under Castro’s oppression.
ME: What do you say to those on the left of the political spectrum, college professors, or celebrities like Colin Kaepernick that excuse, ignore, deny or justify Fidel Castro’s actions over the nearly six decades he ruled the country?
DAD: There is not much to say to people that believe it is America that represents true evil. How do you reason with people that ignore the fact that tens of thousands of Cubans have lost their lives hopping on inner-tubes trying to escape the despicable conditions they must live under in their homeland? How do you explain to Colin Kaepernick that his behavior would have gotten him imprisoned and beaten in Cuba? The answer is that you don’t explain it – you simply shake your head and know that it is the very country he is protesting against that gives him the right to do so. Although I wonder what Kaepernick thinks about Aroldis Chapman, Yoenis Cespedes, Yasiel Puig or every other Cuban athlete that has risked their lives for the chance to become wealthy while playing a sport they love. But before we start calling for Kaepernick to move to Cuba (that would be a common response), let us hope that he stays here and continues doing what he is doing because ignorant people have a lot to teach us if we pay attention.
ME: So Dad, before we hang up the phone tell me what you’re feeling and thinking about?
DAD: Son, I am very sad that so many of us died before we got to see this day. I remember when government officials came into our home and declared that everything we worked so hard to obtain was now owned by the government. I remember the humiliation of being a man that could not provide for his family because I opposed the regime and lost my job. I remember being sent to a labor camp for four years because we applied for an exit visa. I remember visiting my battered and beaten teenaged brother who was imprisoned because he wanted to be free. I remember the pain in my parents eyes when they visited their son in prison. I remember boarding the plane in Cuba knowing that I would never see my homeland again. But most of all I remember why I love America so much. You see, those of us that left Cuba were called worms by Fidel Castro. But it was America that opened its doors and took us in. It was America that gave us a home and a chance to build a life that was better than the one we left behind. It was in America that I purchased our first home - where you and your brother thrived beyond all imagination. If there is one thing that I thank Fidel Castro for it is for giving me the opportunity to experience freedom. So when you ask me what I am thinking about I can simply utter the words that have become our rallying cry for so many years, God Bless America and Viva Cuba Libre.
ME: Congratulations, Dad! Your tormentor is dead.
DAD: Thank you, Son. Love you and goodnight.
Sadly, the conversation I just summarized for you is a complete fiction. My Dad died waiting to see a free Cuba. And while he didn’t make it that long, this day has given me yet another chance to feel connected to the man that I loved and admired more than any other.
To all of my fellow Cuban brethren, there are few things that are sweeter than being part of our Cuban community. Being part of our community has shaped every part of me. I am honored to share the momentous day with all of you.
ME: Dad, you can now rest in peace. Love you, too.
Viva Cuba Libre!