I was at the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts when President Obama announced on December 17 that he would be charting a new course on Cuba. Just before he was scheduled to speak, I rushed down to the canteen where Kennedy Center employees lunch, and walked right up to the flat screen television mounted to the wall, sitting directly in front of it because the volume was unbearably low and the cashier informed me that she had no way of changing it.
No way of changing it? This is Cuba, I thought. Kennedy-era Cuba!
I did not know that President Obama's announcement was coming but then again, did anyone? I have been trailing Cuba for nearly nine years now -- and that's nine years of asking when the embargo would be lifted, who would lift it and what the impact of that lift would be. Would Starbucks suddenly appear on every crumbling corner of Havana? Would the vintage cars make an expensive comeback in U.S. cities? Would the pharmaceutical companies take hold of an island filled with doctors? Would Cubans have unlimited Internet access and most importantly, will our frozen relationship thaw at an arctic pace?
Arctic pace? Well, no -- not if Marco Rubio has anything to do with it. Honey, I have love for all Cubans, but you best get your facts straight. Telling our cameras that the embargo does not affect Cubans is wrong, and saying that the Internet is illegal in Cuba is incorrect. How do you think I keep in touch with my Cuban entourage, carrier pigeons?
Internet access in Cuba is limited but it is not illegal. Please Marco Rubio, choose your words a bit more carefully, my dear.
I received several emails following Marco Rubio's response to the president's announcement. The majority of these emails were from people who were confused as to why Rubio and other Cuban-Americans were opposed to lifting the embargo. Isn't this a good thing?, they asked -- contextualizing the questions in their personal beliefs that the embargo was a remnant from the Cold War era, re-emphasizing President Obama's own statement that the embargo has not worked in 50 years, and neither has the Cuban isolation.
To the best of my ability, I was able to answer why Rubio and his 2 million Cubans outside of Cuba, (not to be confused with the 11 million inside Cuba) believe that lifting the embargo strengthens the Castro regime. Their belief, (and correct me if I am wrong) is that if Americans and their dollars travel to Cuba, then the Cuban economy will be revitalized, and Castro will never be sorry for the land and the bank accounts and the lives that he took in the name of the Cuban Revolution. But will Castro ever really be sorry, and even if he was, what would sorry look like, Castro-style?
Many would argue that sorry would look like giving the land back, giving the money back, giving the businesses back. There may be some truth in that, but haven't we all grown so accustomed to the ever-present separation of Cuba and the United States, yearning for a past that was so long ago, that it is impossible to conceive of how reclaiming it would actually feel?
I speak to this only from the position of my connection to Cuba over the last nine years -- constantly wondering when the lift would take place, imagining how it would take place -- and not once asking myself how I would feel when it actually happened.
It has been two weeks since I crouched next to the mounted flat screen in the Kennedy Center canteen and I still don't know how I feel.
All I know is that it is impossible to return to a past and even if we could, that past will look and feel completely different from how we imagined it. In this moment, all we can do is allow the U.S.-Cuban cards to fall as they will, and keep talking with and about Cuba.