Note: Today's guest author is my husband, Gary Ballesteros. I hope you enjoy his travelogue from Cuba!
I think I can trace back my desire to visit the forbidden island of Cuba to the Rodriguez clan, one of only two Hispanic families living In Murphysboro, the small rural Illinois town where I grew up. My family, headed by my Colombian father from the cool mountains of Bogotá, tried hard to fit in. But the Rodriguez family, a boisterous group of Cubans who fled Castro’s communist revolution only to somehow land in southern Illinois, did whatever they wanted. The patriarch of that family, Dr. Raymundo Rodriguez, had slicked-back hair, a hearty laugh, and a Spanish accent as thick as Cuban coffee which he used to great effect to spin hilarious and entertaining stories of the good life in old Havana. He wore open-necked guayabera shirts and despite his medical degree, was never without a drink in one hand and a cigar in the other. His sprawling family included a wife who escaped our small town as often as she could to take “dancing lessons” in Miami. (The joke around town was that absolutely everybody loved Dr. Rodriguez except for his wife.) He also had several beautiful daughters and several adventurous sons and I was smitten with all of them.
I finally got the chance to see Cuba last month by joining a tour sponsored by the wonderful Latino Arts Council of Milwaukee, and led by Raul Galvan, a local Milwaukee Cuban expat and expert. The tour promised to focus on the vibrant music scene in Cuba. And because our son George is a budding jazz musician, this tour was perfectly simpatico with what we both needed. I hope you enjoy this tour!
I was in Miami the day President Obama announced that the US would be renewing diplomatic ties with Cuba. Fist fights broke out in the Little Havana neighborhood of Miami that day. The complicated and emotional history between our two countries was still so hot, the very thought of making peace with the Castros made blood boil. What is it about this small island only 90 miles from our shores that evokes such fiery passion?
We left Cuba with a much greater appreciation for the beauty of the island, the warmth of its people, the soul of its music, and the idiocy of politics that keeps people from simply being friends.
Over and over again we were met with open arms and welcoming smiles and a reaffirmation that the Cubans don’t reject America, or capitalism. But they are rightly proud of what they’ve been able to achieve on their own and they want to embrace new opportunities while still preserving the strides they’ve made in health care, education, literacy, and social services. I’m so glad we went — before the window of opportunity to do so slams shut again; or before the inevitable Americanization swamps their fragile state.