The End? A First Person Perspective on the Official End of the Castro Era

Frances Martel

Half a century of ruthless oppression symbolically ended last Tuesday morning with an anticlimactic letter to the editor by the corpse-like bearded dictator responsible for making a hilarious joke out of Caribbean politics. Sure, his little brother will be holding the reins for as long as he can let go of the bottle, but to be able to say that Fidel Castro will never again rule Cuba, after a tenure that lasted more than twice our lifetimes, should be enough of a cause for celebration of some kind.

To accurately cage the emotions of Cuban exiles and Cuban-Americans here in the States in a box of about 850 words is a bit of an ambitious task. Most news outlets limited themselves to a few short sentences about how the resignation went about. In perhaps the most meaningful form, Matt Drudge limited himself to two words: “The End.”

Yet as the sun rises over the prospect of once again having a true homeland — and as the ability to travel to what should have been home to my family appears to fast approaches — limiting myself to “The End” would leave out a substantial chunk of the story that the national press refuses to print.

Rationally, we all knew it was going to happen — everyone dies (or loses so much of their health as to be rendered unable to rule, or whatever the story the Cuban government is giving) — and we all knew it would be soon. After so many years, however, the pain of exile overrules logic, and the one-man revolution blends into and out of the decades like an immortal fad that obnoxiously refuses to change with the times.

I was often prone to predicting another 15 or 20 years of rule under Castro as a way to lock the pain of watching a nation die a slow death helplessly under the arms of an octogenarian. The rational conclusion that all things come to an end must have personally left me sometime at around the age of five or six, after years of watching my father run to anti-communist protests in New York City, appearing on television with crowds of thousands marching for freedom.

Something about watching such an overwhelming number of people, your family among them, do everything they can for their country and accomplish nothing renders you immune to the problem. At some point, I had consciously forgotten I had a homeland besides my birthplace, and, more significantly, that the island meant something to me. I had fallen into the cycle of trivial slander that every Cuban-American falls into about how futile the cause is and how little bickering amongst ourselves accomplishes.

And suddenly it hits you. The man we domesticated ourselves to believe would never leave power is permanently relinquishing his leadership. The images crash into each other in your brain like a freeway accident — the years of protest and struggle, the political prisoners rotting in their jails because of an opinion most Americans would not think twice in voicing, the possibility of stepping into the town your parents grew up in.

It quickly became apparent to me that when I used to claim, “I never want to go back there,” I actually meant that I never believed I could. Twenty years is the blink of an eye from the revolution’s perspective; to me, it’s my entire lifetime. Who am I to believe the revolution won’t outlast me when it’s outlasted so many before?

Clearly this is a cause for celebration in the Cuban-American community unlike any ever before. Yet the demure demonstrations of joy in the community seem to say that they are wrought with fear of making fools of themselves yet again to the public. A year and a half ago, they danced in the streets of Miami, FL, and Union City, NJ, certain of the news that Castro had died, only to be proven “wrong” by the bigwig media sources that are happily spoon-fed anything coming out of the Cuban government’s mouth as unconditionally true.

Already stigmatized with a reputation for manic, emotional reasoning and an idiosyncratic disconnect with reality — half-truths that can be applied to every major national group that has been traumatized by a horrible event in their past — their reluctance to be made CNN’s laughing-stock yet again creates a very particular tension in the Cuban-American community.

For one, it has not yet sunk in that the news is true and that Fidel has passed away, particularly with Cubans who have no way of remembering the old regime. Even if it has, having to fight stereotypes perpetrated by the left-wing media for over 40 years can exhaust any group of people; doing anything that plays into their image can potentially strip the community of much of its political power, despite being the most powerful Latin American minority group in Congress, with two senators and a splash of Congressmen.

This cynicism sticks there. It stabs through the foggy tears, reminding you that even in America, freedom of expression is limited in the very Tocquevillian sense of having a reputation to uphold. Reputation should mean nothing to Cubans now. We must take the few opportunity our country has given us in the past half-century to be proud and, if not dance in the streets, at least strut with our heads on high, for we are one step closer to freedom.


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