So, 3 years ago today, I was sitting in Matanzas, in Cuba, with a very close friend, two strangers, and a world of possibility sitting before me. A photo popped up in my Facebook memories today, and I felt compelled to share this post again.
I went to Cuba.
The restrictions lifted, Fidel Castro died, and there I found myself being invited by a friend to join her and her friends on a six day getaway…and so I went.
I have been considering going to Cuba for a long time, ever since my grandma Judy died in 2010. She’s the one on the left, with some of her Korean foster siblings.
To say that I never got along with my grandmother as a child would be the understatement of the year. We FOUGHT. We yelled and screamed and I refused to call her Abuela. Our personalities clashed so hard, I will never understand WHY we fought the way we did. Looking back, I realize that I was AWFUL to her, completely disrespectful from a really young age…and I don’t even know WHY. It probably had a lot to do with the way she felt about my father, whom I adored (and still do).
As she got older – well, as we both got older – we began to mend that fence and to build a relationship that we had never had before. I threw her 70th birthday party.
And then she was hit by a car crossing the road and died. It was sudden and obviously, unexpected, and it rocked our family to the core.
Growing up, I shrugged off any association with my Cuban heritage. Growing up in Miami in the 80s was a completely different experience than it is now. I hardly knew any Cubans as a child, and the ones I did know – they were completely assimilated and I never even heard them speak Spanish. My own grandmother barely spoke Spanish, having gone into the foster care system as a young girl, where she was raised by a Korean foster family.
I became comfortable with my Cuban-ness as an adult, as my city grew, changed and evolved around me over the decades. By the time my grandmother died, I felt a longing to explore that side of my family history and I began to embrace it. If you take a look at my Bucket List, you’ll see that I have been thinking about going to Havana for a long time.
There are SO MANY REASONS why I never went until now. It’s honestly so hard to explain that I just can’t. It’s a long and drawn out conversation. It’s political. It’s emotional. It’s based on fear and fantasy and confusion. It’s just hard.
But then Obama loosened travel restrictions and FIDEL CASTRO DIED. If you live in Miami, you’ve probably grown up hearing the same words I have from every Cuban refugee you’ve ever met: “I will go back when Castro is dead.”
It’s a bold statement and they mean it. And so I went.
I find myself at a loss for words when trying to describe my experience in Havana. I didn’t experience the WOW that many do during their first time in the city…
The architecture is so similar to Miami – I swear I’ve seen this same house in Coral Gables (a nearby neighborhood in Miami).
The Spanish influence on the architecture reminded me of Barcelona and Mexico City.
The Art Deco reminds me of South Beach.
Some areas reminded me of Hialeah. Or, obviously, Little Havana.
One thing I can say about the trip is that being in Cuba and realizing how much of an influence the Cuban culture has shaped Miami over the years – it was like a warm hug from my grandmother…it made me proud that the Cubans who’ve left Cuba have done an incredible job of recreating their homeland in the US.
For anyone who doesn’t think that the Cuban culture in Miami is authentic – IT REALLY IS. I didn’t even feel like I’d left home while in Havana. The same friendly, crazy, loud people I’ve known and loved all my life – that’s the vibe in Havana. So Miami. So awesome!
Havana was an interesting city, to say the least. The street art? While it was rare to see it, when you did, it held a kind of authenticity and vibrancy that made you stop and stare.
We went to this little area called Hamel on our last day and I found it was on par with Wynwood, but in a totally non-commercial, do-it-for-the-people sort of way.
I’d love to see more of it, it warmed my heart to find that the art scene in Havana is thriving despite their lack of readily available supplies.
I walked away from Havana – from Cuba in general – with a new appreciation for Capitalism in the United States, what it means to travel and not be a tourist, and the importance of knowing where you came from.
I’ll be sharing more soon, but in the meantime, you can find more photos on my Instagram, @TheRebelChick.