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A Cuban-American’s Humble Gratitude

Cojimar Street 2005 Bren Herrera
(neighborhood street in Cojimar, La Habana)

I just came back from the grocery store, holding a bag with 3 bright lemons. 3 for $1. Pretty good, right? They were on sale. I’m going to make a really good lemonade and sweeten with honey so I can sip on it while I pontificate. Ahh, so refreshing. So good. And so easy to obtain.Not in Cuba. Getting in your car is not so readily feasible. Buying one at a dealership is not even an option. So, I am a really lucky woman. Born in communist Cuba, immigrated as a child to the US as my parents chased the All American Dream and actually achieved and exceeded it. I can travel the world. Have seen a lot of it. Am educated with the ability to be gainfully employed. Can drive my Volvo to the grocery store and buy food, without limitation on any product (I’m broke this week so I can do an all out food purchase). I can see a Dr. after an appointment is made; and then pick up my prescription at my local pharmacy at a discount because of health insurance. I can write this blog and tell you how much I think George Bush sucks and does the devils work, without being persecuted, or whisked away in a fatigue army truck, to be killed–without a fair trial by my peers.

I can do all those things and more because I live here, and not there. I’m no less Cuban. I’m no less proud to be una cubana from the dumps of Mariano because I am afforded FREEDOM to do whatever the hell I want, within reason and without micromanagement. I’m orgullosa of being the child of resilient parents that simply said ‘NO’ to communism and Castro’s revolution. These are parents that left behind everything they had worked all their life for. Not to mention parents and siblings living in less than acceptable quarters with no running water and daily power outages.

If you consider the confiscation of personal property (the very notion that establishes freedom here) is still mandated by the Castro’s when Cubans are “granted permission” to leave the island, then I am remain thankful. Thankful that I’m not bound by faux gimmes like “free education” (but no jobs) and “free health care” (but no medicine; and let’s not talk about the pre-warning to bring your own bed sheets and light bulbs to the hospital should you be unfortunate enough to have to step foot in those death traps). Or, a better one yet; the CDR, el Comite de Defensa de la Revolución (Revolution Defense Committee), which casually plants informants in each neighborhood to monitor “deviant” behavior and snitch on covert escape plans, really anything you do (like buy a telephone to call relatives!). That thankfulness keeps me sanely content with what I have and motivated to be diligent in my work, is an understatement.

In Miami, my parents rehearsed “you better eat everything on your plate before you leave that table. Don’t you know there are thousands of people that are starving?” I didn’t get it as a 6-year-old being forced to eat beets and lima beans. That same statement continues to resonate the walls of hundreds of thousands of Cuban-American homes. In my kitchen today, not even a rind is left unused. Everything has an opportunity to be recycled. If nothing else, the poignant memory of my late grandmother losing 70 pounds in a single month due to lack of food upon her return to Havana, makes it easy to apply that practice, albeit the abundance of unnecessary waste.

Mamis neigher in cojimar 2000 Bren Herrera
(My grandmother’s neighbor climbing a coconut tree)

In Cuba, there is no free enterprise and grocery store chains. And the few bodegas that do have limited product, have their inventory locked up inside glass vitrines. Food is still rationed and water trucks still distribute potable water. And while I realize there are plenty of other destitute and suffering countries, I talk about Cuba because it is what I am and from where I come. And so I am not a spoiled brat or a misguided and arrogant American with a deep-rooted sense of entitlement, like a lot of us. Because I understand what it is like not to have anything and to be told that you can’t leave your city. Ever.

I wouldn’t ask for uber popularity or to be named Time’s Online Best Blogs of 2009 in place of the freedom that allows me get on a plane and travel to South Africa, my next destination–the trade-off of a certain Cuban blogger.

And with that, buen provecho and safe travlin’!

Eat well, love unapologetically, pray with true intention, and take care of yourself.

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5 thoughts on “A Cuban-American’s Humble Gratitude

  1. Preach! It is important to always acknowledge the fortunes we have in life, and of course be thankful for them. You are doing great things, and it’s inspirational to many.

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