Tag Archives: Cuba

Amid family photographs, a surprise

This is a story about serendipity.

When two of my younger siblings and I went home last fall, my mother gave each of us two envelopes with photographs my grandmother (and perhaps other family members) had taken with her when she, my father and my aunt left Cuba in the 1960s. My mother had us draw numbers and we were given the envelopes with the corresponding numbers.

There were family photographs, but also many photographs of family friends. Among the photographs of friends that I received was the black and white you see below. It is a picture of Elena Herrera and Alberto Moya, who where neighbors to my father in their hometown of Cienfuegos.

I had the good fortune of meeting Elena and Alberto when I visited Cienfuegos on our epic Cuba trip with Manny Mendoza and Marta Crawford in October 2017. Elena is a retired piano teacher who has taught professional pianists who tour the world, and Alberto is a retired engineer. They are a delightful and engaging couple, and have four children and several grandchildren, including two lovely granddaughters we met.

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Elena and Alberto (center) on their wedding day.

That is a picture of Elena and Alberto’s wedding day, and they evidently sent it to my grandmother almost 50 years ago. The back of the photograph says, “With affection, to our longtime friends, a memento of our wedding.” It’s signed by both of them and dated June 1971. (Alberto is the young man on Elena’s left.)

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Elena and Alberto at their home in Cienfuegos.

Elena was one of my father’s playmates, and her mother was good friends with my grandmother. She shared memories that revealed the closeness they had.

She recalled that my grandfather helped her with her English language homework. When one of her grandparent’s died, my grandparents looked after her while her parents dealt with funeral services. When she gave me a tour of the house my father grew up in, she pointed to the spot where my paternal great-grandmother used to sit to have her café con leche, the much sweeter Cuban version of a latte.

She also remembered the day my grandmother, a recent widow, told her mother she was leaving because things were going to get bad. In the days that followed, Elena watched her take family heirlooms to relatives and friends who stayed behind. Soon after, my grandmother, father and aunt left Cuba for Miami. My grandmother, who died in 1993, never returned.

Elena, Alberto and I stay in touch, and I talked to them about a week ago on WhatsApp. It was good see them and to hear their voices.

Go old school and use a real camera

As I reflect on my recent trip to Cuba, I think about how fortunate I am that my grandmother, great-aunts and other relatives had the foresight to take dozens of pictures with them when they went into exile.

Without their vision, I wouldn’t know what my great-grandparents looked like, what my paternal grandmother and grandfather looked like as children and young adults, what my father looked like as a child. A picture of my paternal grandparents’ wedding day sits on a bookshelf in my home.

The black and white photograph below was taken on the portico of my father’s family home in Cienfuegos, Cuba. He and my grandmother are pictured on the far left.

BARBARA AND HANK IN CUBA

Nearly seventy years later, my husband took a photograph of me by that very lion statue.

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That is all to say, to encourage you, that as you gather with your friends and family this weekend, take photographs with an old-school camera. There’ll be more than one that you’ll want to print and frame or print and mail (yes, mail) to loved ones.

Taking photos with our devices is well and good and fun, but not as well and good and fun as holding a printed photograph in your hand.

 

Aquí, todo es un misterio

Cubans have a variety of expressions to describe the government’s secrecy, its repression, its inefficiency and the hardships of their lives. A family friend said Eastern Europe may have had an iron curtain, but Cuba had one made of smoke and mirrors.

“Aquí, todo es un misterio”.

Here, everything’s a mystery.

That appears to be a popular expression and one of my favorites.

No one knows, for example, why you can’t go inside the airport’s baggage claim area to greet passengers. Or why passengers are let out in groups of two or three.

 

U.S. Cuba restrictions

This week, we commemorate the twenty-eighth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.  For decades, the wall divided Germans from friends and family.  During that time, many Eastern Europeans seeking freedom from Soviet repression were killed trying to get past that wall into West Germany.

As they reflect on that seminal moment in our history, it would behoove U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven  Mnuchin and others in the Trump Administration talking tough about sanctioning Cuba to remember the Caribbean Island does not have a Berlin Wall.

Cuba doesn’t have good fortune, as a handful of Eastern Bloc countries did, to share a border with a democracy. The United States mainland may be ninety miles away, but that’s certainly not comparable.

For decades, Cubans desperate to escape the economic, artistic and personal repression of the Cuban government have tried their luck at sea- many unsuccessfully- in hopes of reaching the United States. They have no wall they can tear down or climb over, no Checkpoint Charlie they may be able to get through in a secret compartment of a car.

Mnuchin and others who support the embargo and tougher policies apparently have not been to Cuba.

Or if they have, they apparently have not had the conversations we had with small-business owners who are hurting in part because U.S. tourism has slowed since this summer, when President Trump first tightened the screws on travel to the Caribbean Island.

According to an Associated Press story, Mnuchin said of the new sanctions:

“We have strengthened our Cuba policies to channel economic activity away from the Cuban military and to encourage the government to move toward greater political and economic freedom for the Cuban people.”

These restrictions will do little to persuade the Cuban government into giving more freedom to entrepreneurs. In fact, successful businesses that compete against government-owned enterprises that may not be as lucrative are shut down.

The ineffective policies they’re supporting will do more harm than good to the Cuban people.

This post is an updated version of one posted 11/09/17.

‘Hu’s on First’ on the Way to Cienfuegos

My husband, two friends and I recently traveled to Cuba and in addition to spending time in Havana, we went on a couple of side trips.

I was reminded of the incident I describe below when I saw this fire extinguisher while pumping gas at a gas station in Dallas.

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Almost 45 minutes into our trip from Havana to Cienfuegos, our driver was stopped by a police officer. As I watched the exchange from the back seat, it became clear he was giving Rodolfo a hard time over some nonsense. Cab drivers are subjected to heavy controls in Cuba, and though I didn’t know him well, I figured Rodolfo wouldn’t risk not having his permits in order.

Apparently, cab drivers must carry a fire extinguisher in the car. Except that, as Rodolfo later explained to us, you can’t find functioning fire extinguishers in Cuba and that’s why he didn’t have one.

The officer repeatedly told Rodolfo he needed to have an extinguisher. Rodolfo told the officer he wanted to comply with the law, but could he tell him where to buy one?

This circular exchange went on for about fifteen minutes.

It took everything I had to stay in the car and not get involved, given my proclivity to want to run my mouth when I have no respect for authority. I was ready to pay a bribe, but wasn’t sure this cop was the type to take it and didn’t want to get Rodolfo in trouble.

In the end, the officer let him go with a warning.