For my President's Summer Fellowship, it is my dream to collect the stories of the Cuban people before the huge political changes soon to occur in Cuba actually take place, including the oncoming takeover of a new president in five years, and the consequent ending of the famous 60 year Castro dictatorship. Soon the political climate will undergo enormous changes, taking old Cuba with it; and the generation that lived through the Cuban revolution will be gone, taking their stories with them. This is a critical time in Cuban history.
The goal of my project is to document as many stories as possible from the dying generation in Cuba that lived through the Cuban revolution in the 1950s; and as many Cuban perspectives of present conditions as I can.
As anyone could imagine, figuring out all of the details to go to Cuba has been quite the challenge. The strangest part is that the challenges faced in this process are like none I've met before. It is not about how hard you work, how smart you are, or how well you can communicate. The challenges are personal, involve going into the past, attaining lost documents. They have forced me to navigate through intentionally difficult international relations between two countries. Let's just say that they don't teach you how to do these things in school.
Not only did I have to put together the pieces of this process myself, as there are not many resources available, I have often had to rely on others to get the pieces I need. It is not as simple as filling out any visa application and having a passport. Here are some of the biggest challenges: 1) filling out the Cuban family visa, which required getting the correct addresses and numbers for my family, which my dad had to dig out of storage 2) attempting multiple calls to my family and finally figuring out the right combination of area codes for the new split province in Havana that my family lives in, 3) finding the right paperwork from 1980 when my dad came to the U.S., showing that he arrived on the Mariel boatlift and was processed by U.S. officers, 4) reading through U.S. government documents to find out how to get U.S. permission to enter Cuba as a Cuban-American, and establishing the "general license" that allows me this travel, and 5) coordinating a legal flight once all of the pieces were together. As I said, it's definitely not your average process in planning an international trip. Everything having to do with Cuba is just simply difficult because it's Cuba!
While at times some of the steps have been nightmarish, frustrating, and nearly brought me to tears (i.e. going to the T-mobile store three separate times just to get my phone to have the ability to call Cuba!), the rewards have been magnificent and I have had moments of joy like I have never felt before in my entire life, moments that indicated that I was moving towards piecing together the other half of myself that's been restricted for so long. Most memorable was when my sister called me to let me know that she had finally gotten through to Cuba via phone after days of phone troubles and call attempts. I was so overjoyed I nearly had to leave work. And when I was able to call the next day and speak to my family on the phone for the very first time in my entire life, it was so beautiful and I could hardly speak; because a part of me was truly being fulfilled just by hearing their voices, and I also knew that I was in the bigger process of huge personal fulfillment and growth in planning this trip. The call really made it all real. I still have a few pieces to put together, and am waiting on my approved visa before I can schedule my flight, but the battle is s almost over, a battle that has taken a life time.