There are already three generations of Americans of Cuban descent, many of whom have never been to Cuba. One of my students wrote a touching poem about taking her grandfather back to Cuba before he dies. She and her brother are saving money to make the old guy's last wish come true.
In the late '90s, I visited the Cristobal Colon cemetery in Havana. I admired a beautiful marble tomb, a modern sculpture really, and noticed that the owner's birth date was not followed by a death date. When I asked, my guide said: "The owner cannot be buried here. He is a gusano."
That's a derogatory word meaning "worm," designating someone who had fled the island before Fidel Castro came to power. Even the dead were cursed by politics. Cuban politics is absurd, but ours is not less so.
A half-century of the embargo has strengthened Castro's power and the division of Cuban families. Our embargo on travel and commerce with Cuba was Castro's excuse for the misery his dictatorship brought to the Cuban people. For half a century, Cuban risked their lives to brave the 90 treacherous miles between Cuba and the U.S. The powerful right-wing Cuban lobby in the U.S. made it nearly impossible for any American to travel to Cuba, and no American president had the cojones to stand up to them.
But things are changing. The once-powerful lobby is divided and weak. Young Cuban-Americans want to visit the island and reconnect with their roots. They want to take their children to the places where their grandparents were born.
The Cuban government is changing, too. It's hard to say if Raul is better than Fidel as far as his hatred of gusanos goes, but it's clear that he cannot stand against the desire of the Cubans themselves to join up with their families and rejoin the world.
President Obama has a historic opportunity to erase the unfair division of our Caribbean Berlin Wall. Lifting the travel ban is a good first step, but let's get rid of the whole embargo. It's time for real people to come first, politics second.
I read an anthology of poetry by Cuban and Cuban-American poets, and I couldn't find any borders. If they don't exist in our minds, what are they still doing on the map?