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I'm Cuban-American. Here's How I Feel About Castro, Trump, and What History Tells Us.

Cuba United States Narrative Activism
by Monica Santos Nov 30, 2016

I haven’t written about the recent US election because I haven’t known what to say. People are scared to verbalize what they believe for fear of being criticized — in both directions. You post anything too far to the left and you are a communist, a complainer, an out-of-touch idealist, a millennial too lost within your own self-righteousness that you are failing to see that we have a political process that “must be respected.” You post anything hopeful, you are normalizing the Trump phenomena. You are automatically a bigot, a racist, a homophobe, a sexist.

I know because I’ve experienced both sides of the coin. I reached out to friends following the Trump win with the hopes of starting a discourse — we are more the same than different, you are people I know, and love, and respect, please let me understand you — and they were fearful to voice their opinions, probably for fear of being shamed. I know this because despite my adamant support of human rights and climate change regulation, when I found a video that highlighted some of Trump’s less hateful speech (so much of the news we read is searching for illicit soundbites, and I was looking for something hopeful to hold on to) and shared it on my newsfeed, I was contacted by one of my closest friends suggesting that I was distributing propaganda (1).

So I’ve stayed out of it. Until today. Because today, Fidel Castro is dead, and I have something to say about it.

On election night, My brother posted the following non-partisan thoughts, and while some people championed his attempts towards unity, many shut him down, reacted angrily, likely threatened to delete him as a friend over his political views thus enforcing these echo chambers that we are getting ourselves trapped in, which have contributed to this chasm of difference amongst us all in the first place. We should never have been in this situation to begin with, and maybe if we’d started listening to each other earlier — actually tried to compromise — then we wouldn’t be stuck with this nightmare at all.

Like anything in life, there is a pendulum. After 8 years of Obama, moving to Trump as president takes us to the other side of that pendulum. Despite what your beliefs are, this is the reality. I do not live in fear of this result — I did not endorse either candidate — but at this point in time, this is where we stand.
People are going to either celebrate or mourn, cheer or complain, but regardless the sun will rise tomorrow morning and we will still be America.
I have pride for my country; I was proud to be an American under Obama and I will continue to be proud under Trump.
If you are worried, upset, or angry, that is still putting negativity into the world. Be the change you want to see in the world — spread positivity anyway you can. We don’t know what the future holds, all we can do is hope for the best and continue to spread positivity anyway we can.

While I disagree with my brother that being angry or upset is automatically pumping negativity into the world (particularly if we can harness that negativity into productivity, and because some things definitely require scrutiny), I do think that there is something to be said for strapping on our work boots and getting our hands dirty, instead of fighting a battle against results that we are likely to lose.

And so I’ve hesitated to write about this election. I’ve fought with my parents, and I’ve fought with friends, whose opinions are all over the range of red and blue, because everyone is fighting and no one is listening.

So I called my aunt. I’ve always seen my aunt as a pillar of balance. I can call her to talk things through, to bounce ideas off of her, to help me fill in gaps of understanding, especially when it comes to interactions with my equally wonderful, loving, supportive parents who I sometimes fail to see eye to eye with.

And as I cried over Facetime with her about my fears for a Trump presidency, she told me gently that she had witnessed all too often what the world could be like when we tried to take on something so much bigger than ourselves (2). That as a girl, she watched my grandfather, who’d been a freedom fighter in Cuba before he’d had to flee, who’d led groups of a dozen men to try and fight back against the government, rage and storm every time the news came on the television. My mother always said that communism was a dirty word in their home, and I got an even more complete visual as my aunt added that he’d been known to punch the radio when Castro got on the news (3).

As I was growing up, I saw this in milder forms, in the way age seems to soften our convictions over the things we can’t control. My grandfather used to comment that the assigned readings for my Spanish classes were always written by hijo de puta communistas — he disapproved of my reading anything by Gabriel García Márquez, and God forbid an English teacher would assign a Hemingway. But they had become mere asides amidst all of the other ways he spent his time — he would laugh, and tell stories, and teach me how to make Cuban food. He had lived a good life, had struggled to provide a better, less conflicted upbringing for his children and grandchildren. He was a good, honest, hard-working man with a past that loomed over him in ways that were only occasionally referenced out-loud by the time I was old enough to understand.

And that day, as I cried on Facetime over the election results, my aunt encouraged me to look further into the things we have immediate control over, the way I like to believe my grandfather did in his old age. We talked about cancer, and the way its personally affected our family. We talked about racism, about how it has lived and breathed within our family as latinos in the largely homogenized area we lived in Michigan. About how every day we need to be getting up to live our lives in the present moment. She encouraged me to do my small part, to be a drop in the ocean, but to try not to be too angry at the ocean at large.

I do think we can create change. Especially if we band enough drops together. I think that donating to the Standing Rock’s efforts to stop the DAPL, acknowledging and challenging our own prejudices in order to become more compassionate (4), being aware of our own impact on the environment, and waking up every morning and trying to love everyone we encounter, are ways for us to really ignite something.

“When we hit our lowest point, we are open to the greatest change. (5)” I don’t care how you feel about the results of this election — you can be upset, or you can be celebrating — but you should recognize the division we are experiencing as a nation, and should be concerned with how to bridge it. We are at a low, angry, hateful point as a country (on all sides, I am not exempting any side in particular), and the only thing we can do right now is treat each other with respect, and stay hopeful. History shows us that we have been here before. And while terrible things may happen, so too can great change be inspired by hard times. Progress can be slow, but that puts more responsibility upon the individual to ensure that we are not relying on our government to do what is right.

I wouldn’t be sharing this, or writing about the election at all, except today, something happened that was incredibly significant for my family and my community as a Cuban-American. Fidel Castro, a man who almost single-handedly brought an entire nation to its knees, violated basic human rights, ruled with a vicious iron fist, tore my family away from their country, sentenced my grandfather to death (6), a man who lied to his people with showy words and promises of hope, taking advantage of them at their most vulnerable as a nation, has died.

The implications of this for my family are too vast to condense succinctly, but we are certainly celebrating today. Both of my parents were born in Cuba. All of my grandparents were forced to leave their homes, the lives they had built, and all they had known. My great-grandmother, her daughter, and both of my grandfathers passed away before they were ever able to return to their homeland, or see it freed. My Abuela Livia is the only one left in that generation of my family to remember what they collectively lost.

All of those years that my grandfather, one of my greatest heroes, raged and argued and drove himself crazy — they’re over. And all of that energy, all he expended, all of the devastation and torture and loss he experienced, that perhaps were enacted in vain — they will now fade into the bloody lines of history. Today I will celebrate my family, their friends, and all of those that have been beaten down by the Castro regime. I wish my grandparents were all around to see it. I hope it would have brought them peace.

1. And in the interest of full disclosure, I AM fearful; Trump’s appointments DO scare me. TRUMP scares me, and Pence even more so.
2. I am not saying I don’t believe that one person can ignite change, but I think its still valuable to consider all perspectives, and take comfort in them when you can. Castro was one person, and those who fought against him had an army. They still failed. The same can be true in reverse.
3. This, I think, is a 1970s version of the way we vent our social media frustrations today. And it did not accomplish anything.
4. The fact that this event was condemned by the National Black Lives Matter movement is the kind of opposition to discourse that I’m talking about–both sides can be stubborn.
5. This is a quote from the Legend of Korra. Not only is the quote itself poignant, but I think that Avatar: The Last Airbender is one of the best arguments for peace in times of turmoil and disagreement that I have ever seen, and demonstrates what it means to overcome a seemingly insurmountable divide.
6. He escaped, thank God. My family was incredibly lucky.

This story first appeared at Mon The Wanderer and is republished here with permission.

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