—During my first year at Northeastern University I had a Cuban-American roommate, my first experience with any sort of Cuban culture. Her parents had left Cuba when they were two years old, and she and her sisters had grown up in Miami. Her father owned a very successful chain of Cuban restaurants in Florida.
My friend talked about Cuba often. She said her grandmother would cry and tell her how much she missed her homeland, and how sad she was that she would never be able to go back. One of her grandfathers had been in a Cuban prison for decades (she never told me why), and once he got out and moved to Miami he cut off contact with the family. All of her friends were Cuban-American and considered themselves Cuban, although as far as I know none of them had ever been here.
She hated when people wore shirts with pictures of Che on them and said that they had no idea who he was or what he had done, but were simply buying into a trend.
I became interested in Cuba through her, both because she had such strong feelings about the country and because I knew that the experiences and opinions of actual Cubans would be so different from hers. I thought that because of the embargo I would never be able to come here.
Although it is technically illegal for Americans to spend money in Cuba, my university secured visas for 12 students to study here for three months. We are the first students from my school to come to Cuba, and are the only Americans currently studying at Casa de las Americas.
In the six weeks I have spent in Cuba so far I have been faced with many contradictions. This is a country of people united both by the revolution which improved their lives, and by the poverty which they cannot escape.
This is a country of bodegas, where Cubans are given inadequate rations of food, and hotels, where tourists pay a Cuban’s monthly wage for lunch. This is a country which has survived despite the trade embargo, but probably wouldn’t survive without remittances from Cuban-Americans.
This is a country which claims to be equal, but where classes and racism still exist 50 years after a socialist revolution.
I do not know if I will understand Cuba by the time I leave, and I know that as a foreigner I will never be able to comprehend how Cubans live. But I hope to learn a little more about this fascinating and beautiful country each day.