Knowing you are leaving Cuba

Ernesto Carrolero

jibacoaHAVANA TIMES — Since graduating from high school some three months ago, my circle of friends has been reduced (or expanded, depending on how you look at it). One left for Ecuador, two to the United States and one of my closest friends will be leaving the country any time now.

Every time one of our friends leaves, we throw a farewell party for them. Whenever anyone asks them “what’s better than leaving,” the reply is almost instantaneous: “knowing that you’re leaving!”

That the certainty of leaving the country is better than the act of departing is an early sign of nostalgia.

Though most of my acquaintances picture themselves living abroad in the future, those who do invariably suffer the same nostalgia my mother still feels when she says she will never get used to living outside Cuba, despite the many years she’s been living in Holland.

Leaving behind one’s family, friends and everything one knows to start from square one in a totally new place is, without a doubt, a tough decision. The idea of staying in Cuba, however, is even more unthinkable, particularly for the young.

Leaving the country means that one will at least be able to dream of having a house, a car and a series of other things (even if this means doing without many other things). It’s true that, sometimes, you will get home from work so tired you won’t even have the energy to sit in front of your plasma TV, but the same thing will happen to you if you stay, with the exception that you won’t have a plasma TV.

If you to stay in Cuba, having a university degree or an important position in your place of work won’t make much of a difference in terms of your salary.

A friend told me he wanted to leave the country in order to be “a person”, and his way of thinking made a deep impression on me. Could he not be a person in Cuba?

Though it’s hard for me to admit, for a generation as practical as mine, the answer is no. Despite this and the fact the majority plans on leaving the country (for it is the only option they have), many are interested in returning to Cuba with the money to set up their own business, or to work abroad for some time and come back to enjoy their money here.

We are a little better prepared for the adventure because, thanks to our relatives living abroad, we know that, even though life abroad isn’t easy, there are many opportunities there. We have no plans of having children for the time being. We are still very young. We also would not want to leave them behind if we had to leave the country.

We know how much one can miss a parent because ours left Cuba in search of a better life that took long to come along, and because we were unable to reunite with them when we wanted to.

Many a time, I have noted that, behind the superficiality and frivolity of teenagers, there lies the longing to make up for a certain lack. Maturing early is not a voluntary act but a mere survival mechanism.

Many young people in Cuba have grown up without their parents, and not only because they left the country definitively but also because they have gone to work on an international mission and can see their children only twice a year.

Many of us have grown up without someone we need, someone who calls us on our birthday, whose voice breaks up when they hear ours.

Emigrating is not only synonymous with winning – it also entails losing, for those who leave and those who stay behind.

12 thoughts on “Knowing you are leaving Cuba

  • The more bitter the Winter, the more beautiful the Spring. These two old men will die soon. Their number 2’s will try to inherit the prison with all of its perks. That will be the critical moment for the Cuban people…more Winter or finally the Spring?

  • There you go again Griffin with your passionate support for the US to continue its unilateral embargo on Cuba (until the Cubans do this and that) while you refuse to make a demand that your country, Canada, place a similar embargo on Cuba and travel ban on Canadian citizens. I offered you space in HT to formally make that demand and help Canada become the third of 193 countries that supports the US embargo on Cuba.

    Oh, I almost forgot, you apparently like Canada playing the “Good Guy” roll, and that way your country generates tax revenue from doing business with the government you despise. You seem to want your cake and eat it too. A very comfortable position.

    But these last comments are veering away from the topic of the post so let’s try to get back on track.

  • Please explain precisely how ending the embargo will allow Cuban-Americans a “much greater role in prompting change within the Cuban government”? Raul Castro has ruled out any political changes.

    Step-by-step, how does that work?

    And given the fact that the Helms-Burton Act cannot be changed or lifted without the Cuban government meeting the requirements of he act, it’s pointless of you (or anybody else) to continually call for the US to lift the embargo before the Cuban government has made any political reforms.

    Therefore the question should be, “How best to prompt the Cuban government to make the necessary political reforms which would allow the US to lift the embargo?”

    I think we all agree that peaceful transition is far preferable to a violent upheaval. I also believe a peaceful change is preferable to the continuing violent repression of the Cuban people which has been ongoing for 55 years and counting.

    So how best to achieve this peaceful change? The US government can’t make the changes in Cuba. The Cuban diaspora cannot make the changes. The Cuban people might be able to, if they can organize a peaceful movement of civil disobedience. Only one group has the power to readily make the necessary changes: the leadership of the Castro regime.


  • Make up your mind Terry. If you are now saying that AFTER the US unilaterally ends the embargo, that the catalyst for change in Cuba could then be the “Gandhi” method, then by implication, ending the embargo alone would not be the impetus for change as you have suggested in your prior comments. It is simply not reasonable to believe that after 55 years of complete control and professed absolute abhorrence of democracy, that the Castros or their hand-picked successors would willingly give up that power. When in recorded human history, have despots ever done that? I would hope you consider what is going on in Burma (Myanmar) as an example of what tyrants do when the US gives in too soon.

  • Moses, I agree that this will likely be the true catylist for change in Cuba. However I don’t think one can hope for this scenario to be realized until the US first ends the embargo, effectively allowing Cuban-Americans to play a much greater influential role in prompting change within the Cuban government, as well as also influencing the Cuban people to become more proactive. I don’t think that sending the Castros packing (or their successors) will be entirely necessary, or wise either, when attempting to secure peaceful and orderly transitional change for the Cuban people. But again, I agree…the Gandi method could be helpful.

  • The bittersweet mood of this beautifully written letter calls for a song:

    Kelvis Ochoa sings “Quedate”, receorded live at the Vedado Social Club, March 2014.

  • As long as the Cuban regime can’t offer hope to the young people of Cuba, people will continue to emigrate.

  • The people have no arms to take up anyway. The Castro regime has all the guns therefore the people will lose any armed insurrection.

    Your suggestion of civil disobedience and a general strike is the only viable strategy to end the nightmare. Shut down the tourism industry. The cash flow will stop while foreign tourists will start to realize how their dollars are keeping the dictatorship in power.

  • Buying a house, a car, an iPhone -or any other gadget- are definitely
    not the biggest incentives that calls Cubans to leave the country.

    Cuba is an award society. One made out of a ridiculous mix. A
    one-family (the Castros) centered ideology, and the luck of personal
    development. This based on the obscurantism and the lack of education (not to
    confuse with literacy) existing in that country.

    It is the hope -and desire- to conduct life as one considers
    appropriate, what prompts Cubans to leave.

    In Cuba you don’t own your life. The government does. Not
    material things –primarily- but freedom (in its wide meaning) what Cubans seek
    when leaving –for good- that awful country.

  • Every time my wife calls her parents in Cuba, she finishes the call more melancholy than before she made the call. Every time there is a snippet of news about Cuba, her ears perk up. I know she loves me and she loves her life here in San Francisco. She has a great job, a beautiful home, and a fantastic social circle of friends. In every way, her life has improved. Yet, I know very well, she would prefer to live in Cuba if she could take her life here with her. The Castro revolution has not only destroyed Cuba’s physical infrastructure over the last 55 years, they have destroyed the lives of millions of Cubans. They have caused families to separate. People who support this dreadful regime simply overlook the hardships the Castros have caused. One can only hope that change will come sooner rather than later.

  • There is a third, non-violent, option. Imagine if Cubans did not go to work. Or, if one day one million Cubans simply took to the streets. I believe through a simple (or not so simple) campaign of civil disobedience, Cubans could send the Castros packing.

  • Or you all could stay and head to the mountains and plan a war against your oppressive government… I’d rather die fighting than be a slave of a system I have no voice in…

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