HAVANA TIMES – The distance that separates the Cuban capital to Florida is a route plagued with ghosts, dreams and nightmares. With idealism and corpses.
Miami is the inverse reflection of Havana, the twinkling city that is hidden behind the horizon, which was a way station, or travel stop, before 1959. You can be there on a 45-minute flight.
I always used to say that a part of me left with the Mariel boatlift, when my sisters and I waited for the boat that we thought would send my father back to rescue us from the stampede in 1980.
My mother warned us not to tell anyone, it was dangerous. Our neighbors or classmates could become our enemies in a flash, throwing eggs against our door. Dragging us along the streets, amid shouting, and maybe, blows.
With three family visa applications declined, and over three decades, these legendary 90 miles became a barrier against certainty, against our kinship with a land where my relatives and friends went, go, or hope to go. My other (wandering, Marielito) self, never stopped showing me the lights of a magnificent city, with posters in English and voices in Spanish. With the fresh scent of new things, which would become real for a second, so real you could almost touch it.
When I boarded an American Airlines plane on April 13th, finally crossing the Havana-Miami route, that brutal stampede was in my chest, in my hands that was writing on a piece of paper, while I looked out of the circular window over my travel companion’s shoulder, and my stomach could feel how the plane gained speed before taking off, jumping into the abyss… the city worn away by so many empty promises, then the coast, the end of a country, and the stretch of sea that has caused so much suffering was left behind, lower and lower, until in dissolved into the sky’s haziness. Just like that.
Yes, I am in Miami… they told me when the plane was landing, still in a stupor which still wasn’t joy, while I followed the crowd of passengers through the huge airport, and I was taken aback at the fact that passport control was done with a machine where I made my customs declaration, a photo was taken and I took a receipt that I then handed to another employee who didn’t look me up and down suspiciously, either.
I moved along with the stream of that heterogeneous crowd, surprised that no one was stopping me, not even an immigration official, who looked at my visa and kindly gestured for me to “go ahead”.
My aunt was waiting for me outside, with her hard-working and fragile frame. When we hugged each other, neither of us cried because we had already cried while waiting, I had cried on the plane, she had cried watching the information board and the arrivals gate.
On the way to her house, while her son-in-law was driving who I only knew from photos (I bid farewell to my cousin in the late ‘80s), I couldn’t help feeling that I was in Cuba and that I wasn’t returning to the past, or to that land of fog and anxiety that my mother never got to see, while she anxiously waited for the postman and my father’s letters and postcards. Not even years later, listening to the ringing of a phone and his voice.
I knew that I had reached this land, which has always been so close, which forms a part of our geography, shares our climate, language, history, culture, and whose impressive prosperity concerns us.
A strange extension of our island that was able to grow without trauma or absurd conflict. Without harboring all the pain that has accumulated in this expanse of water which can be salvaged in a less-than-an-hour flight.