A large number of Cubans have family members abroad, particularly in the United States. I include myself on that list since several of my aunts, uncles and cousins left for that country in the 1980s.
I remember the enormous exodus of people who left the island back then. Basically they were in search of greater economic opportunities or family reconciliation, though others left out of differences with the country’s political system.
In the case of my family, leaving the country was the result of all three factors. Nevertheless, I never looked upon their decisions negatively. I’ve always had the conviction that each person is free to act as they choose and must live where they feel best.
Because of that outlook, I didn’t hold anything against them and I continued trying to deal with them like I always had. However, some very unfortunate events have stuck in my mind.
I think back to one cousin, Alicia, older than I, who still lives in Cuba. At that stage she was at her height from having benefitted — thanks to her husband — from trips abroad where she was allowed to make all types of purchases.
Alicia distanced herself from her own family while they were still in Cuba because she thought that involvement with them could have had a negative impact on all the opportunities she had obtained from the government. She feared her family could result in her losing those perks.
Then, about eight years ago my aunt and one of her sons, my first cousin, began coming to Cuba. From their first trip here, I was very happy to see them, and they continue coming to visit. But my cousin, who used to mind her own affairs without wanting to know anything about them, today welcomes them as if nothing had ever happened. She calls them by telephone on their birthdays, chats and sends them email, and eats with them when they come to visit.
As for them — who didn’t want to know about Alicia during their first years living in Miami — when they came back to Cuba for the first time, she was the one they asked to see and for whom they brought the greatest number of gifts. So I wondered: How could what was happening be explained? Is it that people can forget so much? Were they doing this deliberately?
Now I think that anything can happen. I also think, like the saying goes, that with time people forget. But what I’m sure of is that there are things in life that one never forgets. But most importantly, what I learned during my academic training, and especially since the cradle, is that the family is above everything and that it’s necessary to preserve it independently of differing opinions that might exist between us.
I think this could be the reason my family in Miami excused my cousin’s poor behavior. However, what left a lot to be desired was the abrupt and completely self-serving change in Alicia, who has never known how to value the concept of family. She sells herself to the highest bidder and now begs to those who can give her the gifts and money she wants.
I brought up this family situation because it is part of today’s Cuban society. Here there are falsehoods, hypocrisy, self-seeking interests and human misery; in short, we’re witnessing an incalculable degeneration of values.
I recall a phrase my mother used to say: “When all you have is a little bit, you make a little bit work.” My cousin Alicia doesn’t have the perks like she did before; now Alicia’s “little bit” is in ingratiating herself with family members who live abroad in order to subsist in today’s Cuba.