Worldfocus editorial consultant Peter Eisner recently reported on the signature series Cuba After Fidel. He describes encountering young Cubans leaving behind loved ones and heading to the U.S., knowing full well that they may never return to their homeland due to U.S. travel restrictions.
One day in Havana, I had to go down to the state tourism office to change my travel arrangements back to the States. As most people don’t realize, there are a number of charter flights daily between Cuba and the United States carrying Cuban-Americans, journalists, members of non-profit organizations, students and educators who, among others, are in some cases exempt from U.S. prohibition from traveling to Cuba.
At the tourist office, I started chatting with a young Cuban woman who told me she was flying to Miami that Friday and was to be married to her Cuban-American boyfriend and remain there.
Three days later at the airport, by chance, I bumped into the woman, who I hardly recognized — she’d spruced up for the 45-minute flight to Miami. She was weepy, having just said goodbye to her parents and friends, not knowing when she would see them again.
It was the first time she’d ever left Cuba, the third time she’d ever been on an airplane — she’d once taken a domestic flight from Havana to Santiago de Cuba to the east. A number of other people on the plane were similar: Young, single women who had obtained visas to go to the United States.
A flight attendant asked for a show of hands: “How many people on the plane are leaving Cuba definitivamente?” (a dramatic word in Spanish which could be translated as “permanently” or “for good”). The young women raised their hands.
It is hard to describe the emotions running through the plane, a lifetime of feelings compressed into a short jet hop across the Florida Strait. When the plane took off, there was applause, and the Cuban woman I’d met was crying as she craned her neck to see the Havana shoreline disappear under the clouds.
Only 30 minutes later, the attendants were announcing the final descent into Miami. There was no single emotion, just bits of emotion tossed together. At wheels down, the flight attendant came on the air again, using that same word. “For those of you who have left Cuba definitivamente, bienvenidos a los Estados Unidos!”
Welcome to the United States.
For me, that bittersweet moment summed up the contradictions of the situation. These were young people leaving everything they knew and loved behind, cheered by the possibilities that the United States seemed to offer, frightened by the unknown. One could only wish them well, hoping that politics and ideology on both sides give a chance to the people who have been suffering all along.
– Peter Eisner