I was hesitant to go to Cuba.
As an Honduran-American living in Miami, I grew up surrounded by Cuban people as my next-door neighbors, my doctors, my teachers and my friends. I was always surprised to discover someone was from Honduras or some other smaller Latin country. That’s how rare it was. And because of this constant exposure, despite how much my own culture was drilled into me at home, I ended up learning a couple of things.
- There will always be a language barrier even among Hispanic countries. Sandilla which means watermelon to most Central American countries sounds like a disease to Cubans. To them, It’s melon. La Wawa is the bus. Let’s not even get into what Papaya, the fruit, means to them. (Hint: Please don’t say it unless you want to get slapped)
- A party isn’t a party without croquetas, empanadas, and some music. And there is no such thing as leaving early.
- The Castro family is evil.
Growing up, I was never told why the Castro regime was a plague on Cuba, just that it was. Just like how I always knew the sun would rise up every morning and that Monday would come after Sunday, I knew that the Castro family, specifically Fidel, were evil.
So when the opportunity to go Cuba came up, I hesitated. On the one hand, I wanted to go to see where my best friend and her family was from. I wanted to see how similar Miami was to places in Cuba. I wanted to see where my great-great-grandmothers were from; ladies I had no idea even existed.
But on the other hand, I was going to a place that sent hundred of Cubans fleeing; risking their lives on rafts to get to America. Tired, dehydrated, and sometimes crying from relief that they managed the impossible.
In the end, my best friend told me to go. Not just for me, but for her. Who didn’t know much about Cuba beyond the town that her family was from.
When June hit, I was bombarded with questions from my family about my feelings. Was I nervous? Was I excited? Was I regretting my decision? A particularly opinionated lady at my mother’s church, who was also an Anti-Castro, looked at me with pity and a little condescension through her squared-rimmed glasses and said “Te van a doctrinar.” They’re going to indoctrinate you.
Despite the warnings and the questions from people that I didn’t even know, I was calm. I’ve traveled outside the country before. I spoke the language. I was intimately familiar with the food. And even if I didn’t have all of that, I had a professor who had lived and worked in Cuba. I was more anxious about dealing with TSA than I was about the country.
As soon as we landed and stepped out, greeted by the heat, large palm trees, and colorful cars, I felt the last remaining tension I had from dealing with TSA melt away. Dragging my beat-up luggage towards the money exchange, I felt excited and curious. My classmates were chatting away; talking about what they would see and what they would get. Overly-thrilled whenever they saw a vibrant old car that Havana was known for.
I managed to get into a conversation with one of the dozen taxi-drivers that hung around the airport. I explained to him why we were here and what we would see. He laughed with me as I explained I was one of the few in the group that knew how to speak the language. He was friendly and boisterous; offering advice on the best places to go. It felt nothing like home yet he had an air about him that reminded me so much of my best friend and the people I left behind. Our professor found us and we left.
As we got further away from the city, staring at the unusual traffic lights and the occasional group of people waiting for a taxi or a bus on the side of the road, I was beginning to see glimpses of Honduras that I wasn’t expecting. The colorful yet sometimes faded square houses with stones or iron-gates as protection. The dirt roads and beat-up cars. The endless view of the vibrant green trees.
Something stirred in my chest as I continued to stare out of the window of our van. I shared excited smiles with my fellow classmates and for the first time in awhile I sent a silent little prayer of thanks.