Thursday, May 14, 2009

Longing to return to the island, Weir sees reconnection in revised Cuba travel rules

Guardalavaca, Cuba, 1996

"Cuba is a place you have to experience with all five senses"

"The blue was breathtaking, the sand was powder"

"My Tia said to hell with the politics"

Local Cuban-American blogger and businesswoman Carrie Ferguson Weir (of Bilingual in the Boonies, Los Pollitos Dicen, and ChiChi and Flaco) recently wrote that she has decided to take advantage of the newly relaxed rules about travel to Cuba. On May 5, Weir published this remembrance of a previous visit, and a favorite spot:
I know it is Cinco de Mayo, and I really should be writing something about getting sauced on margaritas and taco truck asadas, but I heard Jim Acosta on CNN this morning. I cried and was inspired.

Acosta is a CNN correspondent. He's Cuban-American, son of a man who left Cuba in 1962 at the age of 12. This was Acosta's first trip to Cuba.

I have no public opinion on the angles of his stories, or of the criticism he may receive for not painting a different, or more complete, picture of the island. (Read the comments on his page). What struck me as I listened to him talk about meeting a distant relative for the first time was how fortunate I am to have traveled there. I want Cuban kids of my generation to see Cuba for themselves -- if they want to. It is why I got all teary despite the fact I am not PMS-ing.

My journeys to Cuba answered a lot of questions for me, about my identity, about my spirit, about the things that move and inspire me. And, it answered questions about my family, their past, their longing, their hope, their passions. It was as if an object blocking the whole picture was removed.

My grandfather used to pick me up from school and he would tell great stories about Cuba from behind the wheel of his little, white Maverick. He told me the fruit was sweeter and the sky was bluer. It turned out to be true.

I have walked the same streets my mother walked as a child. I saw her old school, her old friends. I saw where members of my family are buried. I spent time with the family my father has seen but three times in the last 48 years. I laughed and cried with them. (Six of them will immigrate to the U.S. this spring and next winter.)

My generation of American-born cubanitos has been raised on longing and without a physical connection to the birthplace of our parents. Sad because Cuba is a place you have to experience with all five senses.

The picture above was taken in 1996 at Guardalavaca, near my mom's hometown of Banes. It is without a doubt the most glorious stretch of sand and water I ever have seen. The blue was breathtaking, the sand was powder and it was quiet and serene.

The name means "Guard the Cow'' or "Hide the Cow'' and there are all kinds of tales about its origin -- that it is what the natives would yell out when pirates came ashore, or that it was a pass code for the mambises who used to graze animals there.

During the 1996 trip, my husband and I were in Cuba to report on Cuban athletes who were participating in the Olympic games that year. It took us about three hours, over countless potholes, past wide open fields, bohios and ox carts, to get there from Havana. My mom had told me not to miss it.

I am grateful I didn't.

Now that the American government has changed the travel rules and is allowing Cuban-Americans to visit relatives as often as they wish, my aunt recently told my mom she has decided to make a trip to Cuba soon. My Tia said to hell with the politics -- some Cuban-Americans are against this change -- she wants to take "un chapuson" (a dip) in the waters of Guardalavaca once more.

So do I.
Photo and text reprinted with permission of Carrie Ferguson Weir.

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