You're right, Obama, changing Cuba no es facil — but it's time to try


Did Obama really just say “No es facil?”

Indeed, it won’t be easy changing Cuba, but as a Cuban-American I welcome all efforts with open arms; the steps the U.S. is taking today to engage with Cuba represents a huge advance towards a long overdue improvement in bilateral relations.

Still, President Barack Obama’s words raise so many questions about what all this means for Cuba. “We will end an outdated approach that for decades has failed to advance our interests and instead we will begin to normalize relations between our two countries…. These 50 years have shown that isolation has not worked. It’s time for a new approach.”

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about my Cuban-American roots, both in anticipation of President Obama taking action on Cuba and because recently I’ve been looking forward to seeing Cuban hip-hop songstress Danay Suarez perform in Miami this Saturday. Suarez is an excellent young singer who came up in the underground hip-hop scene in Havana with profound lyrics that challenge Cuba’s status quo. She also responded to Jay-Z’s visit to the island and his song “Open Letter” where he quipped: “I’m in Cuba, I love Cubans/This communist talk is so confusing/When it’s from China/The very mic that I’m using.”

Danay was quick to respond to Jay-Z on Facebook, saying “We should develop our fraternity, not focus on our differences.” She blamed both governments for the frosty relations. Her wish to bring the two countries closer together resonates with me; I too want to see the Cuban family reconnect, regardless of our political differences.

I was 19 when I visited Cuba in 2001. When I got off the plane, it was like getting off a time machine in 1959. Outside of the airport, a Chevy from the late ‘50s welcomed me to my parent’s country. Sometimes I feel too American to call Cuba my own, but too Cuban to call the U.S. my home.

On the second day in Cuba, we went to visit my mom’s childhood house, which was so deteriorated that she could only recognize the frame. Even though everything appeared stuck in the past, my Cuban cousins were very much living in the present — we listened to U.S. pop music and they knew all the words in their broken English. Taking in Cuba while sitting on the front step of my family’s house in El Cerro, La Havana, I remember hearing N’Sync’s“Bye, Bye, Bye” playing from the neighbor’s house. I found it all so foreign, yet oddly familiar.

At the time, AOL was my social media lifeline. I would chat and check my e-mail daily in Miami. But in Cuba, I was only able to check my e-mail once during my entire 21- day visit, and only for 15 minutes inside La Plaza de La Revolucion, where I had to take a number and wait in line.

Staying with my cousins, I learned that young Cubans are very smart, happy and have learned to make the very best of the cards they’ve been dealt – although some would call that complacency. Moving forward, as the island opens up I think technology and freedom of expression will be key to development. It will help Cubans become competitive in the global job market.

I grew up in Miami to a Cuban family, in a city where Cuban culture is both celebrated and adopted by many, including the non-Cubans who drink their cafecito and dance to Pitbull. These changes in US-Cuban relations may anger older Cubans who believed the embargo “punished” the oppressive Castro regime. I remember growing up overhearing that the embargo should only be lifted “when the regime collapses” or “cuando se caiga Fidel.”

But did the Chinese regime collapse? Did the Vietnamese regime collapse? No. They evolved… modified. That is how Cuba will change. While the Castro brothers retain real and symbolic significance for generations of exiles determined to outlive them, the historic intensity of many expatriated Cubans outweighs more sober calls for normalization of relations.

The political situation of Cuba has created many emotional divides and animosity among the different generations of Cuban-Americans. There have always been the pro-embargo Cubans and those of us in my generation (I was born in 1982) who don’t understand how it was changing the situation in Cuba.

More recently, more and more Cuban-Americans have realized that the embargo just isn’t helping to promote real change in Cuba. The trend among Cuban-Americans is shifting more towards the political center: President Barack Obama won the Cuban-American vote in 2012 after losing it in 2008.

According to a Florida International University poll in June 2014, 68 percent of Cuban-Americans favor normalized diplomatic relations, while 69 percent want travel restrictions to Cuba lifted, and 52 percent want the embargo ended.

The proof, as they say, is in the flan – it’s time for Cuba to evolve in the name of democracy and freedom of expression.

Miami-born JennyLee Molina is a communications professional and the founder of JLPR and 3:05 Cafecito, a social media campaign that celebrates Miami culture and proclaimed 3:05 as the official coffee break of the city of Miami. Her efforts led to the City of Miami Mayor officially proclaiming  3:05 as Miami’s coffee break time and garnered national attention, making it the only city in the U.S with this distinction.

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