I used to think Miami was a kind of carbon copy of Havana. But I was wrong. We are not a copy, but a conversation.
How beautiful Havana is
Marques de Comillas
Marques de Comillas
About three months after Papan died, on July 11 of this year, the people of Cuba took to the streets all over the island. They took to the streets in protest, demanding their liberty from a tyranny that has imposed itself on our island for over sixty-two years now. For many people who live under democracies, it can be difficult to understand what it means to throw yourself to the street under a repressive regime, such as Cuba’s. It means that you are putting your life and the life of your children at risk. So much so that even people in exile often choose not to say or do things against the regime because it could affect their family in the homeland. Knocks on the door, like the one Papan received, still exist on the island.
After the people went out into the streets of Cuba on July 11, Miguel Díaz-Canel—Raúl Castro’s hand-picked successor, who the Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba calls a “shadow puppet president”—went on national television and told the world and its people that they would secure Communism at all costs, even if that meant killing its own people. There’s a word for that: democide.
The Cuban government has been committing democide for over six decades. The world has remained ignorant because dictatorships are good at burying truth, painting facades, controlling the narrative. Since July 11, over one thousand people have been jailed for protesting peacefully. Among those people are artists like Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and Maykel Osorbo, who peacefully demand freedom of speech and expression. The government also completely disappeared people like José Daniel Ferrer, a peaceful opposition leader. Ferrer is no longer disappeared but is still in prison, and it is clear he has been, like Pedro, tortured. During the protests, the government not only imprisoned people but also shot them dead, in the back, for being on the street, calling for liberty.
Since July 11, I have come to this parking lot quite a bit. I stand here and I look out at Miami and take up my grandfather’s fight. There’s a lifeline here I can’t help but feel is connected to those days on the rooftop of the Venezuelan embassy, when my grandfather’s flight was his fight. Now, my fight sits in the pocket of my palm. My cell phone, my computer, and my words are my weapons.
The internet is one of the things that is cracking the mirage that the Cuban government has created. Though the Cuban government shuts down the already-censored internet on the island whenever it wants, some Cubans were able to get images out of July 11 and the days that ensued. Despite all odds, many have found ways to rig connection, to get information to the outside world. It’s for this reason that Cuban Americans have asked the Biden administration and companies to provide the Cuban people with internet.
From where I stand, I can share the messages I hear from my family, from friends, from fellow artists on the island; I can verify truths through networks I have created over the years, through that unbreakable bond of family—that pulse we share that cannot be quieted, no matter how hard the regime tries. I can amplify the messages my people want to share through social media, my writing, speaking, conversations with friends and strangers.
There are thousands of literal and figurative parking lots around the world now. The Cuban diaspora is over two million strong. These are people whom the regime has tried to silence, who have been exiled from their country. It has taken, in some cases, generations, but they have learned the languages of the places that took them in, took us in. And we are, together with the Cuban people on the island, unmasking the dictatorship in those many languages, around the world, from our individual parking spots, where the higher we go, the better the reception. And we need all of the reception right now.
I am sitting in this parking lot now, writing this, speaking with my grandfather, and to you. Just like Papan needed to conjure Pedro, I need Papan now. Because we are, right now, attempting the seemingly impossible. We are, upon the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, in November, attempting to break down our own wall. The people inside Cuba have already said they will hit the streets again in November, despite the government’s threats. We are here, perched. Ready. Because this is no longer just a parking lot. It can’t be. It’s a launching pad.
Vanessa Garcia is a multidisciplinary writer who has written for Sesame Street and Caillou, among other shows. Her debut novel, White Light, was named one of the Best Books of 2015 by NPR, and won an International Latino Book Award. Her plays, most recently The Amparo Experience, have been produced around the world. She co-hosts a podcast with her mother and sister, called Never the Empty Nest. Her pieces have appeared in The LA Times, The Guardian, The Washington Post, National Review, ESPN, among others. She holds a PhD from the University of California Irvine. www.vanessagarcia.org