Cuban and Cuban-American residents of Miami have been celebrating for a couple of days. They're thrilled to hear that Fidel Castro is ill, and they wish him dead. It's a terrible thing to wish, but this is a special case — he drove them from their home country.
I grew up in south Florida, and in 1972 I had a summer job working in Opa Locka, in the warehouse of a retail company. I unloaded trucks, opened cases and put price stickers on individual items, transferred the cases to pallets for storage, and that sort of thing. Except for a few of us students, nearly everyone who worked in the warehouse was Cuban — native Cuban, in Miami to escape the Castro regime. The men I worked with taught me a lot, young as I was, and in my first job, about working with people, about standing up for yourself and what was important to you, about holding on to your hopes and dreams.
Fidel Castro had been in power for about 13 years at that time, and these men all remembered the homeland they left, and all wanted to go back. They had Cuban flags on their lunch boxes, and lettering that said, "¡Volveremos!" — We will return! And it surely was their wish, their collective dream, to return to the island they came from and missed. One day. But not while an oppressive dictator was in power.
But what about now? Some of the older men with whom I worked, 34 years ago, are surely dead now, and many others long retired. Most have since had children and grandchildren, born in this country, who know Cuba as a homeland but not as a home. The spirit of "¡Volveremos!" has been passed on to them, but when it comes down to it do they really desire a "return" to a place they've never seen?
And if they can some day go back, what will they find? Surely not the affluent side of the Cuba of the 1940s and 1950s, the vacation paradise for well-off Americans, full of night clubs and music and drink. When the corrupt Batista government fell so did the party life, and in achieving equity Castro did not turn the poor neighbourhoods into night-club zones, but made the night-club zones poor. The Cuba they have to return to... is it a Cuba they want to return to?
And yet the spirit is there, and surely when the time comes some will go back. I hope that time is soon, and I hope their return brings them peace and does feel like a homecoming.
Update, 10:50 a.m.: Here's a related article in today's New York Times.
Update, 10:00 p.m.: People will bet on anything.