Last night I woke up from a dream.
In the dream I was standing in front of Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, one of the leaders of the San Isidro Movement – the movement of artists and Cuban citizens on the island, which has been one of the sparks in the engine that gave rise to this moment in Cuban history. This moment when the Cuban people have begun to take back their voice. When they have bravely taken to the street, despite all odds, risking their lives in order to break the shackles of a 62-year-old dictatorship. Luis Manuel is currently missing, disappeared by the State.
In my dream, however, I was face to face with him, and we were standing on water, several feet apart. From my chest to his there was a twisted root connecting us, heart to heart. It was thorny in places, touched with blood. In other spots, it was beginning to bloom with tiny orange Flamboyant buds. In other sections it was metal, but those parts glowed with a light that was trying to heal the rust. And we, Luis Manuel and I, were looking face to face at each other and I felt as though my heart, which was being tugged by its very root, was going to come out of my chest. But it didn’t come out of my chest, it gripped harder, vibrated inside me. It connected us.
“Estamos conectados,” is how Luis Manuel ends many of his social media videos, speaking to the people on the island. And I feel that connection outside the island too in our Diaspora.
We are all connected
Alongside this powerful dream I had, we have also all awoken from a nightmare in which Cuba was a place people went to for fun in the sun while a dictatorship brutally pushed its people to their knees behind closed doors.
A nightmare in which no one heard our voices on this side of the ocean or the other. Not the voices inside Cuba; not the Cassandras of the Diaspora.
We are the children of men and women who threw themselves to the sea. Some whose bodies sunk to the bottom of raging oceans as they tried to cross in makeshift rafts of rubber, shards of canvas.
We are the children of people who cheered: “Next year in Cuba,” until the phrase scraped their throats raw. Until they lost the hope. We carry their voice within us, and we project it to the world now.
We are the people who fled in 1959, 1961, 1974, 1980, 1994, 2014, and yesterday.
We are the people that have had to watch American students wear Che and Fidel on their chests, their images, to us, equal to the dagger of a white pointed hat alongside a cross on fire.
We have sent our family money directly; we have fed our people when the government starved it. We have never embargoed the people; we have only embargoed the government.
The Cuban regime made itself fat on deals with foreign companies as the Cuban people starved. The Cuban regime has blamed the American embargo, when it is the regime itself that has been the blockade. As the Cuban rapper, David D Omni, sings to the regime: “el bloqueo aquí eres tu que no quieres dar la luz,” the blockade here is you, who does not want to give the light.
What we have known for generations, the world knows now – or is, rather, only beginning to know. There are many stories to tell, to carry toward the light.
There is work to do. This is only the beginning.
This past Saturday, July 17th, Willy Chirino spoke to the Cuban American people in front of the freedom tower and quoted Jose Martí, our patriot poet. He said: “When we’re talking about freedom, everything must go to the fire, even the arts, in order to feed the flame.”
No matter what that vibrating root between us and our people feels like right now, how much it hurts – because of how much it hurts – we cannot let go. We must keep the flame alive.
We are a chain of people standing on water and we cannot let go of each other or we will sink to the bottom of the sea, without ever seeing our connective roots blare their glorious bloom.
There is not a single second in which we can turn against each other right now. It doesn’t matter who voted for who in the last election. It doesn’t matter if we have small differences of opinion. We must all join forces under our singular cause: to bring down the tyranny of Cuba, once and for all. It’s time that the people of Cuba take their voice back. They have suffered for it, they are dying in the streets for it, slaughtered by their own government for it. It is our job to amplify their messages and fight alongside them; educate the world into action -- peacefully.
The regime will play its game. But it is an old game, and we know it all too well. Let’s play it better. Let’s show the world the regime’s cards, the decks they’ve stacked, the dominoes they’ve locked.
I have a new dream now. In which we are all— the generations torn apart -- standing and embracing on the soil of a free Cuba.
We are all connected.
Featured image by Glenda Padro Castañeda