Aversion To Fidel Castro Spans Generations Of Cuban-American Families

Dec 1, 2016
Originally published on December 1, 2016 11:13 pm
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In many Cuban-American families, the hatred of Fidel Castro spans generations. So after he died last week, lots of Cuban exiles, their children and even their grandchildren celebrated. NPR's Adrian Florido spent time with one Cuban-American family in Miami.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: Emilia Ramos fled Cuba in 1961, taking her 14-year-old daughter with her. That daughter, Maria Bellon, is now 69. She lives in a typical suburban Miami home.

MARIA BELLON: I understood what was happening, and I understood the intention. But I never thought it would be a lifetime.

FLORIDO: Shortly after she and her mom arrived in the States, a group of CIA-trained exiles invaded Cuba at the Bay of Pigs expecting to topple Castro's government.

BELLON: And we were all hopeful. I mean in a matter of days, we're going back. And as you know, it was a big failure, and we didn't go back. We couldn't go back.

FLORIDO: Instead, the family built a life in Miami. Maria had children of her own. One of them is Elena Casares. She's now 33, a schoolteacher. Elena says she felt strongly about Castro even from a young age. She remembers watching her grandmother send packages to relatives still in Havana.

ELENA CASARES: And it's just the most mundane things. When she would pack the Tylenol, I would say, oh, my God, you mean you can't - there's no Tylenol if you walk into a store? What do you do if you have a headache or if you feel bad? How can people not have those very basic things?

FLORIDO: Her grandmother Emilia always blamed Castro for destroying her family, for seizing their construction business, for the end of her marriage, for the fact she never saw Cuba again. She died almost exactly one year before Castro died. She was 96.

CASARES: I lament that my grandmother missed it by a year. It's almost cruel, really.

FLORIDO: This was a sentiment I heard repeated all week long in Miami, the heart of the Cuban exile community. Everyone had a relative who would have loved to see this day. As for Maria, she knows exactly what her mother would have said.

BELLON: She would have said a bad word...

CASARES: (Laughter).

BELLON: ...And said (speaking Spanish).

CASARES: I was just going to say that, yeah.

BELLON: (Speaking Spanish). My mother was a good person. She never wished anybody any harm. But when it came to Fidel...

CASARES: Too personal.

BELLON: ...There was a big exception there.

FLORIDO: Elena says even though she never lived in Cuba herself, never experienced Castro's government the way her mother and grandmother did, she felt it, too.

CASARES: I've made it personal because I put myself in their shoes. I can see how other people may not feel as personally about it because it's easy to remove yourself when you want to see it or live it, but it is very personal to me.

FLORIDO: Most of Elena's friends in Miami are Cuban, and she says every one of them - they all feel the same way. Today, younger Cubans tend to be more liberal than their parents or grandparents. Regardless, they mostly share a disdain for Castro fueled by his jailing of political opponents, his suppression of free speech. Where some families do disagree is what should happen next. In the last year, President Barack Obama has narrowed the political distance between the U.S. and Cuba.

BELLON: I just felt that nothing was going to come out of it.

CASARES: What's the alternative?

FLORIDO: They disagree politely but not when it comes to the daughter's longing and the mother's palpable nostalgia for Cuba just 90 miles of ocean away.

BELLON: And I love my country. And if I tell you that every time I listen to the national hymn, I get goosebumps and I have - let me show you what I have.

FLORIDO: Maria walks to the kitchen and pulls a magnet off the refrigerator.

BELLON: And here is the Cuban flag, and here are the words for the national (speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: How does it go?

BELLON: (Singing in Spanish). I love Cuba, but I cannot ever think about going back.

FLORIDO: Elena says she would like to visit.

CASARES: Those are my roots, I feel. And I, you know - I want to visit where my grandmother grew up and where my mom.

FLORIDO: Her mother nods and says, maybe someday. Adrian Florido, NPR news, Miami. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.