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Crying at the Centro Fidel Castro Ruz

But that’s not where it happened. It didn’t happen until our tour guide walked us upstairs, to one of the final rooms. This room was dedicated to the program of the Cuban revolution. Six pillars that stood in the middle of a white room that represented the six problems that Fidel and the Cuban people sought to correct through revolution:

Each six of these pillars represented issues that long plagued Cuba’s history. Issues that once meant death, that meant poverty, that meant discrimination, that meant despair. Each of these six pillars represented issues that were addressed with revolution.

Standing in front of those pillars I was crying and thinking about all of the people who have died in the US so needlessly during this pandemic. I was crying and thinking about all of the Black and brown kids who will permanently be set back because of our failures to organize around their needs these past two years. I cried thinking about all of the parents who cried at night trying to choose between sending their kids back to school or staying home and missing out on the income they need to make rent. I cried thinking about my best friend that died last year from the coronavirus. I was thinking about how a year before he died, his brother died. And 12 years before that, their father died. How his mom passed away this year too. I was crying and thinking to myself, “They’re all dead. His whole family is dead.” I was crying and thinking about the existence of a for-profit medical system that robbed them and profited from all of their illnesses. All of their deaths. All of their funerals.

I cried thinking about all of the forced evictions , all of the illegal foreclosures. I cried thinking about the homelessness. I cried thinking about all of the stolen farmland. I cried thinking about grandmas working the night shift at Waffle House with no health insurance. Uncles struggling with alcohol addiction and no access to help. So many people back in the US, fighting to survive, who have never owned anything, not even their sanity. I cried thinking about this beautiful dedication that I was standing in. A dedication to such a beautiful man who did beautiful things that most people where I live may never know or understand.


But what really sets the Centro Fidel Castro Ruz apart is not what it contains, but who it was created for. During his lifetime, Fidel made it law that no one could ever name anything after him. He did not want streets or hospitals or airports named in his honor. The revolution was in 1959. Fidel died in 2016. It is just this year, 2021, that the people of Cuba have broken his rule, just a little, to finally create a museum in his honor. They saw this as a necessary thing to do because a new generation of Cubans now exists on the island — a generation of Cubans who’ve never had the chance to meet Fidel. A generation that will never have the chance to stand and hear his speeches or be greeted by him in their schools. With the US constantly smearing and launching attacks against his legacy in Western media, Cuban people are now having to wage a war inside of their country to protect their youth from capitalist influence. The rise of “anti social media ” and the ease with which young Cubans can access viral content, tweets, WhatsApp messages and music videos means Cuba is in the tough position of finding a way to preserve the meaning of its revolution in a world that wants the revolution itself to be seen as “state propaganda.” With this in mind, the Centro Fidel Castro Ruz isn’t heavy handed. It doesn’t force. It doesn’t tell. It teaches.

Back inside of the museum there’s something of a tech lab. The walls are covered in a huge digital map of the world. The map holds huge cylinder shaped objects tucked into various locations on the wall that represent countries on the map. They twinkle on the wall, glowing red and green. You can remove the cylinders from the wall and insert them into a digital table mounted to the floor. When inserted into the table, the cylinders will bring up videos and graphics about Cuba’s humanitarian efforts in that country. It’s an entire room dedicated to illustrating Cuba’s history of solidarity. It’s meant to be touched, and swiped, and felt. It’s made to teach a new generation what it means to be Cuban. I find it hard to believe that Fidel’s spirit is too mad at that.

A few mornings later, I’m sitting at a dinner table in Matanzas with a table of older white people. A lovely lady named Cheryl is talking to them about Hurricane Katrina, and how Fidel attempted to send 1,500 medical personnel into the US to help. She’s telling them about how George Bush refused their entry and I realize that my face is wet with tears again. It’s 8 o’clock in the morning and I’m trying to explain to this woman I’ve never met why I’m crying over the eggs in front of me. I can’t explain why I’m thinking about that room at the museum with the digital map and cylinders. How there were glowing red and green dots all over that map but not in the US. I’m crying because I wish there was a cylinder that could have pulled out from the area representing Louisiana. I’m trying to explain that I’m crying because I’m thinking about all of the Africans in Louisiana who were shot down by white cops and vigilantes while seeking food and shelter during Katrina. I’m crying and thinking about how the US government watched so many people drown and starve and bleed out and did nothing.

I’m crying because the only reason I speak English is because of colonial conquest and domination. I’m crying for all of the things that have been stolen, all of the things we’ll never recover.

I’m crying because I’m thinking about Flint and Baltimore and Brooklyn and Charleston and Ferguson. I’m crying thinking about the million different mini Obama shrines in the homes of family and friends I’ve seen throughout my life. I’m crying and thinking about what it means to live in a world where it’s not even safe for me to wear a Castro t-shirt in the airport when I go home, but it’s totally normal to hang a portrait of Barack Obama on my wall. A world where people don’t even know who Mumia is. A world where a colonial puppet like Obama is what I’m supposed to strive to be.

I cried thinking about all of the advancements that the Cuban people have made since their revolution in 1959, and still how forcefully they are being held back by the US blockade on the island .

I cried thinking about how I was going to have to preface every encounter I had back home by saying “Cuba’s great BUT it’s not perfect…” in order to be taken seriously by people that danced in the street when Joe Biden and Kamala Harris won the election.

And then I started thinking about our tour guide. How she showed us that WhatsApp group full of moms, working together for their kid’s education. And before I pulled myself together for the day, I let myself cry a little more at that tiny reminder that despite everything it’s been through, the revolution is good, it’s necessary and it’s still alive. One day, it’s going to be our turn.

William_Mary 8 Dec 12
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