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Why Cuban-Americans are Celebrating Now that Fidel Castro is Dead

In the middle of the night, I received news that Fidel Castro, Cuban dictator for nearly five decades, finally died. I screamed. 

With joy.

I woke my mom and siblings out of bed and we rushed over to a Cuban landmark in Miami where thousands of people had already flooded the streets in pure celebration. Black, white, young and old, Cuban-Americans were banging pots and pans, waving Cuban flags and crying tears of happiness upon hearing about the death of an evil man who wrecked the lives of so many of our families. 

There was no question in our minds that Castro's death was more of a reason to party than a Dolphins Superbowl win and New Years Eve combined. Until I checked Twitter...

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I couldn't wrap my mind around the ignorant commentaries that spit in the face of every struggle my family overcame to make it to this day. Condoning Fidel Castro feels as offensive as telling a black person, "But slavery was great for the economy!" However, I knew that lack of education on the Cuban situation was the root of the problem. So here are a few reasons why you should let Cuban-Americans have their moment:

1. FIDEL CASTRO WAS A HOMEWRECKER

Communism looks awesome on paper. When Castro and his guerrilla warmongers took over in 1959, they promised equality and political liberty. To do so, he would "redistribute the wealth." Reality: he robbed citizens of their personal belongings and made it government property. This meant that there would be no more private property or business of any kind. From now on, Cubans would be 100% dependent on the government to provide them with food, employment, housing and education. 

Our family, like many others, would not stand for this. They fled for the U.S., in hopes of shortly returning home to Cuba when Castro was overthrown. (My grandmother remembers being devastated to leave behind her high-school sweetheart when her parents moved her to Florida "for the summer") Her father, lovingly known as Papi, returned to Cuba to continue running his lucrative family business. Little did he know that by the time he got back, everything had been seized by the government. 

Imagine: Papi, a started-from-the-bottom guy who spent a lifetime building up enough wealth to send his 9 children to private schools and summer camps...Now, stranded in a one-bedroom shack in Florida, working at the University of Florida cafeteria for $1/hour. Unfortunately, an even more dismal future was ahead for the family and friends left behind in Cuba.

2. FIDEL CASTRO WAS A MURDERER

Like my family, many Cuban-Americans have loved ones who were killed or imprisoned simply for disagreeing with Fidel Castro.  For example, when my uncle attempted to escape from Cuba, he was thrown into a work camp where he was beaten with batons all day long; my uncle's leg had been broken so many times it never actually healed. At night, campers were banished to solitary confinement in small, dark dungeons, tormented by the sound of loud banging noises on repeat. The years that followed meant enduring murder, poverty, starvation and the complete demise of a beautiful, progressive island.

Here's a rough body count: 

  • 30,000 executed by firing squad
  • 2,000 extra-judicial assassinations
  • 5,000 deaths in prison due to beating by guards and denial of medical care
  • 60,000 deaths while trying to escape Cuba by sea. 
  • 78,000 innocents may have died trying to flee the dictatorship.
  • 5,300 are known to have lost their lives fighting communism in the Escambray Mountains (mostly peasant farmers and their children) and at the Bay of Pigs.
  • 14,000 Cubans killed in Fidel's revolutionary adventures abroad, most notably his dispatch of 50,000 soldiers to Angola in the 1980s to help the Soviet-backed regime fight off the Unita insurgency.

3. RACE HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH IT

America has a polarizing race issue, which was reflected in some of the responses to Castro's death on Friday night.  "I see a lot of white Miami Cubans celebrating Castro's death...I want the opinion of a black Cuban!" Please realize that not everything has to do with race, particularly global affairs...but if you want to go there... 

On paper, Castro abolished legalized discrimination. He met with Malcom X in the U.S. to discuss race (cue Kaepernick's controversial t-shirt). One author comments, "For many of us in Black America, Castro represented the audacity that we have desired and sought in the face of imperial and racial arrogance." However, when your people are starving and dead on the street, what has truly been accomplished? Black, white, gay, straight...the Castro regime tortured everyone the same. Talk about equality! 

And yes, a majority of Cuban exiles are "white". This makes sense given that "whites" likely had more resources to flee the country. Many underprivileged Afro-Cubans were sadly left behind to suffer at the hands of Castro. However, I urge you to read this thread for the opinion of a black Cuban for more insight. 

4. ...NOR DO PRESIDENTIAL POLITICS

Many attempted to discredit the celebratory Cuban-Americans because they voted for Trump, which labels them as a racist burden to progressive society. Though I did not personally vote for Trump, I urge you to consider the reasons why many Cuban-Americans did:

  • Trump represents capitalism. Obama represents socialism = the ideology that wrecked Cuba. People voted for Trump to not support Obama politics. For more perspective, here's Trump vs. Obama's reaction to Castro's death:
    • Trump“Fidel Castro’s legacy is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights. While Cuba remains a totalitarian island, it is my hope that today marks a move away from the horrors endured for too long, and toward a future in which the wonderful Cuban people finally live in the freedom they so richly deserve.”
    • Obama: "History will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him...Today, we offer condolences to Fidel Castro's family, and our thoughts and prayers are with the Cuban people. In the days ahead, they will recall the past and also look to the future."
  • Many Cuban-Americans feel that Obama's move to lift the embargo made us look gullible and weak; Trump promised to renegotiate the deal to bring justice to Cuban-Americans. 
  • A common misconception is that Latinos wouldn't vote for Trump because of his commentaries about illegal Mexican immigrants. Though appalled by his ignorant remarks, many Cuban-Americans were able to overlook his commentaries because that is not their personal situation; all Latinos are not the same. Cubans are not "illegal immigrants"-- they are political refugees. 

As a proud Miami Cuban-American, I ask for a moment of silence from the critics. The death of Fidel Castro symbolizes freedom and justice. In reality, Raul Castro (Fidel's brother) is currently in power and Cuban politics will remain the same for many more years. However, Fidel's death represents the hope for a brighter future in Cuba. Many of our family members died waiting for this day. Let us salsa dance in the streets, bongo-drumming to the rhythms of freedom, for all the lives lost at the hands of an evil tyrant. 

For more information on the subject, visit these resources:

CHZY SZN MERCH LINE

As a riff off Justin Bieber and Drake’s merchandise pop-up shops, Lefty the Glove (me) designed a line of apparel after dropping the most fire mixtape of 2016. The fluid relationship between fashion, music and social influence has made it possible for artists like Kanye West to secure a deal with Adidas and dominate culture with his YZY SZN collection. I envisioned a similar narrative for Lefty when creating CHZY SZN.

Comprised of an all-black sweatsuit, "dad hat" and 2 graphic tees, the merch line taps in to the norm-core trend. After designing and producing a limited collection, I directed a Lookbook-esque photoshoot to model the apparel. Photos were shared via @Helper and followers instantly fell in love: 

#ComplexHustle Inspiration: you can't define me

Growing into your own skin, finding your way...it's all Mr. Krabs meme. Especially when you're creative. Society tells us to fit into a box:

"Oh, so you're a graphic designer" 

Well, yes. But...

"So you love social media...you'd be a great social media manager"

Not quite...

In this interview, Rashad preaches about our generation of creators that is indefinable. "Our creative class is multifaceted, multidimensional, cross-functional..." In every job I've ever had, I've always felt like I have more to offer. I have an eye for the big picture, but also every detail that plays into it. I guess advertising agencies call that a creative director...but what if I want to impact more than just brands?

If there's one thing I know, it's that this generation is paving its own way. No one really knows what they're doing. The consumer landscape changes every 5 years and somehow the old white men that used to know everything about marketing now can't even log into their own smart phones. And oh yeah,  a sex-tape star was on the cover of Vogue and Donald Trump is running for president. Literally. Anything. Goes. While it would be nice to have creatives come before me to set the path, it's invigorating to think that I am that creative. Right now. 

SAINT PABLO VS SUMMER SIXTEEN

It's concert season: that magical time when artists comes out with new music and then tour at the same time with no consideration of your bank account or day job. But I'm a hustler, so I went to the Atlanta Saint Pablo Tour and Summer Sixteen Tour within two weeks of each other. Here are my thoughts:

SUMMER SIXTEEN TOUR

  • HEADLINER: DRAKE AND FUTURE
  • SPECIAL GUESTS: DVSN, ROY WOODS, GUCCI MANE, YOUNG THUG, USHER

 CROWD HYPE: 9/10 | SET LIST: 7/10 | VISUALS: 6/10 |  ATTIRE: Grown and sexy

I saw Drake during his NWTS and Take Care tours, but this time was something special. Drake is on the top of his game now; his confidence was understood, but not rubbed in our faces. (I've been to many concerts where the artist acted "too cool" for his own show, but this was not one of them.)

Drake and Future brought out their greatest hits, not just their most recent albums. The concert felt more like a club; everyone was dancing (not just me for once). As a surprise to the guests, Drake brought out Gucci Mane to the tune of "Back on Road", which blew Atlanta's mind. On the second night of the tour, he apparently brought out Young Thug and Usher...much to my chagrin. Bringing out guests is the magic touch to any performance, especially when you're in the hip-hop capitol of the world. 

If I had one criticism, I'd say the concert actually went a little too long. While I enjoyed Drake's back-to-back bangers, it became draining. I wish he played a little harder-to-get because the crowd lost energy and interest towards the end. There are only so many songs to which we can scream our hearts out. 

SAINT PABLO TOUR

  • HEADLINER: KANYE WEST
  • SPECIAL GUEST: KANYE WEST

CROWD HYPE: 7/10 | SET LIST: 8/10 | VISUALS: 10/10 |  ATTIRE: Your coolest f*cking outfit ever

This was my first time seeing Kanye and I had been told that it was going to change my life. Of course, that's what every stan says...but I'm a stan, too...so. More than the actual concert itself, I was overly excited to get my hands on Saint Pablo Tour merchandise. There were around 6 different booths throughout Philips Arena that sold the merchandise (we'll save this for a future blog post). It's worth noting that everyone there was extremely well-dressed; it's like I walked into an Urban Outfitter's lookbook. 

No one opened for Ye, which was odd and buzz-killing; We figured he'd at least have a DJ hype the crowd. Instead, we waited an hour and a half past start-time to be greeted by his first song, "Father Stretch My Hands". It was rumored that Ye would only perform T.L.O.P. songs, but the crowd was pleasantly surprised when he played hits like "Gold Digger" and "All of the Lights". 

We've all heard that his stage floats from the ceiling, which was great because the back of the arena felt like front row at times. In true Kanye fashion, he was a perfectionist about his songs; If the sound team skipped a beat, he'd call them out to restart the song from the beginning. 

Bottom line: Summer Sixteen was a full-on party. Saint Pablo was a curated masterpiece.  

I'm Cuban and no, I don't want to go visit Cuba

I'm incredibly bothered by the hype behind visiting Cuba. First it was Beyonce and Jay Z's controversial vacation. Then the Obama's. Then the Kardashian Klan. And now, Jet Blue is offering $99 flights to Cuba to everyone. I've overheard many conversations saying, "Oooh I'm going to Cuba now before it gets expensive!" While I can empathize with the opportunistic thinking, I can't help but feel horrified by the ignorance. 

Wait...like seriously...?

Wait...like seriously...?

 

Similar to the racial injustices in the U.S., unless you've been personally affected by Cuban communism, I can understand why you don't feel as outraged as I do that the embargo has been lifted. Yes, this scenario is woven with complicated diplomacy and politics. But here's a simple breakdown of the logic behind the embargo:

When a child behaves poorly, you put them in time-out and ignore them. Eventually, after skipping out on dinner and dessert, they finally feel desperate and change their ways. Oppositely, if a child behaves poorly, but you give them money and attention and attempt to hug them, their behavior is positively reinforced. So it goes with Cuban relations.

It's not "cute" that Cuba is stuck in the 1960's. It's not "relaxing" that there is no Internet or phone service. None of this is by choice. (And if you see any friendly Cuban in a tourism promo trailer telling you otherwise, understand that they have been brainwashed.) Cuba has been a prison for decades.

Take for example the currency system. In Cuba, there are 2 forms of currency, the CUC and the peso:

[CUC is] the currency that’s been required for the purchase of almost anything important in Cuba since 1994. CUCs aren’t paid to Cubans; islanders receive their wages in a different currency, the grubby national peso that features Che Guevara’s face, among others, but is worth just 1/25th as much as a CUC. Issued in shades of citrus and berry, the CUC—dollarized, tourist-friendly money—has for 21 years been the key to a better life in Cuba, as well as a stinging reminder of the difference between the haves and the have-nots. -- Bloomberg Business

It works out that the money you (a tourist) spend on the island is not even the same type of money that the actual Cuban citizens can use. So say you tip the driver in a CUC, they likely can't even spend that on anything meaningful like food or rent. If they try to convert the CUC to their own usable peso, they'll then only receive a fraction of what it could be worth. 

This is just one example of how spending money in Cuba puts money in the pockets of an evil dictatorship that robs its people of freedom and financial independence. Because if you think that the Cuban citizens will actually profit off of the tourism, you're sorely mistaken.

This post was written in loving memory of my grandmother, Tibi, who passed away a few months ago at age 74. She refused to return home to Cuba until freedom was restored to her people. Tibi left her homeland when she was 16 and was unfortunately never able to return to the Island she loved. 

Tibi in Spain. It was an incredible honor to have travelled "home" with her.  

Tibi in Spain. It was an incredible honor to have travelled "home" with her.