SOS Cuba: Dr. Daphne Pozo Shares How to Manage Current Emotions
The following is contributed by Dr. Daphne Pozo.
I am a first generation Cuban American who grew up in Miami, FL. I grew up hearing the horrific experiences my parents, my grandparents, and my older sister had while living in Cuba. The things we may take for granted are the same things that are scarce in the island. My parents would tell me stories of the hardships they endured. My mom often spoke about how she was unable to attend college because if you weren’t a part of the “revolucion”, then you couldn’t attend college. Education was only offered to those who subscribed to the ideals propagated by Fidel.
My parents struggled daily as they tried to make the best out of their circumstances. They were young adults in their early twenties when they had my older sister. They still tell me about the “libreta de racionamiento” - the rations sheet that listed what foods you were allowed to purchase for the month and the amount. They never ate meat. Not because they didn’t want to, but because it wasn’t provided for them. More recently, my dad shared with me that anyone who was caught eating meat or taking meat would be imprisoned. Imagine that - going to prison for eating meat. The rations were limited and they wanted my sister to grow properly so, they gave her their portions of food. My mom and dad drank water with sugar on some occasions to survive. My mom still tells me “Te tomabas un vaso de agua con azucar y te llenaba la pansa” (“You drank a cup of water with sugar and it filled your belly”).
In the year 1980, the Mariel boat lift was introduced and my parents made the decision to flee to the United States. On June 2, 1980, my parents, my older sister, and my maternal grandparents got on a boat named “Solana” with strangers and risked their lives in hopes of a better life. At some point in their journey, the boat began to sink in the middle of the ocean - my mom couldn’t swim, my older sister was 6 years old, and my maternal grandparents were in their seventies. Panic ensued and they all thought the same thing “Make sure Ariadna [my older sister] makes it”. I can’t imagine what it must have been like for them - in the middle of the ocean, desperation flooding their veins, and thinking they were going to die. But, even when I ask them about it now, they never waiver. They always tell me they made the right decision. They couldn’t continue to live in Cuba knowing they didn’t have freedom. They also couldn’t have their children grow up in a society that didn’t care about what happened to its people. Luckily, the U.S. Coast Guard was able to rescue them and they were able to start their lives in the United States on June 3, 1980. My parents are very proud to be American because they know what it’s like to not have freedom. They know what it is like to have their rights stripped away. Above all, they know how everything they ever knew changed from one day to the next without warning.
The struggles and hardships of being born in Cuba cannot be captured with words. It is a living trauma that is shared amongst its people. What is going on right now in Cuba has been a long time coming. Years of scarcity and oppression from the dictatorship has led the people to start protesting in the streets. During these times, feelings of hope and anguish might arise for some and that’s okay - there is room for both of these feelings.
During this time, I’d encourage you all to take care of yourselves. The fight against the Cuban regime is an uphill battle.
Here are some suggestions I believe could help during these times:
1. Advocate for the Cuban people and spread the word about why they need help. But, if needed, limit your social media intake. If the images or videos being uploaded are re-traumatizing or detrimental to your mental health, take the time to disconnect.
2. Check in with your own family members in Cuba if you have any. Check in with your friends who are of Cuban descent and have family members currently still living in Cuba. Above all, check in with yourself. How is this all making you feel?
3. Remember that despite the shared trauma, each person’s experience is unique to them. If you are in a place to listen, invite others to share their stories.
I am proud to be Cuban America. I am proud to be the child of such strong individuals. By sharing their story, I am honoring their experience. As I read online the other day, “The coffee is strong but the people are stronger”. Que viva Cuba libre.