In 2014, I received the most hillarious text : I’m breathing the same air as Ronaldo; the real one! Hubby was in Brazil attending a game and he happened to be in the same stadium as Ronaldo—the Brazilian, not Cristiano Ronaldo, the Portuguese, hence "the real one” comment. I made fun of him that day, teasing him on the fact that he wouldn’t even meet his idol.
But this was really hypocritical coming from me, as I knew exactly how this felt. I’d experienced this feeling before a few years back when I went to a Charles Aznavour concert. And I had also been anticipating that feeling since I was a kid: going to Cuba while Fidel Castro was still alive.
[It’s so weird to write their full name. I typically refer to them as Charles and Fidel. Yeah, we’re on a first name basis…]
So, I’ve been on his island while he was still alive. Does it really make a difference? Technically, no. I haven’t met him or even got a glimpse of him. But I knew he was there and that the probability of my seeing him increased tremendously.
Fidel is dead. I’ll have to repeat this sentence a few times to believe it. (Just like I’ve been repeating another unbelievable sentence since November 8.)
What does the death of a Cuban leader have to do with me? Everything!
I grew up in Haiti, and our relationship with the Cuba Revolution is a bit different. I was brought up to respect and admire men like Fidel and Che, who stood up against imperialism and fought for those who didn’t have a voice. Their fight has similarities with the Haitian Revolution (1800s) and to our continuing struggles. Our admiration also comes from the fact that Cuba has succeeded where we have miserably failed. We are yet to achieve Cuba’s level of literacy or to attain mastery of medicine. For me, and many in my generation, Cuba is synonymous to possibilities. Note that, while I admire what they’ve done, I may not agree with how they went about to doing it.
And this is why I will not criticize Cubans who didn’t like him. I do realize that every time a person lauds Fidel they may feel the same way I feel when a person gives props to the Duvaliers. And we must concede that, while we admired him from a distance, they [the Cubans] had to live with him. While we are in awe with his literacy program, they had to deal with the decades-long embargo. We’ve experienced the Lider Maximo in different ways.
This becomes clear during conversations in Cuba. Last May, the Haitian in me reveled at the sight of beautiful Havana: the infrastructure, the relatively clean streets, etc. That’s all I could see. I even went as far as comparing their embargo (60 years) to ours (3-4 years?). I admired their resolve. But Cubans were so over this. They were looking to the future. They understood and respected the Revoluciòn, but they were ready for a new one. They were happy to know how to read and to have diplomas, but they wanted more. And for a minute, I felt like the many foreigners I despise who are always trying to convince us [Haitians] that a certain leader is in fact good for Haiti. And I shut up and listened.
Today, though, because I’m mourning, I will not listen to anyone criticizing him. I just can’t. But I will not argue with them either. This is not my place. But tomorrow, I promise, I’ll listen.
Today, I’ll tell anyone who asks know that I breathed the same air as Fidel, once. Y que la historia le absolvera (History will forgive him).