I want to go back to Cuba. “Nostalgia” in Greek is literally “an aching for a return home.”
I have been exiled for all of my adult life from the place where I spent the happiest days of my childhood. I lost my grandmother, my cousins and my indulgent aunts — half my family was snatched away. And my loss was minuscule next to that of my friends.
The “lucky” ones were sent by their parents to the U.S. as children to escape indoctrination and hardship. Some of these “Peter Pan” kids were sent to relatives, but others to institutions, because there was no one to care for them.
Now the gates that had been slammed so tightly shut are beginning to reopen. And yet, I will return with trepidation rather than eager anticipation, for I will not see my grandmother or my aunts; I will not be able to return to the place I knew. You really can’t go home again, even though some aspects of Cuban life are in a time warp — the American cars of the 50s, carefully maintained way, way past their lifespan because they were irreplaceable. There were no new cars to take their place.
Much of Havana is the same. Sort of. The houses and buildings are still standing, but they tend to be ramshackle and ill-cared for. The Spanish colonial façades are familiar and still beautiful, but they barely conceal the decay inside.
Twelve years ago I went back, so I know what to expect. Despite the hardships they have endured, Cubans are irrepressible and spontaneous — they haven’t lost their good humor — it’s what enables them to keep going. They paint and dance, write and sing — the arts cannot be shackled.
Twelve years ago I didn’t want to go back — I didn’t want my cherished memories to be ravaged by the present. Today, I do. I want to see my compatriots hopeful, optimistic, their indomitable spirit allowed at last to fly free.