Ben Finley on Cuba’s Exiles

Ben Finley – Our first full day in Miami was inaugurated by a trip to Little Havana, a historically Cuban community. Still trying to fully appreciate my experience in Havana I was not expecting the same level of learning and engagement on a weekday morning in an old neighborhood. I was promptly proved wrong.

Ben Finley in an art museum in Havana, Cuba

Little Havana was marked with statues stating “No aceptamos ayuda de nadie” (We don’t accept help from anyone). This message appeared on statues in the middle of Little Havana. The final mural we came upon was of the Virgin Mary above a sea with three fisherman. As we had learned the day before this image of the Virgin bears a strong resemblance with one of the main Orishas (gods and goddesses) of the Afro-Cuban religion Santeria. We finished up with the formal tour of the area, then we were free to roam and seek out some much anticipated breakfast.

After a short walk a friend and I happened upon a local diner, where we met Ray. Ray was a Cuban immigrant who had come to the United States during Operation Peter Pan, which brought many Cuban children to Miami in the early 1960s. He commented on how his ranch had been taken by the government and had lived in the US for eight years before his parents were able to make it out of Cuba. We had learned about both Operation Peter Pan and the nationalization of large properties earlier in the semester, but it was so much more powerful to hear from a man whose life was shaped by both.

Lunch in Little Havana in Miami.

Ray went on to tell us (in a surprisingly calm tone) how his farm had been engineered to be essentially self-sufficient with a series of pastures for rotated grazing patterns and wind mills to provide water for each of the different cattle enclosures. The revolutionaries seized the farm, killed the cows, and cut the hardwood trees for lumber, which ended up being left to rot. He was raised by his older sister who was almost eighteen when they moved to the United States. As he put it, he was a man by the time his parents had joined him in the US. It was overwhelmingly emotional to be reunited, but he realized that he had grown into an adult learning his lessons without the benefit of parental guidance. This was a sobering perspective of how the subject matter of our class had affected actual individuals.

The educational opportunities of Miami came unexpectedly early as we were cruising for some breakfast and happened upon Ray, who complimented our eye for good breakfast joints. Having been immersed in the Cuban perspective for the past few days, the glow of Cuba’s charm began to fade as I learned about the lives of those who had been affected by the revolution and subsequent exodus.