Friday, September 17, 2010

The Cuban Revolution

So Little Brother got me talking to my grandfather and what he went through during the Cuban Revolution. There are a lot of parallels between the youth reaction in Cuba and the one in Little Brother...except the Cuban one was far lower tech and far less successful.

The Cuban Revolution did not happen overnight. There were skirmishes and battles for years leading up to Castro's victory. And even after Castro assumed power, he was unable to enact his total dictatorship immediately. So, for a while, people didn't completely understand how far Castro was willing to go.

Fairly early on, however, the regime put "the committee" on every block; someone to report back any contra-revolutionary behavior. My grandfather was in his mid-teens at this point. He and his friends very anti-revolutionary. They were losing their houses and their family businesses. They'd go around and shoot BB's at pro-Castro signs and do other crud like that. One of his friend's dads owned a store, and one day when a man on his way to a Castro rally came in asking for pineapple juice came in, they gave him a bottle full of pee instead. They did a bunch of stupid stuff, but nothing too serious.

At some point though, he saw "something" (and when I say something, you should think Cuban Missile Crisis and super cool Russian weapons). When the committee found out about this, they tried to make him join the army or go to jail. But the wife of the committee member on his block was good friends with his mother, my great-grandmother. She managed to convince the committee that my grandfather was just being a "teenage boy" and that he'd grow out his behavior shortly. My bis-abuela decided that she had to get my grandfather out of the country and about a year later he was able to come over as part of Operation Peter Pan, a program that brought Cuban children to the US.

During that last year, he was able to "fight the system" far more efficiently, though at a much small scale. They began to ration food in Cuba and they got very little meat. My grandfather began to go spear-fishing (the beach was right in their backyard) and so he was able to bring some extra food home for his family.


Andy Duncan said...

Amelia, this is fascinating, and I appreciate you sharing it with us. Has your grandfather written about his experiences? Whether he has or not, you should get him to talk as much as possible about his life in Cuba (and in the States), so that you can write it down, and research it, and ask him follow-up questions, as long as you can. You'll be very glad of having done this one day.

Your bisabuela sounds like a very strong person. What were her and her husband's jobs/positions before the revolution, and how did they fare after your grandfather left?

Has your grandfather been back to Cuba since? Have you ever been?

AmeliaLinne said...

My bisabuela (Abuela Yoya) was originally a school inspector. She rode (on a horse) around Cuba and made sure that schools were up to par. After she got married, she became a home economics teacher. She managed to keep that job after the revolution, though the schools were closed for awhile.

My bisabuelo was a Spanish teacher amongst other things. Because of his political activities, they first had to move to Havanna and then away again when the revolution started moving in Castro's favor. He died before the revolution got too far, though.

My grandfather and his sister stayed in foster care here in the states until Abuela Yoya was able to come over. She worked a variety of jobs here, but never learned English (you really don't have to in Miami), so her prospects were somewhat limited. She mostly worked as a hotel maid until she retired. My grandfather put himself through college and is a mechanical engineer.

No one in the family has ever been back to Cuba. I've always wanted to go, but it would upset my grandfather if I went before Fidel Castro died.

I've been trying to get him to write all of this down. At some point I'm going to show up with a camera and make him tell me his whole life story.

Elizabeth said...

This is so fascinating. I didn't even think of the youth revolution in Cuba when I read this book, I was more focused on the hippies and Kent State.

Your grandfather sounds like an amazing man. I hope that you're able to record all of his history and his stories.

Bailey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bailey said...

This is so cool! BA grandfather. I had a friend in elementary school and her grandparents had literally gotten in a boat and came over here. I am a Spanish minor, so we've talked some about the Cuban Revolution, but this first had account of what it was like to be a kid and be a "rebel" at the time is super cool.