Tri-State Area Cubans Not as Emotional as in Miami Over Castro’s Death

Cuban-born Lucy Portela, with her flag, on Bergenline Avenue. Cubans and non-Cubans react to Fidel Castro’s death in Union City, New Jersey. (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

Cuban-born Lucy Portela, with her flag, on Bergenline Avenue. Cubans and non-Cubans react to Fidel Castro’s death in Union City, New Jersey. (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

[Below are excerpts from a story by El Diario’s Edwin Martínez.]

Last Friday, many Cubans in Miami enthusiastically celebrated the news of Fidel Castro’s death as if it were a national holiday. Although tri-state area immigrants from the Caribbean country agree that the dictator’s passing has symbolic meaning, few of them feel joy for his death and many believe that it will not have a real impact on Cuba’s political and social life.

Lucy Portela, the owner of Cuban drug store Sugarman’s in Union City, New Jersey, who arrived from the province of Ciego de Ávila when she was 7, admitted that the news of Castro’s death pleased her, but added that it is naive to think that it will put her native island on the path to democracy.

“Fidel’s death does not make me happy because he was a human being, but it represents the hope that an ideology and tyranny will die, in honor of those who are no longer with us,” said the 53-year-old business owner. “Still, we must understand that Fidel had been nothing for a long time now and, although I have the dream to one day see my Cuba free, I don’t believe that it is going to be possible yet.”

The Cuba native, who posted a sign on her storefront reading “Fidel, your time has come” the day Castro died, said tearfully that it pains her that her parents were not able to see this moment, which she describes as the beginning of a long road.

“My dad died and my mom has Alzheimer’s, so she doesn’t understand what happens, but I already told my nephews that, the day Cuba is really free, I will take them all there on vacation, although I think it’s going to be a long while before that,” she said as she displayed a faded Cuban flag more than 40 years old.

Josimar Medina, a 28-year-old Cuban man born in Pinar del Río who lives in New York, also said that, unlike his Miami compatriots who believe that Castro’s death at 90 marks the end of an era, he believes that his death has only symbolic significance.

“Fidel stopped having power on the island about 10 years ago, and he had no value aside from his historical image. So, if Cuba changes, it will not be thanks to his death but because, in one way or another, the country is advancing toward freedom with Raúl, although at a very slow pace,” he said.

As he was having a coffee at the El Artesano Restaurant on Bergenline Avenue, Honduras native Felipe Flórez, who describes himself as a man with a Cuban heart because he has many friends on the island, said that feeling joy about Castro’s death would be vile.

“Like President Obama, I say: ‘May history judge his legacy,’” he said. “I think that what people such as that big mouth who is going to be the next president are doing calling him a criminal is wrong. He hasn’t even arrived at the White House and he is already picking on a dead guy.”

Quite bewildered about the way some people define Fidel as a dictator, a Cuban woman who identified herself as “just Graciela” defended the work of the former president and praised the fact that he never gave in to “the empire.”

“Fidel suffered a lot, and Cuba was not able to prosper in large part due to this country. May God rest his soul, because He knows that Fidel did fight for an ideal but the world and even hypocritical Cubans themselves attacked him,” she said.

Roberto Godillo, the son of Cuban parents. (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

Roberto Godillo, the son of Cuban parents. (Photo by Mariela Lombard via El Diario)

For his part, Roberto Gordillo, born in New Jersey to a Cuban family, was skeptical about a possible change in his parents’ Cuba.

“I think that nothing is going to change. Nothing. There is a sense of peace because a tyrant who caused much suffering and pain died, but he was only the virus: The disease lives on,” he said.

Regarding the reason why New Jersey – where a large Cuban community has resided for a long time – did not celebrate Castro’s death with the same euphoria and joy as in Miami, where people took the streets, Mario Castro has his own opinion.

“The difference is that many of the people who live here are too old and sick now to go out in the street to scream, and we’re not as many as in Miami. But I think that, deep in our soul, we feel happy because we were able to be alive, not buried in the ground, to see this long-awaited day,” said the 70-year-old Cuban man, who came during the massive Mariel exodus in 1980, which brought nearly 125,000 Cubans to the United States.



Not happy about Fidel’s death but about upcoming changes

[Below are excerpts from a story by El Diario’s Luis F. Cañarte about Ricardo Fernández, 75, who left Cuba with his wife and son in 1969.]

Ricardo Fernández (Photo provided to El Diario)

Ricardo Fernández (Photo provided to El Diario)

“As a Cuban, I am not happy about the death of a human being, but I am about the changes it will generate. The Cuban people are ‘fidelistas,’ but my opinion is that Cuba will open up more, though not immediately. When leaders disappear, their causes disappear,” said Fernández, who lives in North Arlington, New Jersey.

“Our families were solvent. I never thought of coming to the United States. We had everything in Cuba. I was intrigued by the Empire State [Building] and the Niagara Falls. We arrived in ’69. My parents and my in-laws left first but, during the October Crisis, there was a law that said that men between 14 and 27 years of age could not leave Cuba,” remembers Don Ricardo, who waited with his family until he was of age to travel.


“When the Revolution happened, we all agreed with it because Batista exploited the people. Between 90 and 95 percent agreed with Fidel, but then he showed his claws. We were blind and in love with him. Then he went after the United States, against the clergy. The Marxist ideology doesn’t care about the means, only the end. It doesn’t matter how you do it; all that matters is the end,” said Don Ricardo, who worked at General Motors for 32 years and now does what he loves most: teaching. He and his wife Norma are catechists at the Archdiocese of Newark.



Hope and insults from Long Island

[Below are excerpts from a story by Noticia’s José Martínez.]

Max Rodríguez and Jorge Luis Seco (Photo via Noticia)

Max Rodríguez and Jorge Luis Seco (Photo via Noticia)

“I don’t wish death on anyone but, to us, it is a good thing that God took him because he badly hurt our community, and I know that he has many followers, but most communities were against him,” said Max Rodríguez, president of the Club Cívico Cubano on Long Island. “May God put him where He thinks best,” he added.

The Cuban arts community in New York also made themselves felt, and the words of many writers living in exile filled the “walls” of social media.

“A tyrant, a dictator, a murderer, a liar, a perfect son of a bitch has died,” was the title of Cuban writer Jorge Luis Seco’s opinion column this week. In a phone conversation, the author of the book “Cuba: Only for Tourists,” added: “I don’t see Fidel’s death as a door that opens up for Cuba. For many years, I wished he would die, but then I stopped because I think that your suffering ends when you die, and I wanted him to feel the pain he had caused Cuba and to deteriorate until the end.”

For Seco, Cuba’s future is not linked to Castro’s death. “I am not optimistic and I wish I was, but the dictatorship of the Castros is a dynasty that will be passed on from generation to generation without any big changes.”

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