Carmen: [00:00:00] your favorite Cuban dynamic duo is back at it again. And this time we have my immigration story. I'm Carmen
Fryda: [00:00:17] and I'm Fryda
Carmen: [00:00:18] and welcome to teikirisi.
Fryda: [00:00:20] All right, Carmen. I know you're going to be sharing a lot with us today. Where do you want to start Carmen?
Carmen: [00:00:25] My story, Oh God. Over the course of my life, I've told this story countless times and every single time I tell it, everyone is always so appalled and it's remarkable. It is a remarkable story. And yet for me, it doesn't really feel that way because it feels like just another thing in my life. And on top of that, it's something that happened so long ago. I immigrated when I was only three years old. And so a lot of the details of the story are the recollection of a three-year-old and then there's also the fact that as I said, it is a pretty remarkable story.
There's a lot, it's not just a lot emotionally, but it's a lot politically, it's a lot economically and natural that my parents haven't really wanted to dive into the subject too much. Over the years. At this point, it's been over 20 years and only now am I really starting to feel like my mom's specifically is opening up about any of this, but it's been really hard.
So that's how I wanted to open up. And also, I just want to say I'm really excited to share my story because I think these stories are important to contextualize where we're coming from in the grander scheme of this podcast, to just give you a little bit more insight into who we are, Fryda's story is coming at some point soon.
So we hope that you will tune in for that as well.
Fryda: [00:01:34] Yeah, Carmen, I think it would be great to hear a little bit more about what got you to this point. Have you been able to have any conversations with your family around your story?
Carmen: [00:01:43] In terms of asking, just to ask my, my family over the years, hasn't been very open.
I often will approach the conversation and say, Hey mom, can you tell me about the time, about the time we spent in Guantanamo? And my mom will say, what do you want to know? You already know everything. I already told you everything. And that's kind of a dismissive way of going about it, but in a sense, I understand where she's coming from too.
She doesn't wanna talk about it. And the same with my dad. And my brother, well, he was only eight, so he remembers a lot more and he's a lot more open now that I have this podcast, I'm able to sort of approach it from a more structured way and say, Hey, look for the podcast, I want to know X, Y, Z. And so they'll start to open up and I'm able to ask more pointed questions, but in the past, when I've asked in a more open-ended way, it's not been something they want to get into,
Fryda: [00:02:29] which I think anyone can understand once we go into the story. So let's begin.
Carmen: [00:02:35] Yep. So the year is 1994 and it's August and I'm three years old. In 1994, cuba was going through what is known as the video I special. And this is a special period of time in history when it followed the fall of the Soviet union, which was a big support to Cuba and Cuba started experiencing severe shortages of resources from things my mom has told me that she would go to the store and there would be no food on the shelves to buy. It was difficult to come across basic necessities like soap. Medicine was difficult to find simple medicine. You would need to go to a hospital, have like a hookup to get simple things like aspirin.
And so life became increasingly difficult. I don't remember any of this. My life is for all intents and purposes, pretty happy. I'm just a little kid running around the neighborhood and looking forward to starting school. My parents at this time knew, or my dad knew someone. Who owned a boat. He was a fisherman and he had been planning to leave the country with his family on this boat.
And my dad was a pediatrician. So he knew this man from seeing his kids as patients and also from their childhood. They like grew up together. And this is really common. Like Cuba is a very small place and even Cuban communities are pretty small in the sense that everybody knows each other in some way.
And so this man, he and my dad agreed that my dad and my mom, my brother, and I could come on this boat with them. It was not a raft or anything. It was a boat that he and his family had built over years, buying parts.
Fryda: [00:04:15] You know, it's your first time bringing up the word raft. And I know that some of you might've heard of the Cuban rafter crisis, which happened in 1994.
So we know that a lot of Cubans, like tens of thousands of Cubans came over trying to get to the U S. Or at least trying to escape Cuba. And a lot of them were on makeshift rafts put together from pieces of equipment that they found. So it's really helpful that you, Carmen, you were able to find someone with a boat that was meant to be a boat. Like it started off as a boat, right?
Carmen: [00:04:43] Yes. It did start off as a boat.
Fryda: [00:04:46] It didn't start off as a bed or as a truck or a salvavida, but Carmen, a quick aside, did you ever hear this story? I think it happened later on way after the nineties, there was this group of Cubans who came over to the U S in a truck.
Carmen: [00:05:03] No, no, I've never heard that.
Yeah, but it didn't surprise me actually.
Fryda: [00:05:07] Yeah. And in, this was an actual pickup truck that floated. Okay. So it's ridiculous.
Carmen: [00:05:14] That's amazing. That is truly amazing.
Fryda: [00:05:17] Please, please look this up. You need to see photos of this. It's amazing. They made it over to the U S and a lot of people were following the story because of how ridiculous it was.
So, yeah, I just wanted to take a moment to add color to the variety of transportation methods that were used at this time, but you know, back to little Carmen on her boat.
Carmen: [00:05:35] And this, so this is like a common theme in a lot of Cuban stories, like the sheer amount of absurdity, in a lot of things. Anyway, so we left in the wee hours of the morning way before it was even light outside.
We got on this boat and we left from this river called Rio del Santo. I lived in a small city called Santa Clara in central, Northern central Cuba. So we had access to this river fairly easily, and unfortunately we ran into some trouble. The details of this are really foggy. My mom tells it one way. I haven't been able to ask any other members of my family, but long story short, there is Cuban military surveillance along this river.
And we were seen by them. And somehow the captain of the boat was able to make a detour. We ended up in this key 30 miles off of the coast of Cuba called Cayo Sal. We stayed there because the captain had specifically said that he knew or had heard somewhere that the us coast guard monitored this specific key for Cuban refugees.
And that we should wait to be rescued there. So if I had to describe what that was really like, if you can imagine being stuck on this beautiful Island with coconuts and a beautiful beach, but then there's also the sense of desperation. Like. You're stuck on an Island. And my mom said that the more she thought about it, the more we realized that there was no way there was no turning back.
At that point, you had left Cuba. Your neighbors now knew you had lost your job, who had lost your home. You couldn't just roll back in and be like, Hey guys, sorry, went fishing. That's not how it works.
Fryda: [00:07:09] Why is that how it works? Why did your family not tell your neighbors that you were leaving? Why is that they just found out? And why would it be a problem to return?
Carmen: [00:07:18] We couldn't tell anybody that we were leaving. And the reason why we had to leave in the middle of the night in a very, very hush sort of way is because the government had spies everywhere. You didn't know if your neighbor, who's been super nice to you all of your life, is actually going to go and tell on you because there are rewards. The Cuban government would reward people who would snitch.
You couldn't trust anybody. You couldn't even trust your own family sometimes. And then you couldn't just go back either because you left your country. And now you were seen as a traitor. So, yeah, so we're on this key and my parents and the other family and the captain were sort of going back and forth on whether or not what we should take off on the boat again?
Or we should wait for the coast guard to come and try and save us? In the middle of all of this three-year-old baby carmen is running up and down the beach, picking seashells. And like having a great time because I'm three, right? I don't know
Fryda: [00:08:09] you're in your late twenties. And I still think that's the same thing you do right now. So
Carmen: [00:08:15] a hundred percent. Yeah, that's very on brand for me. But anyway, at some point we noticed. That the coast guard was coming and monitoring the key, but they would pass by so far away in the horizon that there was no way they would've seen us. And we didn't have anything to make any kind of signal that we were there.
So we were like, fuck. Now what. Thankfully after three days, just in the nick of time, some Bahamian fishermen rolled up and were like, Hey guys, what's up? And so we talked a bit more and they gave us some supplies and a compass and basically told us right now you are on this specific key. But if you follow these coordinates, you will end up in Islamorada.
Fryda: [00:09:02] So the coordinates that they were trying to get you to go to Islamorada is a key on the coast of Florida. That was the ultimate goal, right?
Carmen: [00:09:10] That was the goal. Yes. At the time, we, I don't remember what exactly the reason why we needed to be towed out from the key, but these behave means they've told us out from the key and onto the sea. There's actually this crazy picture, like the way the world works and how life works out. Not too long ago, I want to say two or three years ago, my brother sent me a screenshot of a YouTube video that is a picture of my dad and my brother on our boat getting towed out by the Bahamians. It's crazy.
Fryda: [00:09:42] Are you serious? Carmen?
Carmen: [00:09:43] Yes.. Yes. This exists and I have it.
Fryda: [00:09:45] Oh, you have it. We're going to dig it up.
Carmen: [00:09:46] Yeah.
Fryda: [00:09:47] What a moment to capture.
Carmen: [00:09:49] I know, I know. So they towed us out to the sea and we got going and we were hopeful. We had a plan. We were on the way somebody had found us. We had hope. And we were actually found by Hermanos al Rescate.
Fryda: [00:10:03] Hermanos al Rescate, For those of you that don't know, translates to brothers to the rescue. This organization, uh, was founded by someone named Jose Basulto. He was a Cuban exile, very much in opposition to the Castro regime. So, anti-castrista. And they were inspired by the death of a 15 year old who fled Cuba on a raft and died of severe dehydration.
So, um, I know there were pilots that would fly over the space between the keys and the United States and Cuba to spot people like Carmen and their family on boats in order to try and rescue them.
Carmen: [00:10:37] So brothers to the rescue showed up. And actually you mentioned that they had airplanes, but we were found by a group of men who were on a boat and they tossed us some water bottles and some walkie-talkies so that we could communicate.
And they said to us, if you keep going this way, you'll get to Islamorada. Let's do it. Let's go. And just in that specific moment, again, the way things workout, it is crazy. At that particular moment, the coast guard showed up. Um, because right. Of course they would
Fryda: [00:11:11] so many players in this space. So many people in the ocean.
Carmen: [00:11:14] Yup. Yeah. These are some, these are some party time waters, like there's a lot going on and it's the nineties everybody's trying to come. Like the situation in Cuba is so bad in this particular time period in 1994, mid nineties, there's a big Exodus of Cubans fleeing for the same reasons. Some of them are political refugees, but most of them are actually economic refugees because of el periodo especial.
Fryda: [00:11:35] Yeah. And I've got to say those two things are so intertwined, like politics and economics and the famine and the political situation and everything just come together to create really terrible conditions to exist in.
Carmen: [00:11:47] Yeah, right. It's I mean, it's the perfect storm. The us coast guard shows up. And at that point we were like, this isn't an organization. Now this is like legal authorities and military is showing up now what?
And this is when I think things started to get really real, because up until this point, we had just been on our own out there just trying to make it. And now we've been found by people who have the ability to do something with us, to either turn us back or take us in.
And this is a really pivotal moment because they actually took us in. And I remember this moment too, this was me specifically as a three-year-old remembering this moment. It's it was big in my life because right now my heart breaks for all of the children going through the immigration process, where they showed up and they had a really giant ship.
And obviously a giant ship can't approach, a small boat. So they sent some people out on a smaller boat to meet us and make this transfer. And they took the children first. And that was the first moment, I still get goosebumps and I like want to cry thinking about it because three-year-old Carmen was like, up until now, I'm like chilling on the beach, playing or out on this fun little excursion. We're at sea, we're on a boat. Everything is fine. But the second that I was taken from my parents' arms, I lost my shit. I was like, what, excuse me? I am supposed to go with you? I don't know who you are. You're a stranger, like I'm not doing this.
And so right now, like really resonates with me because even though my story is completely different than a lot of the things that are going on right now with immigration and children and immigration, the idea that children are being separated from their parents during a such a traumatic experience is. Crazy. It's crazy.
Fryda: [00:13:40] Yeah. You still can recall that moment and what it did to you. I think you can relate quite distinctly to a lot of the experiences of children and families trying to come to this country. Something that's been happening over decades.
Carmen: [00:13:56] Yeah. And I just want to say, I, was not actually separated in the long-term like many kids are being now, but even that was enough to like shake a three-year-old up because you know, you're a little kid, your parents are all you have and suddenly you are not in front of them and you are like, Oh God, I am in danger.
I don't have my parents with me. This is terrible. But. Anyway, I digress. They transferred the children first. There was me and my brother, and there was some other children from the other family as well. I don't remember them very well. And I don't remember how many of them there were. Once we were on the boat, they circled back and got all of the adults. First, the women, and then the men.
And then we were on this boat and they took us around the Cuban perimeter and they didn't tell us where they were taking us. So we for a second, there were like, are they taking us back? Holy shit. Like we're in so much trouble. If we get turned back to Cuba, this is like crisis mode and no one is telling you anything.
And what are you gonna do? Jump off the ship? Like, so we're circling the perimeter of Cuba until we get to Guantanamo Bay, the U S military base in Guantanamo Bay. Even now during this time, we're like, fuck, we're back in Cuba,
Fryda: [00:15:04] physically, you are back in Cuba, but politically you are in Guantanamo.
Guantanamo is a, it's a loaded word, a loaded name. We know Guantanamo as a place where some unsavory acts are also committed. And so this is also a place where you and other Cubans. We're held for some time.
Carmen: [00:15:27] Yep. So that's exactly what happened. Guantanamo ended up being a holding ground for many of the Cuban refugees during this time.
And we were some of the very first people that were brought in and sort of set up there. And Guantanamo was not ready, was not ready at all to be holding immigrants or anybody at that time, we weren't prisoners of war. We were just some people that they found at sea or in various different situations, families, they didn't have facilities for us.
So it was a bit of a bumpy start, but what that looked like, it ended up being that they set up some tarps. We had a tent city, they issued out cots and very basic supplies like blankets and whatnot, and set up a system of rationing food and other resources that we might need: soap. Et cetera. And then they outfitted us with some trackers to ensure that we weren't just escaping.
So my mom describes them as watches because they look kind of like the old school Casio watches, if you've ever seen those. And I really don't know what they exactly tracked. I think it was just our location. It's the nineties. So these are not smartwatches. They're not tracking our heart rate or anything like that.
But I remember I had one on my ankle because I was too little. My wrist was too small and everyone else that was older, had them on their wrists and you couldn't take them off. And we were detained there for six months. And the entire six months, we had no idea if we would ever be set free. We didn't know if we would be sent back to Cuba.
We didn't know if we would be sent to the US. We didn't know if we were there for the rest of our lives. We just took it day by day and hoped for the best. But things got pretty tense in general. Once we realized that we were not going anywhere anytime soon and more people started coming in, we were among the first but and it seemed like almost every day, every week more people came and the tent city grew and people congregated and started to form various different establishments.
There was a little makeshift school that all the kids would go to. And many of the women and men who were teachers in the past, or even just people who signed up to teach would teach us. And we would have little school days. And there was a church that, you know, a little congregation of someone who was a pastor or a father or something like that, and would hold religious gatherings.
And for the most part, the U S. Military allowed all of us to happen. There were things that happened. And I don't remember this because thankfully my parents did a lot to shelter my brother and I, but these are things that my mom is telling me. Now, as an adult, there were groups of people who rebelled, who planned to take apart the tarps.
To use the metal poles as weapons to rebel against the U S military and those people for the most part got arrested. I do not know what kind of judicial system, if any, there were for these people. I don't know what happened to them, but they were separated from us and we didn't see them again. I know that there were people who got sick of being there and asked to be returned back to Cuba and the US complied and sent them back, set them free.
I don't know what happened to those people once they came back to Cuba. But for the most part, everyone else stayed put and tried to comply and just not cause trouble.
Fryda: [00:18:42] It's interesting to hear about what kind of aspects of what you would call normal society started to pop up in this tent city. The fact that you had some form of schooling, even if it was makeshift, I would love to hear more details about what were, what were some of those other aspects of the day-to-day that you could describe?
Carmen: [00:19:01] Yeah, so life in Guantanamo was really not comfortable. We lived under tents. They didn't have walls. There was no sense of privacy. It wasn't like one tent per family. It was multiple families under one tent and the bathroom facilities were basically port-a-potties and the showers were communal. We ate at mealtimes that were already set.
And we were given whatever food that was distributed that day. It wasn't like if you had a, you know, midnight craving for chocolate chip cookies, you couldn't just walk over somewhere and buy some or make some or anything like that. But they would be giving us at the beginning, military rationed foods. Over time, as they built more of an infrastructure to help this community, they would ration regular food out like rice beans and what have you in styrofoam boxes in the same way that you would get it from like a takeout restaurant? There were other things rationed like milk and diapers for babies and stuff like that. And including in the ration were cigarettes, because it's the nineties and you know what priorities!. Yeah.
We got a one box of cigarettes per adult every day, or maybe it was per family. I don't know, but we at least had one box of cigarettes per day and people started to collect materials. And if you were a smoker, I guess that's good news for you. But if you were a non-smoker it's even better news for you because suddenly you are rich.
Cigarettes were used as currency. So the way this worked is that we were given things like pillows and blankets and clothes and shoes and basic necessities, but there were things that we needed and, and these were all donations from various different places. People, churches, organizations that would send these things over.
And then the guards would distribute these things, but it wasn't like they were all the same. If you got a blanket, you could be getting a sheet or you could be getting a comforter and of course, then people take their cigarettes as currency to trade for various different things that they wanted and needed.
So simple things like maybe my dad liked a specific brand of shaving cream and he didn't have it. Cause that's not the one that was given to him, but he knew fulano three tarps away who had it and was a smoker. And he'd be like, Carmen, here's three cigarettes go over there and tell fulano that you want his shaving cream.
And in this, my mother. Bless my mother, she saved 30 packs of cigarettes and she went over to some lady who had a comforter. We had some thin blankets and it was December it, the Caribbean doesn't get very cold, but if you are out in the elements exposed, it gets pretty cold during the night. And we were really cold and my mom took her 30 packs of cigarettes over to this lady with a comforter and traded them for her comforter.
And we came back and we were all super happy. And then this lady came back a bit later and she wanted her comforter back. And my mom was like, no, I bought this fair and square.
Fryda: [00:22:08] Yeah. So she probably came back a little chilly.
Carmen: [00:22:10] Yeah, she did. She did. And also what I want to illustrate here is that. There's 20,000 Cubans in a detainment camp in Guantanamo and society is forming, you know, we have barter systems. We have society is forming and the guards, they are tolerant of this. They would let us use whatever materials they weren't using to create things out of cardboard wood. Various different things like little tiny makeshift apartments under the tarps.
It was crazy. I remember there being like entire dressers made of cardboard boxes, like engineered out of just tape and cardboard. It was awesome. My family, my parents never set up that way. I think that my parents thought that of it in a much different way. They thought the more we do anything, the more behaviors we engage in in order to settle and feel more comfortable, the more we accept this and they refused to accept that they refuse to accept that this was going to be life now, which is a really interesting psyche to be in.
But I get it. I get it. You want to maintain hope that this is not life because you're stuck. And you were supposed to be moving towards freedom. It was not a fun time, but I was a little kid and I only cared about little kid things. Being able to run around, being able to play. And as far as the guards and the relationship between guards and the detainees, at least in my family, it was not tense.
I even had pictures where I'm sitting on a guard's lap, I'm playing Patty cakes with them. There are pictures of me on a little kid swing. So there must've been some sort of playground that was built for little kids. There was even a woman who was already pregnant by the time she arrived in Guantanamo and she gave birth there.
I don't know what type of medical attention, if any, she received. And I know that women were given birth control as soon as they arrived. So although life was not comfortable and good and peachy also, let's not forget about the looming anxiety and uncertainty of your general state of things in life. Other than that three-year-old Carmen was running around and couldn't really tell the difference because my family was there.
My brother was there. I had my little kid detain me friends, and we would run around and play. And if I had to you know, pee and poop and apart a potty. Well, whatever. So sometimes it's a little hard for me to differentiate the things that happened in my little kid imagination and the things that actually happened.
And this is one of them, but first I'll tell you the facts. And that was that there was a hurricane that came through and we were living under tarps with no walls or protection between us and the elements. And the rest of the story is my recollection.
I remember people just scrambling, trying to use whatever they could find to tie down their very basic crappy possessions, because it's all we had, so imagine a bunch of Cubans in the middle of the rain and the heavy winds getting heavier and stronger, just tying things down to trees, to barrels, to poles, to their cots, whatever they could find strapping their kids down, everybody hide your kids, hide your wife. There's a hurricane coming. And these are like the ridiculous things that happened. And the things that we dealt with, it's just something like from a movie at this point, I know that it was a state of emergency that was really difficult. But looking back at this point in my life, it's such a funny visual.
Fryda: [00:25:45] Yeah. I mean, have you had any conversations with your parents around the kinds of feelings that they had. Do you know how it felt like for them to be there?
Carmen: [00:25:53] I have very briefly, I cannot say I've had very deep conversations with them because like I've said before, this is kind of a touchy subject.
It's very different for me versus for them, they were adults. They had a lot more understanding of what was truly going on. It was really anxiety inducing because they had no idea what was going to happen to us if we would ever get out of there. Imagine you're living under a tarp with a bunch of other people.
You come from a communist society where you're scared to say certain things, or you're scared to say anything really, or to voice your own feelings on what's happening to you. So the times I've spoken to my parents about it, they describe it as a very tenuous time, a very anxious time, a difficult time, not because we were lacking in basic necessities, but because for all intents and purposes, we, we were detainees. We were not free people who are able to make any kind of decision over our lives, other than super basic things. Like you couldn't even decide what you wanted to eat. It wasn't like a comfortable time.
Fryda: [00:27:02] I mean, how can you plan for the future, like any sense of the future in the way that we like to think about it, like what we're going to eat, like where we're going to travel, who we're going to hang out with.
And, and actually we haven't even mentioned the size of this camp just yet. I know you were some of the first to go there, but we know the camp grew too. It grew to around 35,000 or more people, which is a lot of people. And most of them are Cuban, but some of them were from Haiti, Cubans weren't the only ones trying to leave their country due to starvation, lack of resources and political issues.
Carmen: [00:27:36] My mom has a much more vivid memory of what happened to Haitians than I do, even though I've described all of these terrible things. I was still very privileged and lucky to have been Cuban in this situation. The Haitians that were found at sea, the coast guard would come up to them and hose them down so that they would drown.
And the Haitians that did make it to Guantanamo. I'm not really sure, what happened to them or what their treatment was like, but they were separated from the Cubans and something tells me that they were not treated so well. Whatever Haitians did make it to the U S well, they also were not treated the same way that Cubans were.
So by the time that this happened in the nineties, we had already seen the Mariel boatlift , Pedro Pan, which is Peter pan. We had already seen various waves of immigration. People had been coming to the U S specifically coming to Miami from Cuba since the sixties. And there was a very well established Cuban presence in Miami that were ready to welcome Cuban immigrants from this time with open arms and the Haitians did not have that kind of support system, just because the policies at play did not benefit them the way that they benefited Cubans.
Fryda: [00:28:45] Yeah, just a quick aside on some of the immigration policies at play. Shortly after the revolution around 1966, we know that the United States passed the Cuban adjustment act. So that act guarantees a legal path to residency for Cubans that come over to the U S I found similar policies passed to benefit other countries too, that had been part of the Soviet union or related to the Soviet union.
So it definitely meant a different kind of treatment from the United States in terms of immigration policy, for people who were fleeing communism versus people who were fleeing really difficult and even life-threatening situations, but that were not a result of the threat of communism. So if we fast forward to 1994, when all of this was happening and tens of thousands of Cubans were leaving, there was a reversal of the Cuban adjustment act.
During that time, the Clinton administration reversed the U S policy on Cuban refugees. So there's a lot of this back and forth that happens over time. We can get back to this afterwards, but the main distinction between this entire story of immigration policy towards Cubans and the history of immigration policy towards stations is that there was no Haitian adjustment act.
So Carmen, at that time, people in Miami knew that there was a lot of their own stuck in Guantanamo. And I bet that made a lot of people angry.
Carmen: [00:30:18] Yeah. So one thing I want to say about Cubans at large, and I might be talking out of turn here in generalizing, but I'm going to do it anyway. Cubans are very there for their people.
Does it matter if they think that you are good or bad or anything? If you're in trouble, some Cubans going to turn up for you. And during this time, this situation got to be. So big. I mean, the population grew really quickly and it got to be so big that it garnered so much media attention in Miami, which is a Cuban enclave as we've established before.
And Gloria Stefan actually came to Guantanamo to perform a concert and raise awareness about the situation. There are more and more people being detained every single day. And. Clinton hadn't really addressed the matter about whether or not they would be admitted into the U S were in limbo. There were a lot of people who turned up, not just from regular family members, petitioning, but also really big names. Like I said, even Gloria Estefan who came and performed.
Fryda: [00:31:25] Yeah. I mean, I think it really helped to have these people who were actually famous and had more appeal outside of even the Cuban American community, because their artistry I guess, helped to bring. Some awareness about the situation.
Carmen: [00:31:41] Yeah. And once we already got to the U S over the course of growing up over my life, many times, I would comment to my parents like, Oh, such and such artist is taking a stance on this and this and my parents would be very dismissive about that.
But actually I am able to cite this as a point in time where I. Benefited from something like that. And I think we can tie it into current events and how, I mean it's 20, 20 hot political climate right now. Everybody has something to say about everything. And I think it's really important to remember that you.
Are able to make differences that celebrities coming forth and using their platforms to say things that's important. And that matters.
Fryda: [00:32:20] Yeah. Both in a good way, in a bad way. Right? The celebrities of our world can make an impact on the lives of people, uh, depending on what they say, because we are a society of celebrities and we listen. So for your sake, I'm glad that Gloria Stefan went over and had a concert.
Carmen: [00:32:38] Yep. And also on the other side of this, there were stars in the making in one tamale. So we were detained with, I don't know if you're, if you're not from Miami, this isn't going to ring any bells for you, but we were there with the Fonomemecos.
"Mama yo quiero saber, porque se van tanta gente, que dice el presidente que en cuba todo esta bien."
Fryda: [00:33:04] Do you recognize that, Miami people?
Carmen: [00:33:05] Those guys, they were in the same camp as we were. And they used to host little comedy shows and stuff during the weekends. And we would go, and there were other people as well, artists, Cubans found a way to keep chugging along and doing what they do best, which is making light of the matter and coming up with really creative, ridiculous solutions to problems.
Fryda: [00:33:25] I think they had some experience doing that in Cuba.
So yeah, they weren't strangers to struggling and making fun of a situation making do, dealing with rations. Those were not new situations.
Carmen: [00:33:41] Yeah, and speaking to that point, that's something that is echoing a lot of this stuff. My mom would say, she said, honestly, like Guantanamo was bad from a psychological perspective, but really in terms of the day-to-day, like we were already used to doing with less, we were already used to being exposed to the elements and not getting to choose what kind of decadent meal you ate that day.
Like all of this, like, it was not so hard to get through because the situation in Cuba was already bad. But yeah, so life continued until one day in January. Late January, the guards started coming up to us and explaining that they would be transporting us to the U S which you can imagine the amount of relief and joy that we felt hearing that because all of this time, probably, and this is just coming from my perspective.
But I think that if I were an adult during this time, I would think going back to Cuba would be the worst thing. Or staying there would be the worst thing. Both of those things would be the worst, but going to the U S was the ultimate goal from the get-go. And to be told, that is finally what is going to happen to you?
That is everything. We were again, amongst some of the first families to be brought over to the U S specifically because our family had two small children. I was at the time I was four. I had a birthday. And one dot a mall. I mean, there wasn't any cake or anything. We couldn't like do gifts or anything like that.
But yeah, we were told that we were being taken and that we were among the first to be taken because we had children in our family. And also both my brother and I are asthmatic. So they were prioritizing people with medical necessities and stuff like that. I remember this causing tension among the population of detainees because.
Everyone is dying to get out and now suddenly why them and not me. And, Oh, I have asked it became difficult. So the way that this worked for us was that we were given all of our stuff back. I'm not sure if I mentioned that in the beginning, but when we were first taken in, everything was taken from us. We weren't allowed to really own our own things that we had brought, uh, which we didn't bring much anyway, but we were given all of our stuff back.
And we were single file marched into a dusty blue bus, which then drove to an airport. We got onto an airplane. And I remember that airplane being like the rickety S shabbiness airplane. I was like, this thing is going to fall apart. I think the boat was probably safer. We were flown to the U S into the homestead airport, where my mother had some family members that had arrived in Miami, not too long before this.
And they came and got us and we started our. Very difficult lives. But even though I say it that way, honestly, it really wasn't half as bad as most other immigrants. We we're given government assistance, food stamps. We were given groceries like flat out here's some oatmeal, here's some cereal, here's some rice and beans.
There was this list of groceries that they would purchase and hand out to everybody that came. We had already set up appointments with government offices. And on top of that, as we're talking about earlier, they keep in community. There was already somebody who had called somebody whose brother, whose cousin worked in this place and they could use another pair of hands.
So you already even sometimes had people pulling in resources for you to get you jobs, clothes, food, shelter, everything.
Fryda: [00:37:07] Yeah. This is where it really helps to come into Miami, an enclave of Cubans who have created structures to make it easier to be Cuban and succeed in the United States. I know it's a completely different story to be an immigrant and to just drop into a society without your community present, it's so much harder.
Carmen: [00:37:25] Absolutely. And it quick hot take, but honestly it really. Boggles my mind when so many conservative Cubans knock government aid and programs that benefit immigrants and communities that are underserved, because one of the biggest reasons why Cubans have been successful economically, politically, socially in the U S. Is because of that community because of government aid, because of policies that they turn around. And then vehemently oppose.
Fryda: [00:38:05] Carmen, I am with you here on this hot take. Some people may not know that the majority of Cuban Americans, especially older generations are pretty Republican. It's important to note the kinds of structures available to create a cushion for Cuban Americans coming to this country for decades and decades.
It's something that empowers immigrants to not fall into a black hole, but rather to have some social economic support, because if we don't have that, it's easy to end up in a bad place. So, I mean, I'm with you there. And we had previously talked about how the Clinton administration had reversed the Cuban adjustment act that had been in place since 1966.
And that Cuban adjustment act had made it pretty easy for Cubans to enter the United States and eventually apply for legal, permanent residency. So that was reversed by the Clinton administration, but after a lot of negotiations and even negotiations between Clinton and the Castro administration, a new version of the Cuban adjustment act came into play in 1995.
Carmen: [00:39:11] And that's what we know of today as the wet foot dry foot policy. So what is the wet foot, dry foot policy? It was a policy that basically said that any Cuban caught in the waters between the United States and Cuba. So people with wet feet would be returned to Cuba or sent to another country. And the ones that made it to shore, those are the ones that are considered dry.
And those are the ones that got a chance to remain in the United States. And then they would be able to qualify for the expedited legal, permanent resident status. So that is what happened with my story. So, because I was actually found at sea that would technically make me a wet foot. But at the same time when this was passed in 1995, I was in Guantanamo.
So that's why I was allowed entry into the country because I was in a us territory at the time that this passed.
Fryda: [00:40:09] So we're recording this in 2020, and in January of 2017, president Obama announced the immediate end to this policy. So this wet foot, dry foot policy at this time does not apply to Cubans that are trying to leave Cuba.
Carmen: [00:40:25] So. Once I got here, many of the things happened from going into the system being enrolled in school. There are stories of my parents trying to learn English that are really funny. I'm trying to revalidate titles again, trying to communicate with our families. Lots of things happened, but this is just the story of how I got here.
How timing was not on my side at first, but then on my side later and how things worked out policy, that's the whole shebang folks.
Fryda: [00:40:53] So. Six months, a hurricane and a comforter later, you find yourself finally in La Yuma.
Carmen: [00:41:01] So that's my story. Soy balsera.
Fryda: [00:41:04] And what does that mean, Carmen?
Carmen: [00:41:06] Soy balsera. A balsero is someone who came , balsa is raft. So I didn't technically come on a raft, but I came on a boat. So I think it still counts
Fryda: [00:41:15] all the people who came around that time are considered balseros.
Carmen: [00:41:19] Yes, exactly. Which by the way, I just want to do a quick aside on that. Later on, I think one of the reasons why my parents maybe don't want to talk about this aside from it being a really traumatic experience is that this comes with a lot of stigma. There are many different ways that people immigrated to the U S and we'll get into some of those ways later, especially with Fryda's story. But being a balsero is kind of like the lowest class way you could get to the U S you were so desperate to get out that you took to the seas with all its dangers.
Fryda: [00:41:46] Humans love to do that to other humans. We love to create an underclass. I know that in Miami, Cubans themselves oftentimes made fun of balseros.
Carmen: [00:41:56] And I personally, I never really felt any type of way, any type of negative way about this history of mine. But again, I was little and as Fryda has stated, like I, she knows me pretty well. I am somebody that very much kind of like lives in my own world. So I didn't register that. I know I saw other people get made fun of because of this. And I know that my dad specifically was, he's very sensitive about it. I know that there's a big element of shame, at least shortly after coming to the U S where you feel like, okay, now it's time to buckle down and work hard.
But yeah, I say it proudly now
Fryda: [00:42:28] this is your story, and I'm glad you're sharing it, that you're able to share it right now. So do we want to move on to the cubanismo?
Carmen: [00:42:35] Yeah. El cubanismo , I feel like I've been doing most of the talking, maybe you should introduce it and I can help explain it.
Fryda: [00:42:41] Okay. bueno, this whole entire situation le zumba el mango.
The heck did I just say, carmen? What did I say?
Carmen: [00:42:51] Le zumba el mango. Wow. Okay. So what is zumba in English? I don't even know that. Okay. The general sentiment is like, man, this is tough. Like, fuck. That's what that communicates. Le zumba el mango literally translates into. It throws the mango.
Fryda: [00:43:08] It does throw the mango. Yeah. Yeah. And I don't know how many times my mother has said this. Something le zuma el mango, but is it vulgar? I don't know sometimes
Carmen: [00:43:23] I don't think it's vulgar. There are no bad words in it. If there's. If that counts. Okay. So context, right? How do you say this? Okay. Let me explain a situation. It's like, when you're struggling, you're having a day and everything is going wrong and then you get home and you're telling your roommate about it.
You would say ño le zumba el mango.
Fryda: [00:43:39] Exactly. It's also a way to commiserate, right? Like I just did that with your situation. So
Carmen: [00:43:44] So I, I think this is really appropriate for the episode because after all that, le zumba el mango, which it's funny because even now my parents say that all like share a success with them.
And I have a tendency to sort of minimize things, you know, I don't typically run around being like, I'm the bomb, although, you know, if you do no judgment, but I'll come to my dad and I'll tell him something like, Oh, I just got a new job and I'm really excited or whatever. And he'll come back and say something like,
Menos mal, le zumba el mango haberse tirado a la balsa para que tu me vengas a decirme que te buscaste un trabajo que no te gusta asi que
which translates to like, Hey dad, I got a new job and I'm really excited. And he's just like, yeah, you better. It really sucks to have taken to the seas on a boat for you to be getting a new job and not like it. It threw the mango,
Fryda: [00:44:34] it released through the mango to do that
Carmen: [00:44:36] It really threw the mango . Follow us on Instagram at teikirisipod and subscribe to the podcast, please, if you will, we would greatly appreciate it.
Fryda: [00:44:47] Uh, yeah that would be great. And if you have any questions for us or want to talk to us? We also have an email, pretty much everything we have is teikirisipod. So firstname.lastname@example.org and you can reach us.
Carmen: [00:45:02] We would love to hear from you and until the next one, make it easy. Folks.
Fryda: [00:45:08] Please check out our blog posts for supporting materials. www.teikirisipod.com. If you want to hear more hot takes, consider becoming a patron. We'll be recording exclusive episodes at the $20 tier , and we'll have smaller tiers available if you'd like to support you, don't like our hot takes vete pal carajo and make your own podcast, please. Special thanks to Jesse and our families. Love you. Cojelo con teikirisi, bye..