On this day back in 1928 in Havana, Cuba – my mother was born. She was born to a father from Poland (with Bosnian roots) and a mother from Russia (Ottoman Empire). My grandparents were Jews whose path to Cuba happened when the United States quota of the early 1900’s delayed the immigration of various refugees from certain countries. Those with their sails set for America, were diverted to Cuba to wait it out. When the quotas were lifted, some moved on to the United States, while others – who adored the heat and sun of their pit stop – did not. What became known as “Hotel Cuba” – coined due to the refugees temporary status in a sun drenched country – became home.
My mother loved Cuba. She was born and raised within its steamy palm trees, and the splashing waves over El Malecon. If anyone watched Conan O’Brien’s special on his trip to Havana – you’d have seen the beauty of the island. The people, the ragged charm, the sun baked streets and the nostalgic remnants of the past. A country frozen in time. That’s the country my mother called home – even as she made her life in America – after Castro kicked out capitalists and those who didn’t follow his socialist revolution.
The only thing my mother was passionate about was Cuba and open relations with the United States. She imagined going back and meeting her neighbors who were holding on to her clothes and perfume. She wanted to visit her father’s grave. She wanted to be Ana from Havana again. Cuba was always in my house. WADO, the Latin radio station in New York was constantly on – the background music of my life.
When President Obama opened relations with Cuba recently – it was one of the most mind blown days for me. Just thinking about what my mother would have said and done if she were still alive on that day. This was her dream. This was the news report she was dreaming to hear after she moved to the United States in 1959.
I plan on traveling to Cuba in the next few years. As I’ve mentioned on this blog before – it’s my intention to visit her neighborhood in the Miramar district, and perhaps connect with the families of those who remember her and my family. I want to see the streets my mother walked, the atmosphere she fell in love with, the home where she lived and the grave where my grandfather was buried. Most of all, I want to get splashed by the torrid waves splashing over the sea all of El Malecon.
Happy Birthday Mom! Cuba está abierta!