On Being A Young Latinx From Miami When Fidel Castro Dies

The Magic City comes alive in the wake of the dictator's death.

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[Editor's note: These thoughts are entirely my own—read at your own risk]

I left Miami a few hours after Fidel Castro's death was announced by his brother, Raul, on national television. This flight was booked weeks ago, but had I somehow known that this would happen, I would have missed the plane on purpose.

Anyone who has spent even a minuscule amount of time in Miami and has actually paid attention to the local zeitgeist—A.K.A. anyone who's had a conversation with an old Cuban man at Café Versailles in Little Havana—will tell you that the ensuing celebration has been a long time coming. The man wasn't dead for an hour when social media was flooded with a clarion call: ¡Pa' la calle!

In English: "to the streets!"

And that is exactly what Miami's Cuban population did; pots, pans, signs, champagne bottles, and, of course, Cuban flags whipping the wind on a new dawn.

Maria Pulgar© 2016

I was running on maybe an hour of sleep, and headed to the airport an hour later than I was supposed to. My parents and I were huddled on the couch watching the news break; I had found out the announcement while they were sleeping, and had spent the hours before an excruciatingly early flight writing, calling friends and scrolling through my newsfeed. It almost felt wrong that I couldn't join the revelers. One of my best friends being Cuban, I wanted nothing more than to run the streets with her, shouting and laughing and crying. It's a miracle I didn't get caught in traffic.

Cubans make up 34% of Miami's Hispanic population, with 52% of those accounting for exiles and refugees fleeing Castro's Cuba. The outbreak of festivities was comparable to when Hugo Chavez, the president of Venezuela, died back in 2013. The fate of both countries is intimately entwined in more than that aspect—it's no secret that Chavez tried to emulate Cuba's policies, and revered its leader. As news pieces and op-eds like this one inevitably begin to pop up, Castro is painted as a tyrant whose death is to be celebrated and a war hero who, along with Ché Guevara, fought imperialism. The latter opinion, knowing firsthand the damage he's caused to the families of so many around me, is not one I can condone.

Maria Pulgar© 2016

It's important that socialists—democratic or otherwise—take a hard look at the damage done to the Cuban nation and the world since Castro took power. It's important that, now more than ever, we understand why the Cuban people feel an enormous burden lifted off their shoulders. There are still so many who refused to go back until he died; now, as the sun rises over a Cuba that no longer has Castro's shadow looming over it, a Cuba where Raul Castro has less and less power, we need to scrutinize history with an even more pointed lens.

Growing up around the environment that I did, I suppose it's very easy for me to say that, but I invite everyone who looks up to Guevara and Castro as war heroes to pay attention to what's happening in Miami right now, and to what will be happening there for at least another week. We know how to party, and now more than ever the streets are alive.

Let the champagne and the colada flow through the streets. Let the Cuban people rejoice in what is in an enormous step forward for freedom and a new era. Let there be joy on Calle Ocho and all over the world, even if it stems from death, even if 2016 has been a harrowing exercise in patience, grief, and political discourse.

Maria Pulgar© 2016