In October, I was invited to go screen East of Havana at Yale University located just outside of New York (in Connecticut). The screening was held by a young Cuban organization called CAUSA. It’s funny because after speaking to this crew of Cuban-American students, I noticed none of the students had ever been to Cuba. Somehow, during the one scene of the documentary where we see a mother crying over her son who fled the island, I heard sniffing and crying in the room. ALOT of it.
After the screening, one of the young Cuban-Americans said she identified so hard with this scene, and explained how the Revolution split her family up. She couldn’t stop crying while speaking. I find it so interesting how deep this baggage is with Cuban-Americans. How the split has messed up people, 3 generations deep, on both sides. We all proceeded to talk for an hour in the Saybrook living room and together, it was a nice deep Q&A session with people of my culture.
Here’s responses from 2 of the students I met that day:
Did you learn anything new about Cuba after seeing this documentary?
Christian Vazquez (19 yrs old): Yes, I learned that Cuba was more devastated then I had imagined it to be. I also felt a connection to the island that I had never felt as much since my parents always talk about it, but since I was born here, and I’ve never been to it. I’ve never related to it entirely.
Jennifer Ramos (21 years old): I learned about the perspective of my contemporaries in Cuba. The story I always get from Cuba is that of my parents/grandparents which concentrates on the Cuba of yesteryear and is a very biased perspective. The documentary and tea brought forth a new way of understanding how current Cubans are perceiving life on the island.
As young Cuban-Americans, did you feel like you connected with the 3 young characters — Soandry, Magyori, and Mikki Flow?
Christian Vazquez: I felt a connection with the three characters because as a young person I could only imagine how frustrating it would be to live in such a regime that attempts to control everything, even your expression. They go to school but it seems that the Cuban government has drained them of the ambition they would have if they lived in a more free society.
Jennifer Ramos: I felt like I connected in the sense of certain cultural practices that translated so clearly into what I perceive as Cuban culture. For example, that bickering scene just brought back memories of being home. However, the three characters have lived such a different life from mine that it is hard to connect on a level beyond empathy. Perhaps this is because I don’t quite subscribe to even American hip hop culture.
How many of you have been to Cuba? What are your thoughts about traveling there?
Christian Vazquez: I have never been to Cuba and I really want to go after having watched the film. I’ve always been curious to go but my grandparents would surely make a big deal about it as well as the older generations of my family. However, I had always kept it as something that I would do eventually, but after watching East of Havana, the film struck a chord with me that makes me want to see the island for myself.
Jennifer Ramos: I’ve never been back to the island nor has anyone on my father’s side of the family. We think about returning only because of the family members that were left behind but money is the main limiting factor — its expensive to travel to Cuba and our family simply cannot afford it. If I could afford to do so however, I think I would. I would love to explore the many places my family used to frequent and such. On an intellectual level, I would also really appreciate the opportunity to be able to learn more about Cuban Art and Religion from primary sources which is an interest of mine.
Let’s move on to more shallow topics, shall we? Before I drove to the University campus, some Manhattanite friends (Yale graduates) implored me to do 2 things — If I were to go to Yale, I MUST have a burger at Louis and I MUST have a slice of pizza at Pepe’s. I just want to say for the record — MISSION ACCOMPLISHED. I came back to NY a happier woman after experiencing these 2 spots.