Last week presidential candidates from both parties came to South Florida to speak to the heart of the Latino community. Miami is often a backdrop for candidates seeking our approval. They make the rounds to Versailles for cafecito, they visit our local businesses and factories, and speak to us in hopes that their words and charm hook us into voting for them.
Yet, for many of my fellow Cuban Americans, the most memorable moment of this entire election season took place during the Democratic National Convention, when Cristina Saralegui, the closest thing we have to a Latina Oprah, addressed the convention.
Let me explain. I am a 28-year-old Cuban American that was born and raised in Hialeah, Florida -- which is either a working class suburb of Miami or the seventh province of Cuba, depending on who you ask. My grandparents came en los Vuelos de la Libertad (the flights of liberty) in 1970 and my father came as a 16-year-old boy in El Mariel. I, like most of my second generation friends, live in two cultures, listening to Willy Chirino yell, " Ya viene llegando" while studying American history and listening to hip-hop and rock. As I grew up in this country, I remember the horror stories my grandparents shared about living in Castro's Cuba, being called Gusanos (worms) and forced to labor in the fields for choosing to come to America. As a Cuban American, I feel that pain daily. Yet as a new father and community leader, I see so many issues that directly impact our families. However, my community has traditionally only seen one political party as a choice come election time.
Growing up, I sometimes felt I wasn't Cubano enough because I didn't blindly buy into my families political choices. You see, a lot of Cuban Americans were brought up to have unquestionable loyalty to the Republican party. That loyalty was in part born out of the perceived loyalty of Republicans to the cause of Cuban freedom during the Cold War. That loyalty has lasted almost as long as the Castro regime.
That is why when Cristina spoke in front of the DNC, it was as if I was listening to the voice of a new generation, my generation. What she spoke about was so simple: the need for Cuban Americans to have "other choices." As simple as it was, it nearly moved me to tears. Her words were about much more than President Obama and the Democrats -- they were about our community. You see, I love Cuba and I want libertad (liberty) for my uncles and cousins that my forbearers left behind. Every year we demand freedom for the Cuban people from both parties and see no results. But I also have a one-year-old son that was born here who deserves a better life too: affordable health care, a quality education... a better future. We can never have that better life if any politician or party takes our vote for granted.
Quite frankly, when it comes to issues like health care, Romney and Ryan have taken for granted that someone like me wants my son to have access to affordable health care. As Cristina said during the DNC, the Romney/Ryan voucher plan is a virtual "librete de cupones" (coupon book) for Americans. When she said that, most Cuban Americans knew exactly what she was talking about. A Libretes de Cupones is a hated memory for a lot of Cuban refugees. In Cuba, it is a voucher-style book that the regime gives you for your basic necessities. But when you actually go to the half-empty store in Cuba to redeem your coupon, you find yourself having to choose between necessities. For example, if you need clothes, you often have to choose between getting a shirt or a pair of pants; or socks instead of shoes. In many ways Cristina is right: most health care proposals coming from the party my family has been loyal to force me to choose between my health and my son's health. That doesn't feel like a real choice to me. As I write this, my son is suffering from a high fever and serious congestion. In the Romney/Ryan, the children's hospital I took him to last night would be out of reach for my family.
But the choice that Cristina laid out gives me so much hope for our community and our country as a whole. Cuban Americans, especially the younger generation, shouldn't have to feel afraid to express their opinions to our tios and tias over the dinner table. And who we vote for should never be a measure for our Cuban-ness. On November 6, I will step into the voting booth as a proud Cuban American and make a true choice that I feel will be the best for my city, my community, my country and my son's future.