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New York City Cubans Reflect on Castro’s Death

More than a week ago, Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro passed away at the age of 90. While the island’s inhabitants tearfully mourned their leader, exiled Cuban communities in the US celebrated the death of a dictator. In Miami, residents took to Little Havana’s streets crying tears of joy, singing, banging pans and waving their flags. But New York, where more than seventy thousand residents are Cuban, saw mixed reactions. Danya Hajjaji has the story.

(Sound 1: Woman starts singing in Spanish, drums start playing at her second verse) (0:22)

HAJJAJI 1: JACK, a small venue in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, is packed. The audience is here to see “La Sirene: Rutas de Azucar”, a musical about a Cuban-American girl embarking on a journey of self-discovery. The lead character is played by actress Yomaira Gonzalez. She was born and raised in New Jersey to Afro-Cuban immigrants. Her reaction to Castro’s death? (0:19)

GONZALEZ 1: I don’t celebrate anyone’s death. But I do feel like, hopefully, a chance for change for my country. (0:06)

HAJJAJI 2: Gonzalez says the last time she saw Cuba, she was two years old. She believes uprooted Cubans in the tri-state area tend to see hope in Castro’s death. (0:07)

GONZALEZ 2: It’s a mixture of opinions a lot, but the majority of them, it’s a lot of joy and happiness. People that were separated for years from their family, people that couldn’t go back, people that didn’t want to go back because of the way the government was… This feels like a positive change and a growth in our country. (0:14)

HAJJAJI 3: Gonzalez’s mother flew into the US in 1969. Her father arrived in the late 70s as a “Marielito”, one of ten thousand asylum-seeking Cubans who came packed on a crowded boat. But Gonzalez says her parents are not celebrating Castro’s death. (0:14)

GONZALEZ 3: They aren’t as enthused as the other people. These change of events allowed them to come here and they don’t regret coming here. (0:06)

HAJJAJI 4: Brian Fonseca, professor of Latin American studies at Florida International University, can explain the clear divide in reactions from Cubans on the island and those in the US. (0:08)

FONSECA 1: If you’re part of a community that has been on the losing side of capitalism and have been affected by US policy, then you might look at Fidel a little differently than if you’re in the US Cuban diaspora that fled after the revolution and whose family, uh, has been separated, or thrown in prison, or have been killed, or have been tortured, then you might not see Fidel as the hero that the others make him out to be. (0:25)

HAJJAJI 5: But there is also a divide right here in the United States. While Cubans in Miami were out in the streets celebrating Castro’s death, no such festivities took place in New York. Fonseca says it’s due to differences in diasporatic Cuban communities across the US. (0:12)

FONSECA 2: So I think that Miami, the reaction you got was from a– a very staunch, politically-motivated exiled community and that’s why you saw those types of celebrations. I’m not sure that New York has the kind of politically active exiled community that South Florida has, and so I think that’s probably one of the fundamental differences in– in why you’re seeing the kind of celebrations in South Florida over Fidel’s death and sort of more quiet, you know, maybe inflective, uh, responses coming from the New York Cuban diaspora. (0:28)

HAJJAJI 6: Fonseca says the quieter reaction in New York may be due to a less robust Cuban community. (0:04)

FONSECA 3: I– I suspect the diaspora in New York, in my opinion, probably assimilated a lot more quickly to sort of American culture, American values. They had to– to integrate, or at least coincide with other, you know, Hispanic diasporas like the– the Puerto Rican and– and Dominican communities there in New York City, or in, in– in sort of Greater New York. (0:18)

HAJJAJI 7: Regardless of where anyone stands on Fidel Castro, he made sure to leave an impact on Cubans everywhere upon his exit. I’m Danya Hajjaji for Uptown Radio. (0:10)

Danya Hajjaji is a journalist from Tripoli, Libya. She recently graduated from the University of Sussex in England, earning a bachelor’s degree in media and communications. Danya also has two years of radio experience, having co-hosted a news show on University Radio Falmer, her alma mater’s official station.


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