My father is a Cuban exile. At twelve years old, he left Cuba with his brother—leaving siblings and parents behind—as part of Operation Pedro Pan. Years later, the family was reunited in Miami, where my 95-year old grandmother still lives to this day, enjoying Miami Heat games on television.
I grew up outside of the traditional Miami Cuban community. My mother is American, and no one spoke Spanish in our neighborhood. Yet our annual pilgrimage to visit abuela in Little Havana had a profound impact on my personal development. I recognized that even in the joy of our family reunions, there was always a sorrow, a longing for the promised land of Cuba.
My father returned to Cuba for the first time in 2005, and I had the honor of being the only family member to join him. The decision caused deep tension for many in our family; for them, a Cuba with no democracy and any Castro was forbidden territory. Yet my father saw beyond the politics of the moment, recognizing that the desire to connect with the island and its people—his people—was not an act of treason, but a rite of passage.
I’ve returned to Cuba several times since that first visit, and each has introduced me to more Cuban friends who are living daily life in an island full of paradox. Life in Cuba often carries struggle, but it is also full of profound beauty.
Since President Obama’s declaration in 2014 to re-engage Cuba and loosen travel restrictions, more Cubans have been able to connect with Americans and learn about the many common dreams and joys we share. This has been especially important for the Cuban youth, who possess the energy and ambition that can make Cuba thrive.
And so, on June 16, I watched with sadness as President Trump delivered his policy speech in Little Havana. The political grandstanding was appropriately staged in a theatre. And with the stroke of a pen, Trump erased another achievement of his predecessor—an achievement favored by the majority of Americans, congressional members, and even Cuban Americans.
In truth, Trump’s new policy toward Cuba is similar to the one in place under Obama. Yet with this policy shift comes a destruction of any goodwill America has built with the island through skilled negotiation and diplomacy. It’s hard to envision how U.S.-Cuba relations could improve over the next four years.
Cubans on the island are right to worry about these policy changes, but they should also be careful not to blame Trump for all their struggles. Those who feel hurt or angry by the policy change should focus on channeling these emotions into positive action. What response will Cubans offer? Is it time for a Cuban letter-writing campaign to the White House? If the people demonstrate, will Trump notice, or even care? Regardless of the Cuban response, there are supporters in America who will stand in solidarity with them.
In the days leading up to Trump’s announcement, many pro-engagement organizations spoke openly against Trump’s policy proposals. Petitions were created and openly signed by hundreds. Protesters stood in the rain arguing opposing sides of the issue—each believing that his side was the right one, the ideal one for Cuba and its people. It’s time for all of us in the U.S. to listen to the Cuban people themselves, and it’s time for Cubans to speak out with the same conviction we did this week.
Andrew Louis Jiménez is a U.S. attorney, founder of Jiménez Law Offices, and Co-Founder of CubaOne Foundation. This post was previously published on OnCuba Magazine.