Emotions run high in families still hurting 50 years after fleeing Castro’s revolution.
Anabel Miguelez sits down in the kitchen while her mother, Vilma, cooks arroz con pollo.
Nearby, her grandmother, Olelia Barreto, watches the telenovela “Mañana es para siempre.”
With buds in her ears, Anabel is listening to the American pop techno singer Lady Gaga on her iPod.
Anabel, her mother and grandmother represent three generations of Cuban-Americans under the same roof of their Homestead house.
But the three women hold different sentiments about the island’s dictator – and none can agree on whether returning to the island would be a blessing or a curse.
Like many other Cuban-American families with multiple generations living in Miami, they share few interests. Neither of the older women like Anabel’s music, and the 17-year-old doesn’t share their passion for bolero music and telenovelas.
One thing they agree on, though, is their hate for former Cuban President Fidel Castro – and their promise to never return to the island as long as Castro and brother Raul, the current president, are in power.
This is significant, given that President Barack Obama recently loosened travel restrictions for Cuban-Americans, allowing family members in Miami to see loved ones more often and send greater amounts of money to Cuban relatives, among other changes.
In a 2009 poll by Miami public opinion research firm Bendixen & Associates, 72 percent of Cubans and Cuban-Americans said they still do not plan to travel to Cuba.
The survey did show that more than 240,000 Cuban-Americans want to travel to Cuba in the next two years.
And a Miami Montage poll conducted this month indicated that more than 67 percent of South Florida teens, regardless of race, ethnicity or nationality, would consider traveling to Cuba when travel restrictions are eased.
“I have my whole life here, and I don’t need to go,” said grandmother Olelia Barreto, who was reared in Cuba and only speaks Spanish.
Vilma Miguelez shares those sentiments.
“There are limitations, and their way of living is horrible,” said Vilma, a Spanish speaker who occasionally drops in a few words of English. She recalled having to work in the fields during school, memories that still haunt her.
Anabel works part-time at a Cold Stone Creamery ice cream shop in Kendall. Unlike her mother and grandmother, Anabel mainly speaks English at home and with friends, and she doesn’t share an intense passion for the Caribbean island.
That disparity comes to light on a Sunday night, when the family gathers in the kitchen. A news report about Fidel Castro appears on the television and a shaken Olelia calls her daughter, Vilma, who becomes rattled as well. The image of the Cuban dictator makes both women grow cold with anger. Vilma takes a moment to calm her mother down.
But that image draws few emotions from the youngest woman in the group, a Miami native who feels she can’t relate to the loss felt by her mother and grandmother when they fled Cuba’s communist government, a reality Anabel has never experienced.
The teenager has never visited the island and feels she can’t be attached to something she doesn’t know.
“I don’t know anyone there,” said Anabel, a senior at John A. Ferguson Senior High School. “Why would I go if I have everything here?”
She is not alone, but Cuban-American families have mixed feelings about the idea of returning to the island.
Barbara de la Paz, who was born in Havana and fled on a shrimp boat when she was 15 years old, doesn’t care to return to the communist nation.
Her daughter Carina, 18, who recently graduated from the School for Advanced Studies at Miami-Dade College, would like to go, because she wants to finally see the island that her parents have always spoken about.
“I want to see the places my parents and grandparents talk about for myself,” Carina said.
Like Anabel and several young Cuban-Americans, Carina respects her parents’ and grandparents’ feelings about Cuba, but she is trying to follow her own path.
“I’m happy to know that I’ll be allowed to visit soon,” she said.