By Nursyafiqah Wan
Award-winning filmmaker Zuzy Martin Lynch made her appearance for this year’s International Day, organized by the Center of International Education (CIE). Her documentary, Craving Cuba, which explores the complicated relationship between Cuban-Americans and Cuba, was presented on Feb. 23.
Lynch, an American-born woman known for her big ideas, passion, collaborative spirit and motivation, travels around the country to interview Cuban-Americans.
According to Lynch, the whole idea of this documentary was the explanation of identity. It is a chapter, an ongoing effort to keep the memory of Cubans alive. Tracing back their ancestry to Cuba, Lynch’s interviewees shared the experiences of their daily encounters. Lynch used questions and explored what it means to be Cuban-American in a time when the whole world was obsessed with Cuba.
Cuba is politically oriented, according to those portrayed in the film. Their stories about the government convey the pain and suffering that still echo in their heads. The government, as they described it, was made of strong leadership and a willingness to say bold things.
In the era that these Cuban-Americans lived through, getting beaten with sticks for not singing the national anthem was a normal occurence.
“When you go through a traumatic event, there’s a lot of shame that comes with that,” said Eglise Gutiérrez, a famous Cuban-American opera singer. “A lot of loss of self-esteem, that can be debilitating.”
These Cuban-Americans had all their property inventoried by Cuba’s government, or were not allowed to leave the house, stylist Tico Torres said. Nothing ever belonged to them, he said. Thus, it is understandable that Cubans are overprotective of themselves, according to Torres. No matter where they go, a glimpse of a shadow of their pain, loss and fear is following them – glued and attached.
Soledad O’Brien, a Cuban-American broadcast journalist, lightened up and said, “There’s so much happening in Cuba that’s so interesting. That’s around art, around food, that’s around music. There is no question that politics sort of shape your access, your ability to leverage those things to visit it, even just being in the country.”
There was no escape from hardships and struggles along the way, according to the Cubans who have settled down in the U.S. Despite it all, in a choked voice, Gutiérrez said, “To a certain degree, we are happy.”
Gutiérrez also shared her experience upon arriving to the U.S., where she teared up just at the sight of all the lights at the airport, on the street, in the cities. It was surreal, she said. “Back in Cuba, you’d only see candles and flashlights lighted up in the street.”
Born and raised in the U.S., Matthew Galgano, a high school student, suggested that people these days should look at things from a different angle. He’s a strong believer that people should be exposed to developed countries, so they can help develop it as well.
“In so many other countries, identity is very fluid,” said O’Brien. Cuban-Americans’ fears of going back to their country still remain. According to O’Brien, however, this generation is trying to reconnect with Cuba’s past.
Yearning for hope, for possible change, is on everyone’s mind. These diverse voices reinforce the idea that people need each other to achieve harmony. It is time to get rid of this prejudice and move on, learn to accept people for who they really are and not by where they are from, said Lynch.