In Miami – Flying to Cuba Tomorrow
Fish may fly through the purple sea; Golden birds take to air.
I am bound to the earth it seems; My life can seem so unfair.
Only in Miami is Cuba so far away. – Max Groenenthal
As I delved deeper into studying the history of New Orleans, it became clear to me that one could not be interested in the history of New Orleans without also being interested in Cuba.
I have wanted to do this for years now. There were stories I heard that caught my attention – my father’s uncle was a cigar maker – and things I read – immigrants from Spain stopping off in Cuba on their way to Louisiana, regular travel and trade back and forth between Havana and New Orleans – that fueled my sense of connection. My mother told me that there were choir exchanges between the two cities when she was a young music student.
Then I read Ned Sublette’s brilliant book, The World That Made New Orleans: From Spanish Silver to Congo Square. He writes “The 1962 U.S. embargo of Cuba was also in effect an embargo of New Orleans, taking away a chunk of what has been the city’s core business and damaging the economy of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.”
Even more significantly to me, he states that “more than forty years of communications blackout between New Orleans and Havana has clouded our memory of how important that link was, from Spanish colonial times through the 1950’s.”
He goes on, quoting from a private interview with renown scholar on Creole New Orleans, Gwendolyn Midlo Hall, “Shortly after the Spanish (in the 1780’s- around the time my original Spanish ancestor arrived in New Orleans) took over, it became heavily Kongo in New Orleans.” Then he says this – “if we want to have some idea of what Kongo culture in New Orleans might have been like, all we have to do today is visit Cuba.”
It’s like being cut off from a branch of one’s family. So off I am going – hoping for some echo of my past, some link to my history, some key to a deeper understanding of who I am.
Of course, it has not been easy for Americans to visit Cuba. I have been thinking about it for many years now, but the opportunities have risen and fallen depending on who is in the White House. Now that my chance has come, I’ve found myself excited at times, and also waking up fearful in the wee hours, as the day has grown nearer. I’ve talked to others who have visited – one who hated it, and two others who have loved it, and found it a “magical” place.
So, what will I find? Some slight resonance, maybe – a kinship, or maybe nothing at all. We’ll see.