A Cuban American In Cuba

Exploring my family’s refugee roots

Stephanie Weber

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My mom says the blue building looks like the one she grew up in. This was close to El Capitolo. All photos courtesy of author.

I thought I would cry when I landed at Jose Marti airport. The scent of cigar smoke reminded me of every old Cuban home I’d ever visited. See, I never thought I’d actually go to Cuba. My mom emigrated in 1969 as part of a sponsorship program that allowed Cuban families to legally seek refuge in America. Almost everyone had the intention of going back someday. But that day never came, so we all became Cuban Americans.

I’d bought the tickets in a flash deal from JetBlue. The weekend I left was the same weekend Americans protested the travel ban in major airports. There I was, at a time when refugees were being both insulted and defended, returning to the place where my refugee family came from.

Morning in Habana Vieja.

When people fled Cuba in the late ’60s, Castro famously called them worms or “gusanos”. The worms were never to be welcomed back. They were considered less than human, and were to be treated as such. Forever. But, decades later, la hija de los gusanos was visiting for the first time. I felt the weight of that fact as I meandered around Havana. Tourist hotspots were interspersed with local shops and deteriorating apartments. Part of me…

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Stephanie Weber

Stephanie is a writer and comedian whose work has been featured on Reductress, Slate, The Weekly Humorist, The AV Club, Mental Floss, Atlas Obscura and more.