By Chuck Strouse
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The test result was positive. As is the practice in the United States, Cuban doctors commonly run blood through two HIV detectors. The first is relatively inaccurate, and it often registers false positive results. The second test is more precise and more expensive. Finney was forced to remain in the hospital until the second test could be completed, fully aware that if that resulted in an HIV-positive reading, he would be sent to a sanitorium outside Havana to live in quarantine.
"It was weird," says Finney. "I just lay there in the hospital thinking, `Wow, man, am I gonna die?'"
The second test was negative.
Facing an AIDS test alone was a sobering experience for Finney. But his family has not been completely absent from his life. His mother has visited twice during his exile, and his father made the trip in April 1990, ending an eighteen-year separation. "It was very heart warming, very moving for both of us," Finney recalls. "My old man has always, in his own way, cheered for me. When I began to get into radical politics, he said, `Look, I know you're a good kid and I know you know the difference between right and wrong. I just don't want to have to identify your bullet-riddled body in some morgue.'"
Finney says his most difficult - and joyous - moment came in 1988, when he was reunited with his daughter Malaika. Nearly 21 years old now, about the same age Finney was at the time of the hijacking, Malaika is in college, studying acting. She arrived in Havana accompanied by her mother, Michael's first wife.
"It was both exhilarating and painful," Michael says, recalling the reunion. "I went to the airport to meet a person whose diapers I had changed, who I'd loved, held, and fed. I wanted to see a little girl run up to me, throw her arms around me, and say, `Daddy.' Instead I saw a very mature, somewhat standoffish lady who was sizing me up, trying to figure out who I was. She was coming to see someone she didn't know, with a certain amount of resentment at me for not having been there."
By now, of course, Finney's Spanish is fluent. But his status in Cuba is that of a temporary resident; legally, he's still a United States citizen. He continues to follow American political and cultural trends as closely as he can, from books, magazines, radio, and vistors from the States - Spike Lee came to Cuba in December 1989, and a few rap groups have also been to the island. But terms such as "cat," "heavy," and "brother" still crop up in his speech. He has become resigned to the permanent sense of limbo that pervades his existence, but he says he's still jarred when forced to confront the profound schism between his past and his present. A few years ago, he glanced up at a wanted poster hanging in the U.S. Interests Section, the only American diplomatic presence in Cuba. Staring back at him, he realized, was the frozen likeness of a skinny youth - himself.
From his exile's perspective, he sees in America a nation that still has not delivered the equality it promises. "I don't see progress having occurred in the States, except to a very small part of a black middle class that didn't exist 30 years ago," Finney observes. "The great majority seem worse off. In fact, the Eighties generation was the first since slavery that cannot hope for a better future for their children. Social programs are being defunded. It is consumer society at its most monstrous," he says. "Alienation at its most frightening. Blacks have become an expendable class."
Similar feelings are shared by the small community of American leftists whose sense of alienation from conservative, post-Sixties America ties them to the island. At the same time, though, many of them have become increasingly critical of the Marxist state.
Jane McManus, for instance, remains in Cuba by choice with her male companion, a former Oakland Black Panther and a stranded hijacker. In the Fifties, McManus says, she worked as a political journalist. When she came to Cuba in the Sixties, she fell in love and stayed. "It was a romantic, revolutionary country," she says. "People were attracted to Che and Fidel."
Now middle-aged, with short, gray hair, McManus looks more like a suburban housewife than a feminist renegade. In fact, she's given up political writing. "I don't think I can be honest and still live here," she says, explaining that in spite of the recent political relaxation in the Soviet Union, Cuba remains intensely restrictive. "There's a lot at stake, not just personal power, but the goodies," says McManus. "The people at the top live a better life." Currently, McManus is busy organizing Cuba's first international dog show.
Another self-exile, Ron Ridenour, burned his passport in front ot the U.S. Interests Section in Havana the day after the Gulf War began. As Cuban television cameras captured the moment for posterity, Ridenour hollered that U.S. officials could take the charred passport and "shove it." A 51-year-old native of Los Angeles, Ridenour now draws a salary from Cuba's ministry of culture, and he's just published a book, Backfire: The CIA's Biggest Burn, about moles who infiltrated the CIA for Cuba's Department of State Security.