By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
This stubborn alchemy of nostalgia and grievance energizes many Cuban exiles.
"If people could understand what has happened these 47 years, they would understand why [Vamos a Cuba]is so offensive to the Cuban community," said Julio Cabarga. "We've been trying to explain for a long time our pain, our hurt."
In addition to serving as president of the Junta, Cabarga is a marine paint salesman. With his impeccably combed jet-black hair, heavy eyelids, and a voice scarred by Marlboro Reds, Cabarga comes across as a bit larger than life, a blend of Ronald Reagan and Jack Palance.
In 1962 a fourteen-year-old Cabarga left Cuba during Operation Pedro Pan the two-year air evacuation of thousands of children, unaccompanied by their parents under special visa waivers. Now 58, Cabarga still has trouble talking about the experience without pausing to regain his composure.
During his first four years in the U.S., Cabarga lived with an adoptive family in Prosser, Washington, a small farm town. He spent much of the first year feeling lost, he said, without the words to express himself, without his parents, without anything familiar. He recalled being bored in class one day and opening a textbook to a map of North America. For the first time since leaving Cuba, Cabarga thought about the home where he had grown up, the little town where his grandfather had been mayor. He realized just how far away it all was. "It kind of was devastating," he said.
Nearly five decades after he left Cuba, Cabarga compared Vamos a Cuba to a "loaded gun" and said any such text should at least mention Cuba's "good and bad governments." When asked whether children five to seven years old would understand such references, Cabarga took a moment to reflect. "I'm not a child psychologist, and I don't get into that," he said.