Like many other Cuban-Americans in Miami, Neyda Borges was shocked to hear President Obama’s December announcement that the U.S. would re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba. The 34-year-old teacher, who works at Miami Lakes Educational Center, immediately turned on CNN in her classroom. Down the hall, two teachers with opposing viewpoints on the issue began to argue. As Borges watched the news, she felt what she could only describe as a baffling mix of emotions: shock, happiness, rage, disappointment and hope.
On that historic day, Obama spoke about "normalizing relations" after 53 years. Normalize, Borges thought: To make normal.
As exciting and overdue as the news felt, the writer and wordsmith couldn’t swallow that word. To her and her family, normal was a concept long forgotten.
“The pain and suffering, the sense of loss, everything our family has gone through, that’s emotion and that’s never rational,” she told New Times. “Even if this is the right thing to do, that doesn’t mean that it’s easy, or that we’re happy about it.”
Borges’ parents, like many Miami Cubans, are exiles. Her father was a political prisoner that spent 20 years in a Cuban gulag. When he came to Miami in 1979, he had lost his home and career and was able to travel only with the clothes on his back. Both of her grandfathers were also political prisoners. One of them was executed by firing squad.
“My dad really loved the U.S., and he really identified as American,” she says about her late father. “And yet there’s always a feeling of having lost everything. So I grew up feeling that pain. That loss and that suffering never goes away.”
She grew up through new waves of Cuban immigration. The year she was born, 1981, South Florida was reeling from an influx of Cubans that arrived on the Mariel boatlift. In 1995, she watched as President Clinton enacted the "wet-foot, dry-foot" policy, or the Cuban Refugee Adjustment Act, which allows Cubans who lay their feet on American soil to remain in the country.
While she understands the lifting of the embargo in practical terms and supports a new policy with Cuba, she can’t deny the emotions it stirs for her. In December, after the announcement, she wrote a blog post capturing the sense of conflict she felt.
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“Hopefully, the flow of people and ideas and money into Havana will – eventually – bring about change,” she wrote. "This change will not be the result of American tourists sipping Cuba Libres while on lounge chairs on Varadero Beach. If it comes, it will be as a result of Cubans that no longer believe that the non-existent U.S. ‘blockade’ of the island is the cause of all their woes.”
Last weekend, after the flag was raised over the re-opened Cuban embassy in Washington, D.C., she re-tweeted a link to that December blog. The piece was widely read after Politico’s Florida reporter Mark Caputo included it in his Florida Playbook on Monday.
Even many Cuban hardliners in Miami have accepted that US-Cuba policy had to change, she says. And yet still, that doesn’t make the situation more easy or clear cut. Last week, as every major news channel broadcast live from Washington, Borges turned off the television.
“I know it’s just part of the process, but it has all moved really fast in comparison to the 53 years of no change,” she says. “OK, [the flag] went up and I’ll read about it in the paper. But I don’t need to watch the whole thing happen.”