Thursday, June 04, 2009

[indyweek] Raleigh's Cuban community: Their stories, their views on Obama's new diplomacy

by Matt Saldaña
June 3, 2009


Over the past 50 years, the Cuban exodus to the U.S has swung elections, inspired academic studies, spurred CIA-led battles and provided both relief and anguish for Fidel Castro and the 10 U.S. presidents whose terms he has outlasted. Now President Barack Obama has begun the diplomatic dance with Cuba (the U.S. and Cuba have no official high-level relations) and rolled back some of George W. Bush's most ineffective stances toward Cuba, primarily related to the migration of Cubans.

More than 5,000 Cuban exiles live in North Carolina, and many of them settled in the Triangle. Alfonso Sama, who's lived in Durham for the past decade, escaped the country on a raft in 1962. Tony Asion was sent here by his parents in the early 1960s, as one of thousands of parentless "Pedro Pan" kids. Beba Rodriguez missed the 1980 Mariel boatlift, arriving in the U.S. two years later by obtaining an exit visa through Panama. Ezequiel Casamayor and Noelmis Sevila, political dissidents, were flown by the U.S. government to Raleigh as refugees in 2008.

They are united by their flight, but are nevertheless a loose confederacy of exiles. While some fled in the weeks after the 1959 Revolution, others stayed and supported Castro's vision, only to sour of it later. Still others were born into communism, and enjoyed the fruits of a Soviet-supported paradise (albeit one with no room for dissent) before succumbing to the poverty that its collapse left behind. The relative few who have earned priority refugee status in recent years tell stories of humiliation, and time spent in jail, for their political activities—some of them encouraged by U.S. efforts like Radio Martí.

"In no singular moment did I decide to leave Cuba," says Ezequiel Casamayor, 65, who arrived in North Carolina last year with his two sons, two granddaughters and daughter-in-law. "I was part of the opposition there, fighting for a change on the island. But every day was harder to survive in Cuba. If you aren't communist, there is no life for you there."

[View the entire article at the Independent Weekly.]