When, in December 2014, President Obama stated, “Today, the United States of America is changing its relationship with the people of Cuba,” his words ushered a historic change. Not just in terms of diplomacy but – for many Cuban-Americans and Cuban ex-pats living in the US – in terms of identity. For Zuzy Martin Lynch, born in New Jersey to a large Cuban family, the opportunity to travel to Havana stirred new questions about who she is and where she comes from.
“I felt so American my whole life,” she says early in the film. “But then at a certain point I realized I was so Cuban.” The push to learn more about her heritage and to grapple with how changing US policies are affecting others like her is what drove her to produce Craving Cuba.
Talking with family members as well as people like journalist Soledad O’Brien, novelist Cristina García, and actor Carlos Ponce, Martin Lynch has crafted a documentary that straddles the line between the personal and the political. Emerging as a collage of stories of the yearning for a Cuba long lost, for a free Cuba, and for a Cuba still very much alive, the film is ultimately a chronicle of what it means to be a Cuban-American in 2016.
Below, find five anecdotes from the doc that embody the complicated relationship Cubans in the United States have with their homeland.
Craving Cuba screens as part of the Cine+Mas San Francisco Latino Film Festival that runs Sept 16-Oct 1, 2016.
"You’ll Never Know What Communism Is Unless You’ve Lived Through It"
In one of the most powerful moments in the documentary, Zuzy’s father recounts when exactly his family decided to leave the island — the moment when his parents realized that the kids could easily be taken from them. Indoctrination was pretty standard at school. As he tells the camera, in the morning, their teachers would have them pray to God for bizcocho, coca-cola. And every day, they’d keep the children after school and say “There’s no God! There’s no Jesus! But there’s Castro and the revolution,” just before the militia would come in to give them food.
"I Always Try To Put Myself In My Mom’s Shoes"
Bay Area anchor Jessica Aguirre is one of the many people featured in Craving Cuba who piece together the journey their families made from Cuba to the US. Both of Aguirre’s parents came to the country separately — her mother left when she was just fifteen, something Aguirre can’t even fathom, especially since her mother left everything she knew behind. “My mom left Cuba a girl,” she says, “and months later in the United States she had to become a woman.
Miami Is "The American Dream But In Your Language"
That’s exactly how Carlos Ponce puts it when discussing the Floridian city. Born in Puerto Rico to a couple who’d emigrated soon after the Cuban Revolution, Ponce is one of the many children of Cuban ancestry who found a thriving community in Florida. For many people, like stylist Tico Torres, communities such as Hialeah (which was full of factories willing to hire) were a safe haven where the Cuban spirit could be felt.
"No Importa De Donde Viene La Gallina"
One of the things many Cuban-Americans tell Zuzy throughout the doc is how they feel both estranged from and intimately close to Cuba. As actress and director Carmen Peláez puts it, there’s an implicit hierarchy among Cubans: “Oh, you’re one of those Miami Cubans!” Sick of this being used as a way to downplay her own identity, she decided to visit the island and realized that, as soon as she made her relatives laugh, they were quick to give her the stamp of approval. “No importa de donde viene la gallina,” she jokes. She’s Cuban either way.
"For Some, I Think It’s A Statement Not To Go Back"
Martin Lynch’s central question was whether to visit Cuba or not. To many she talked to this is a highly loaded question, one wrapped up in politics and history. As artist Maria Elena González put it: it’s not important for all Cuban-Americans to go back. It’s perhaps unsurprising to find that for many older people, just setting foot on the island while Fidel is still there is unthinkable. Not so for the younger generation that has grown up with an image of their homeland as a far away and inaccessible place they yearn for.