The 19th Pastors for Peace Cuba Caravan returned this month, prompting a few stories from my caravanista experience. This entry begins a series of four stories I've promised to share with a couple of my friends. Anyone can be my friend and read these stories.
My husband took a notion to go to Cuba with the Pastors for Peace delegation in 1998.
"Why not?" I agreed. Cuba would be my summer vacation project during my break as an elementary school educator. So I applied for the delegation and began reading everything I could to prep myself for the trip. Since Cuba doesn't get a lot of positive MSM coverage; I learned a lot I didn't know. Cuba disappeared behind a blanket of U.S. silence in the early 1960's.
The delegation flaunted U.S. law and the U.S. embargo. It didn't apply for a license for the tons of vehicles and humanitarian aid it collected for Cuban delivery; none of us applied for permission to visit Cuba. In the tradition of civil disobedience, the caravan blatantly--to this day--refuses to cooperate with an unjust U.S. system, and it refuses very publically, defiantly.
I published an article in a NE Iowa newspaper. In our small city it was easy enough to get myself a slot on the nightly local newscast, newspaper coverage, a slot on radio news. "Anything to get the word out," I thought. Most everyone I talked to knew very little about the U.S. embargo, including it's annual denunciation from the U.N. and its condemnation from the Vatican.
As you might imagine, we were welcomed as heroes in Cuba, not so much for the millions of dollars of aid we collected and brought them as for the symbol of hope and solidarity we were to them. There were stories about us every day in the national newspaper Gramma. One day, the Pastors' Midwest coordinator asked me to participate in a Cuban press conference. While honored, I was also puzzled. The press was taping video interviews. The other caravanistas were bilingual. I had studied only a couple weeks of Spanish the year before, so I was virtually tongue-tied, but I really wanted to use the chance to speak.
When it was my turn to appear before the camera, I indicated to the reporter that I wouldn't be taking questions, but I would read my statement which I had prepared with our interpreter's help. It was:
"As a citizen of the United States I would like to ask the forgiveness of the Cuban people for the suffering that my govenment is causing you. I represent many people from the center of the country--which is its heart--and they send you their love and support. Thank you for your hospitality and your friendship."
My sincerity shone through my stumbling, gringa Spanish. From the group of us, mine was the statement that they chose to televise. My stepson heard it broadcast on the radio in Havana. I was quoted by name in Gramma. A Cuban woman a month later mailed me a clipping from her city's local newspaper: it was a scan of my written statement. The reporters, who asked me to sign and date it, published it without a caption. That little piece of me had remained in Cuba and appeared even after my departure at the end of our ten day visit.
It was a highlight of my life. When it's time for me to leave this world, that simple statement may be perhaps the most satisfying thing I've ever said.
photo caption: Cuban press greets us Pastors for Peace Cuba caravanistas as we debark from the plane in Havana