The scene in South Florida says it all. The death of a dictator leading to celebrations from those who had to live under him.
“That’s all we’ve ever known,” says Janny Rodriguez. “We never got to see the Cuba before the ’50’s, when Cuba used to be this beautiful place. So growing up in that Communism, you think it’s going to last forever.”
Long before she became a broadcast journalist, Janny Rodriguez was a kid in Castro’s world. A little Cuban girl whose only glimpse of the United States came from gifts sent by relatives who lived here.
“They would send us money and toys and shoes and clothes. We always saw pictures and we always dreamed of being in the United States.”
Rodriguez’s family had a dream of making it to freedom and raising their children in the U.S. But that meant her mom and sister had to escape. Their first attempt came by raft, and failed.
“We were at sea for 5 days, and we were caught by the U.S. Coast Guard and we got sent back to Cuba. I remember when we returned to the island, we were at a military base of some sort. They told my parents, ‘if you guys try to leave the country illegally again , you could be put in prison, you could even be killed’.”
The next attempt–4 short months later and this time 8-year old Janny, her sister and her mom made it. They had a boat, albeit one that barely worked and barely got them away from Castro, and onto American soil.
“I was so afraid for my mom’s life, especially. I remember holding onto another man in the group with us who was on that boat, and asking him-‘I know she’s not your wife, but please hold onto her.”
Rodriguez’s family will never take their freedom for granted. To them, America is a place where even the simple things can bring feelings of guilt.
“My mom struggled a lot when we first came to the U.S., because she felt guilty-that she could go to Publix and have access to all this food, and knew that her family back in Cuba probably would never see anything like that.”
But today that sadness and guilt has given way to joy, as a family and a nation anxiously await the next chapter for Cuba.
“It’s a celebration of a step toward freedom,” she says. “With the symbol of Communism being gone, there’s got to be change. That is the only thing that we know will happen after this.”