Cuba: It’s Complicated

How different would I be if I were born in a Cuba that was free?

I grew up in Elizabeth, New Jersey, surrounded by displaced Cubans who always spoke of their pre-Castro Cuba with a high degree of reverence, respect, and regard.  Not surprisingly, that pro-Cuba narrative held when my family moved to Miami during my teens.  I believe that if it were not for Fidel Castro’s Revolution, my family would have remained in Cuba.

My entire life, there have been encounters that prompted that question: Who would I be if I were born and raised in Cuba?  Would I still be me?  At the core, would I still have the same beliefs?  Yeah, my Spanish would be better – and I suppose my English would be worse – but what else would be different?

On the one hand, I could conclude that everything would’ve been different.  After all, many of the people, places, and experiences that shaped my values and beliefs, they would have all been different.  Would those differences have produced a better or worse version of the me I am today?

On the other hand, I can rationalize that with the exception of the culture-influenced preferences, such as food, music, language, etc., fundamentally, I’d be the same.  Ultimately, I’d have the same family members who would have instilled the same set of rules and dispensed their same set of values, no matter our geographic location, right?

In the end, I’m happy being me… I mean, when all is said and done, I’m the only me I know.  Yet still, when I run into a Cuban who was born and raised in Cuba, and is of similar demographic profile (age, gender, etc.) but talks, walks and thinks a little differently, I can’t help but to wonder, “Could that have been me?”



  1. Alberto, thanks for the blog. I have wondered the same thing.
    One of the biggest tragedies that have spawned from the revolution is the loss of brain power for Cuba. Many bright business and civic leaders, doctors, lawyers had no choice but to leave Cuba and take their talents to “South Beach”. This was to America’s benefit. I wonder how long it would take for Cuba to recover.

    As for the question posed in the blog; I do think if Castro would have never happened and we were born in Cuba life would be extremely different (at least for our generation and future ones). Living in Miami we have benefited from the beauty of living our culture up close; music, food (CAJA CHINA), baseball… However, we have the added benefit of living in the greatest country ever created. The United States is a place of opportunity where its most humble citizens can become Doctors, Lawyers, own business or even become President.

    I too have heard wonderful stories of what Cuba was. It pains me to think that none of my grandparents or father would never get to see their birth place again. Then again I am proud that they took a risk, came to the US with no money to make sure that their children will live a better life. Isn’t that what America and life is all about?

    Reading the blog I was reminded of the following You Tube.

    (copy and paste – it’s worth it!)

  2. Good questions! However, I think you may underestimate the power of behavioral, political, societal and cultural circumstances, that shape not only our thinking, but how we define ourselves as a whole. How many times have we all heard the phrase, “In Cuba, things were different..,.” because they are indeed. The truth is that we would probably be very different if we were in Cuba or even in Kansas for that matter. How many times have you been on a trip elsewhere and thought to yourself, “I miss home.” In the end, it’s all relative but still relevant to those of us with feet in simultaneous and different cultures. Cheers!

    1. Hi Michelle,

      Thanks for chiming in. I agree, it’s mulitfaceted and relative. I look at culture as a living cell that takes on the form required to live and thrive in its present environment. Consciously or not, we dial up or down the various parts of our complex personalities in order to navigate cultures. And as for your Kansas comment, I hear you. There’s no place like home (which is where the heart it).

      Please continue to visit and contribute to Born Bicultural USA.


      Alberto Padron

  3. We inherit our parents emotions; we inherit their longing. We would be very different. My dad would not have taught me to read and write in spanish, so that I could read and respond to my grndmother’s monthly letters. I might not have seen the tears streaming down my dad’s face as he clutched a letter from home, both scaring me and revealing profound hurt I hadn’t known existed . I might not have grow up to be the rebellious, revolutionary that I am today, never afraid to speak my mind or ‘discuss’ politics. I would have known my granmda and uncles, aunts and cousins and asorbed the mores of my island nation. There are so many pieces of me that would need to be replaced; there is no doubt I’d be otra Cubana.

  4. Hi Alberto – great blog. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts. now for me to comment on this older article a year later: I think it’s interesting to note that the whole country can say same thing about itself. What would America be if the Granma went down with all hands in the Gulf of Mexico? What would it be like if British policies hadn’t brought on the Great Irish Famine or if West African states didn’t sell their captured enemies into the North Atlantic slave trade? Pretty sure our accent would be different. Would we still be the same people though?

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