Thank you. (an open letter to ESPN's Molly Qerim, Stephen A. Smith and Max Kellerman)

Thank you. (an open letter to ESPN's Molly Qerim, Stephen A. Smith and Max Kellerman)

Dear Molly, Stephen A., and Max,

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

I don’t know how else to say it. Thank you.

I’m 29 years old. I was born in Miami. I didn't live — and I certainly wasn't in Cuba for — most of the horror that was and still is the Castro brothers' reign. But, in much the same way I’m sure you’ve all heard Dan LeBatard, Armando Salguero and other Cuban-Americans describe, I inherited all that pain from my parents and grandparents.

I imagine that, in some way or another, each of you can relate to this. For my entire life (and I know that Cubans older than me felt this even more intensely before my time), it has felt like stepping outside of Miami — physically or virtually, through my TV or my computer — has put me alone on an island on this Cuba thing.

When I went off to school at Mizzou, I was told in so many words by some African American students that they were certain I must be a racist because my family fled Cuba rather than staying after Castro's coup. I was lectured by Castro sympathizers about Cuban healthcare and literacy rates (a statistic in which, by the way, Cuba’s ranking in the Americas remains unchanged since before ‘59, because it was always a relatively literate country).

Turning on a TV when Cuba is being discussed has always tended to have the same effect. There’s always a demand that Castro and the system he created be treated with nuance and a heaping dose of yes-but-ism. I love exposing myself to diverse views. But when these are the arguments you are flooded with … when you only hear people acknowledge what you know is true when those people share your heritage … the message becomes clear: All of you Cuban exiles are out of your damn minds.

Fortunately, I didn’t just inherit my family’s pain; I inherited their cause and their struggle. And so I never doubted my sanity or my grandparents’. I’ve been to Cuba four times. The first time I went, I knew I had to make a choice. I was either going there to get to know my roots, or I was going there to continue the fight that my grandfather and others in my family were forced out of. But I couldn’t do both. I couldn’t risk being followed by state security for meeting with an independent journalist or a pro-democracy activist and leading those government thugs to distant cousins who never asked to meet me, much less be associated with a subversive son of counterrevolutionary gusano exiles.

I chose the cause. I went to Cuba four times between 2008 and 2009 — if you count trip number four, when they turned me away at the airport in Havana and told me I was never allowed in the country again. I was born in the United States, but I joined my relatives as a bona fide exile that day.

For the sake of context: I’m not black. With the exception of a Chinese great grandfather who migrated to Cuba, my family tree is all whites descended from Spaniards. But you know what comes to my mind every time I see or hear about Kaepernick’s Fidel shirt? Every time I think about all the people who associate Fidel with social justice for black people? I think of Jorge Luís García Pérez “Antúnez.” This guy is as black as a person can be, and when I met him in Havana on my first trip to Cuba, he was fresh off of a 17-year prison sentence for his peaceful activism against the Castro regime. Among other things, one of the objectives on that trip was to meet him and deliver to him medicines that he needed to treat respiratory problems he picked up while he was losing his whole youth in a prison cell (his term started when he was in his early 20s).

During my conversation with him, while I was doing my best to keep my sense of awe in check as I grappled with the idea that I was sitting there, in hiding, with the man many call Cuba’s Mandela, he told me about the dogs that prison guards would sic on him. He raised the bottom of his shirt up to his armpits and showed me the scars. Then he lowered his waistband. And raised up his pant leg a bit.

They’re all over his body.

And then he said the thing that would be burned into my memory forever. He told me what the guards would say when they were inflicting those wounds.

"Esto es lo que te pasa por no ser más agradecido con Fidel por lo que ha hecho para negros como tú." This is what you get for not being more grateful to Fidel for what he’s done for blacks like you.

And here I was, delivering meds to him between semesters, knowing that I was going back up to Mizzou, where other students were ready to tell me what a racist I was for questioning Fidelismo.

Fast forward to this morning, when I saw the three of you discussing this Kaepernick-Miami-Cuba-Castro thing on ESPN First Take. I was watching you three while making Cuban coffee for my girlfriend like I do every morning, and this conversation started.

 
 

I don’t cry about much, but when I do, it’s usually Cuba-related. No idea why. That's just what it is. I was fighting tears while Max was acknowledging that no government program is worth talking about in the face of so much government evil. I was feeling my face tense up when Stephen A. acknowledged that my and my family’s perspective matters … not because our feelings should be validated, but because we lived it and we know this monster up close. And I had to take a big, deep breath when Molly pointed out that you don’t have to be Cuban to have experience with and connect to what our families lived. In the end, I couldn’t stop them; I have a couple of tears moving down my cheeks as I write this note.

I had a similar reaction, for instance, when I saw YouTuber Casey Neistat drop some truths on his millions of YouTube subscribers following a visit to Cuba. 

 
 

The hairy-chested, cigar chomping, pig roasting Cuban in me is embarrassed to admit this in writing.

But the Cuban freedom fighter in me, the part of me that owes something to my grandparents and my parents and Antúnez and all the other people I know who have risked very literally everything for this… that part of me says I have to let you know what that segment meant. This cause needs friends, and in that one segment, the three of you together showed Cubans — in Cuba and in exile — more friendship than most of them ever get to see from outsiders in a lifetime of television.

To all of you, the exchange might have been part of just another day at the office. But my tears are tears of profound gratitude.

So… thank you. Not that I think you’d take me up on it, but should you ever find yourselves in Miami, please know that this one viewer is ready to offer each of you a croqueta, Cuban coffee, and a cigar.

In liberty,

Nicolás A. Jiménez
nicolasAjimenez@gmail.com
DADE editor

Nicolás Antonio Jiménez is the founder of DADE. When he's not working on this site, he's the senior editor of Cigar Snob Magazine, an internationally distributed lifestyle magazine.
Nick is also a Miami native, Cuban-American, and graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism.