Love, Loss Longing: The Impact of US Travel Policy on Cuban-American Families

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Luisa, 50
Takoma Park, MD
Director of Multicultural Youth Center
Born in Cienfuegos

”Since leaving Cuba when I was six, I can count on two hands the number of days I have seen my two aunts who stayed behind, yet, through my mother I feel a strong bond with them. Mother and her sisters have been the most important influences on how I live my life.

My mother is 85 and lives in North Carolina. Two years ago, her oldest sister died. Her other sister, Yara, still lives in Cienfuegos, alert but fragile at 92. Recently the nephews who looked after Yara died unexpectedly, leaving her in the care of a great niece. Mother worries. She wants to check on her sister to see that she’s being cared for and to touch her once more, but she is physically unable to make the trip.

I want to go to Cuba for them; to visit my aunt as mother would if she could, to carry messages of support and love. But under the new restrictions only my mother has the right to travel.

One trip cannot answer all questions or alleviate the pain of years of separation. But one trip gives consolation. It allows one to see the true reality rather than living with the imagined one. And most of all, it reinforces the familial relationships that form us from generation to generation.

Mother finds comfort through prayer and continues — as she has for 45 years — to write her sister a letter each week. Yet, I know there is lost sleep, nights when she wonders; ‘Did Yara have dinner tonight? Did they give her medicine? Is she cold?’”

Take Action! Participate in a very important LAWG Education Fund and Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) project. We are looking for Cuba policy activists nationwide who may be interested in hosting a moving photo exhibit of Cuban Americans affected by the travel ban. Nestor Hernández, Jr. (who tragically passed away the day after the exhibit opened on Capitol Hill), a Cuban-American professional photographer living in the DC area, and Juan-Sí González, a Cuban-American artist living in Yellow Springs, Ohio, have photographed 20 Cuban-American families who have been unable to travel to Cuba under the new regulations governing family travel. Social scientists, Drs. Jeanne Lemkau and David Strug, who are studying the effects of U.S. policy on Cuban-American families, have interviewed the photo subjects and condensed their stories into short personal testimonials.

The travel ban allows Cuban Americans to travel to Cuba just once every three years to visit only immediate family (no uncles/aunts, nieces/nephews, cousins). There are no exceptions for family emergencies. This means that many, like Luisa, are unable to care for their relatives, or regularly visit the family members to whom they are closest. The purpose of the photo exhibit is to bring the reality of this separation of Cuban-American families to the attention of Congress and of the U.S. public.

The photos were unveiled on Capitol Hill on May 11th, just prior to Mother's Day, where members of Congress, and Cuban-American family members spoke on the travel ban’s cruel effects. On May 16th, the exhibit opened at the Arlington Arts Center (AAC) in Arlington, VA. The photos are now on national tour throughout the United States. Click here to see our schedule for a venue near you.

Take Action!
We continue to search for local groups to host the exhibit in their home area. We request a $500 donation (to help us cover shipping fees) to bring the photo exhibit to your city; and your organization will be responsible for securing a venue (and covering any deposits or costs for the location), doing publicity to the public and the media, and hosting a reception for viewers and press.