Excerpt from Prologue
Fidel Castro came to New York City in the summer of 1960, fresh from his guerrilla triumph. I was a young writer and soon-to-be single mother, enormously pregnant with Gregory—my son who, forty-six years later, would suggest we write about Cuba together—but I longed to see the hero up close, applaud his stance, express my personal appreciation. Carefully, lovingly, I prepared a platter of Spanish paella; not such a tropical staple perhaps, but my signature dish at the time.
I bought choice drumsticks and wings at Mrs. Schiffer’s Second Avenue butcher shop, picked over giant langoustine shrimp in the market three blocks uptown, and must have found the peas, black olives, bell peppers and imported saffron in that market as well. I told the food merchants I was cooking for Fidel and all showed their enthusiasm in one way or another. One threw in an extra half pound of sausage, another handed me one gorgeous sweet red pepper. I sang as I cooked. The pungent mix of scents invaded the grim stairwell and shabby hallways of my Lower East Side walk-up. When the paella’s colors shone robust and each ingredient had reached its moment of perfection, I covered my platter with aluminum foil and carried it onto an uptown subway train.
Fidel and his retinue had left the Waldorf Astoria unexpectedly. Some said the hotel administration accused them of keeping live chickens in their rooms. Others insisted it had been the Cubans’ decision to leave. Whatever the case, halfway through the visit, Fidel and his party moved up to Harlem’s more friendly and welcoming Hotel Theresa. Above ground, at 125th Street, I was immediately met by a cordon of New York’s Finest; no amount of pleading convinced the police officers to let me through. Nor were they willing to take my aromatic gift and see that it got to its intended recipient. My body still remembers its disappointment as I headed back downtown with the platter untouched, its metallic covering soiled and torn, its contents beginning to sour.
Many of those who lived the story of that time and place are dying now. Even in Cuba itself, new generations replace those first men and women who dreamed the dream, took the risks, threw out a dictator and began to create a different society, one rooted in justice and equality. Yes, there was a time, in the 1960s and 1970s, when some in my generation believed we could change the world. Many movements waged struggles of varying intensity, achieved degrees of success or longevity. Utopias seemed possible. And the Cuban revolution was the palpable example of a small country leading the way in demonstrating that more equitable relations of production—more equitable human relations—were not simply a worthy goal. With determination and sacrifice, the dream was possible.
Where is Cuba on our map, today, here in the United States in this first decade of the twenty-first century? . . .