I recall being hunched over a textbook as I struggled to catch the inflections of the speaker’s voice coming through my earphones in French lab. The language lab was isolating: many students listening to many languages, each at their own pace, and in complete silence. So it was especially jarring for the lab assistant to break in and disturb our study. He announced that President Kennedy had imposed a blockade of Cuba after the discovery of Russian missiles on the island, just 90 miles from our shores. The nuclear trigger could be pulled at any moment. Nearly every student removed their headphones, turned off the language tapes, and quietly filed out of the room.
It’s been decades, but I still recall that sense of dread and uncertainty that accompanied the announcement that we were on the brink of nuclear war. The world watched as the two great superpowers tried to stare each other down. The Russians finally blinked, but the Cuban blockade became a fact of life. When the death of Fidel Castro was announced last weekend, memories about that crucial time flooded back.
As a youngster growing up in the Pacific Northwest, I was intrigued by the mystique of faraway Cuba, its rhythms and culture, its famous cigars, and its reputation as a playground of the rich and famous, at least in the movies. When Fulgencio Batista was overthrown on New Years’ Day in 1959, it seemed to be a good thing – he was a dictator, right? Getting rid of an oppressive strongman would give the Cuban people freedom and self-determination, right? Fidel Castro’s revolution would be welcomed, right?
Wrong! Cuba’s romantic reputation as an island paradise might as well have been a movie set. Away from the picturesque beaches and fanciful coastline fortifications, many Cubans were impoverished and struggling, and the hope promised by the revolution never was realized. For those who could afford it, emigrating to the United States was the only way to save lives and families. Some moved to Fairfax County, and are celebrating the demise of Fidel Castro as gleefully as those in Miami’s Little Havana. They had waited a lifetime, and hope now that they can visit the island of their birth and see old friends and family. It will be a tall order for American diplomacy, regardless of who will be Secretary of State.
Each year, Leaders in Energy, an educational, professional, and advisory services organization that focuses on energy, environment, and sustainability, presents Four Generations of Clean Energy and Sustainable Solutions Awards to recognize leaders who have inspired others, inspired movements, and inspired innovation and change. This year, I am honored to have been selected as one of the awardees, joining Albert Nunez of the Capital Sun Group, Dave McCarthy of Potential Energy DC, and Nofar Hamrany, an NYU student. The awards will be presented this Friday, December 2, from 6 to 9 p.m., at Crystal City Gateway, 1300 Crystal Drive in Arlington. The public is invited to attend the ceremony and holiday event. More information is available at www.lercpa.org.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at [email protected]