As I sit here at my neighborhood pool, listening to my sons playing in the water, my eyelids grow a bit heavy with the repetitive sounds of their voices mixed in with the splashes of the water and a healthy dose of sun pouring on my freckly skin. I am truly relaxed and dreaming for a nano-second. By the looks of me, you would think my heritage would characterize me all Scottish, but French is a strong second — my name clearly indicates that to those who are familiar with its origin. And speaking of lineage, it is hard not to reflect on my two sons and the other half of their bloodline, rich in Cuban heritage. They dream to learn more about their grandfather Mariano [Mari] Guas, the Cuban-born father of my husband David, who is his spitting image. The recent rising of the American flag in Cuba has come, and it wont be long before all of us can step foot on Cuban soil as a family without fear of undermining the Cuban government.
It has been years of patience and question for Mari, whose life at an early age in the 1950’s was burdened by the obstacles and uncertainty that only a native could understand. Mari was only 12 when he left the island to board a plane to his mother’s state of Louisiana — the cultures and customs seeming so foreign to him. He settled into a private boarding school for boys, and it was difficult for him to socialize as English was not his native tongue. It was important for him not to utter the words of why he was there! Their family was heavily entrenched in Cuban political and social society. His great uncle, Raphael Guas Inclán, who formerly held position as President Batista’s Vice President, was about to become mayor of Havana just days before the revolution.
My husband and his father had always fantasized of owning a pre-revolution house, one like Mari’s own before he had to leave – not knowing then how long it would be until he returned. The smell of bougainvillea blossoms and the constant beat from the Afro-Cuban men and women rumbling from the opened air bars along the cratered streets still resonate in his mind. As I write, it will become more transparent of how strong my desire builds to explore a place that marries so much of Louisiana and David’s father’s rightful past.
There has never been a shortage of facts and stories from Mari. And as I was able to discover my family’s history in Scotland and France, I have the same wish for David to learn firsthand about his father’s native land. They both were lucky to go in 2012 for 4 days with Food & Wine magazine — but that was just skimming the surface. I understand Mari’s honest yearning to return because of his undeniable closeness to his country. But what is the reason for others? Is it that Cuba is the forbidden fruit? Is the trade-off building a corporate enterprise?
The immediate American influx could potentially ruin what has already been worn in the city over these past 50 years from hurricanes and no money. I understand the appeal for those to experience the culture, but for most would it be a gawk and stare? People are enamored that Cuba is frozen in a moment of time, and it is my hope that the change will not equal the years of loss. For now, the most vivid sign of a new era is with Secretary of State John Kerry making the monumental mark of America having a visual presence in Cuba.
So I lay here basking in the Virginia sun, transporting myself to the welcomed heat of Cuba that may grace my face while my husband and our family walk the streets, sidewalks and dirt roads that once had been frequented by the young and spunky Mari Guas and his brother. I have a sense that Mari has waited his whole life for this to occur.
Click the “Havana Homecoming” image below to read more about David and Mari Guas’ trip to Cuba with Food & Wine magazine.