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Return to Cuba: Carrying Heavy Baggage


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Maria Morera Johnson - published on 09/15/15

50 years later, the author returns on the occasion of Pope Francis' visit

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First in a four-part series.

In just moments I’ll be boarding a chartered flight that will return me, for the first time, to the land of my birth.

Almost 50 years to the day that I left Cuba.

I hold in one hand my American passport, the symbol of my citizenship, chosen and guarded ever since I pledged allegiance to the United States thirty-something years ago in a dingy judge’s chambers. In the other hand I hold a Visa. It says my citizenship is Cuban – I renounced that citizenship when I became American.

But Cuba has not renounced me.

She is a good mother, even as she is held hostage by a regime that has no interest in her well-being, or her children’s.

These bittersweet musings float up and around every once in a while if I try to think too much about the political landscape and what it all means. It’s there, and it’s very real, but I don’t want it to be the focus of my trip. I’m sure I’ll feel differently as I encounter the harsh reality of what the reality of life has become, in a land that was once a rich and vibrant first-world country, and is now decimated and impoverished in ways I don’t know or understand.

I want to understand. In spite of words announcing or renouncing, I know the truth of my birth and what that identity entails. I haven’t boarded the plane yet, and already I’m wondering how I’m going to unpack all the emotions I am carrying.

I am going to be with family, reconnecting with some and meeting others for the first time. If God wants it, I will see the pope, and be able to celebrate his visit with my people: Peter walking among the poor and the marginalized, making the love of Christ felt in real-time.

It all makes me a little nervous. I’m unsure of my ability to speak clearly and communicate effectively with these people whom I have long-desired to meet – people I have dreamed of engaging; have loved while longing to do so in a fuller way. Time and politics and distance have made us strangers, but through the years a fire of familial love has been stoked on both sides of the Florida Straits, so the embers are there, and still hot. The older generations have insisted upon this as an act of faith.

And of hope.

And of charity.

I clasp the medal of Our Lady of Charity that I wear close to my heart, and take a deep breath as I embrace this pilgrimage, which I look forward to sharing with you from the perspective of an exile returned, full of anxious gratitude, and not a little wonder. Stay tuned.

Maria Morera Johnson (@bego) teaches at Georgia Piedmont Technical College. Her book,My Badass Book of Saints: Courageous Women Who Showed Me How to Livewill be released in November. Find her bloghere, and follow her on Facebook.

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