Q.Was it one defining moment or was it an amalgamation of a series of events and experiences?
I guess it is a series of events that have shaped where I am today. This is something I could, honestly say, that it was never part of a plan or an overall plan or long-term plan. Sometimes things just happen for a reason. I think the moment that really defined my relationship with Cuba today was the moment when I did the movie Los Zafiros - movie that I produced and owned based on my father’s story. I produced that film and presented it in Cuba at The Havana International film Festival. I felt a little guilty because I presented the film in Cuba before I presented it in the community I lived in, the community where my daughters were born; Miami. Until the time of the movie, believe it or not, I was totally unaware that they were different political organizations in Miami that were trying to overthrow the Castro regime and more importantly, I was not aware that there was so much resentment in this community towards the Cuban government or anything that had anything to do with Cuba. So I was extremely naive and I decided to present the movie in Miami and rented Miami's most prestigious venue to present the film. I gave several interviews to the local media -Miami Herald- local television stations etc. I organized a trip of the cast of the film to come to Miami. It was the first time such an event had been organized. Two contradictory things happened at the same time: First, there was a tremendous amount of interest in the Cuban culture because all 1500 tickets sold out in 24 hours and the second surprising thing was that 5000 people gathered outside the venue to protest!
So there was interest and buzz…
Yes. The interest was that we were sold out but I was not expecting a large gathering of people outside protesting and quite aggressively towards me and my intention to present the film, the cast and the people who had purchased tickets. At the time I lived on the other side of Miami -Miami Lakes. I did not watch local television and I had no idea that there was so much resentment and that there were political organizations that were engaged in all kinds of activities to overthrow the Castro regime and opposed anyone in the city that had a different view from theirs. No one before has asked me or thinking about a specific moment I that shaped my destiny ..I picked this moment . That is the day that I decided that I was going to focus 100% on promoting Cuban music and Cuban culture in this community - not because 1500 people purchased the tickets to go see the film but rather because my mother a few years earlier had made a decision - made the ultimate decision : to cross the Florida Straits to bring me and my sister to the United States to give us better life ; because she thought we had no future in Cuba. In Cuba, I was reprimanded and thrown out of school for making a joke about Fidel Castro and here I was in the land of the free, the home of the brave, the ultimate venue for democracy and there were a ton of people trying to prevent me from doing something that did not hurt them at all and that had nothing to do with the Castro Brothers. I was just promoting Cuban music, Cuban culture. I promised myself that I was not going to allow anyone ever again to stop me from doing whatever I needed to do to fulfill my dreams. For me there was no other place to go. I lived here. I was not going to move to London or tell my mother I cannot leave here anymore because 5,000 people were calling me all kind of names. So that particular moment was an extremely important moment in my life in determining what I was to do with my life. It also filled me with a tremendous amount of determination. Since then there have been many other moments that have contributed and added to that determination and persistence. The fact that I I thought that I was doing the right thing has enabled me to maintain the focus for the last 25 years
In the process, without noticing and without wanting to be, I became a political activist for the cause of and in favor of normalization of relations between my adopted country and my native country. From that moment, my life changed. A lot of people singled me out for criticism for different reasons. I had to go out there and explain the reasons why I thought what I was doing was the right thing to do and in the process I became a political activist. I became an extremely controversial person in my community.
I evaded who is who in this community for many years - some of the people I evaded throughout the years - my political adversaries – are now on the same side as I am. They have gone to Cuba. They have acknowledged that they were wrong ... maybe they were not wrong, but their approach was wrong. Now they have re encountered themselves with their country of origin, their culture, their music, their family and they love going to Cuba. So it was a lot easier to do after Dec, 17, 2014. It was very difficult to do all this prior to that.