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Tu Vez Blast-From-The-Past Truck: Elian Gonzalez


Marty McFly and Doc Brown had the Delorean to go travel through time; We have the Tu Vez Blast-From-The-Past Truck. Every week, we’ll hop in our time traveling machine, gun it to 88 MPH, and go back in time to bring you the best from the good ol’ days. Will it be a clip from an old telenovela? An old school music video? Stick around and find out!

By Jack Tomas

Being Cuban-American is exhausting. We’re always fighting about Castro, the embargo, travel restrictions, etc. A lot of the younger Cuban-Americans like me, or Cubans that have come over in the last twenty years, support lifting restrictions and the embargo to try a new strategy to improve the lot of our brothers and sisters on the island. The older Cubans, and some young bucks like Marco Rubio, want to stick to the same Cold War era isolationism that hasn’t worked for 50 years. There isn’t much discussion, though. Because for Cuban-Americans this isn’t a matter of politics, it’s fanaticism. Hard line Cuban-Americans are fanatics and will not listen to any arguments or ideas that are contrary to their own opinions. I simply can’t speak about Cuba with many of my relatives in Miami. Nothing has ever caused greater drama than the 2000 international custody battle over a little boy named Elian Gonzalez.

Elian was born in Cardenas, Cuba in 1993 to Juan Miguel Gonzalez and Elisabet Gonzalez. The couple split soon after the boy’s birth and they shared custody. In 1999, Elisabet decided that she wanted to leave Cuba with her boyfriend and that she was going to take Elian with her. So, without the knowledge of his father, she and the boyfriend set out from Cuba on a rickety-ass aluminum boat. This was the height of the balsero problem, when thousands of Cubans would fling themselves into the dangerous shark infested water to try and reach the U.S. Needless to say, the boat sank and Elisabet and the boyfriend drowned. Little Elian and a couple of survivors clung to an inner tube until they were picked up by some fishermen and taken to the coast guard. The government released Elian temporarily into the custody of his great uncle Lazaro and his cousin Marisleyis. We Cubans have a special dispensation under American immigration law that if we set foot on American soil we can apply for asylum and stay. The problem was that Elian was a minor, whose mother had drowned, had been taken without knowledge of his father, and his father wanted him back. So, Elian went to stay with his distant relatives until the courts figured out what to do. That’s when the caca hit the fan.

Elian became the cause celebré of the Cuban-American community. As far as they saw it, Elian’s mother had died bringing him to freedom and he would have a better life in Miami. Elian’s father and the Cuban government began negotiating with the Clinton administration for Elian’s return. People would gather outside of Lazaro’s house and protest the for Elian to stay, while counter rallies were held in Havana, New York, and in Miami as well saying that Elian should go back. For once, the Cuban government and the Americans saw eye-to-eye on an issue and the court ruled that Elian had to go back to Cuba. Elian’s Cuban-American relatives refused to give him over. So, Attorney General Janet Reno sent in a SWAT team to take the kid by force and we get the famous picture of the guy with the machine gun pulling Elian out of the closet. Elian was soon reunited with his father in Cuba.

Elian is 18 now, a tall handsome young man. He and Juan Miguel live pretty well and get trotted out ever so often as trophies in the 50 year pissing war between the U.S. and Cuba. Both the Castro government and the Cuban-American community in Miami acted despicably during the whole affair. This terrified orphan 5 year old was just a pawn in a very old political game. They cared a lot less about Elian than they did about winning. The other thing that made it so painful for a lot of Cuban-Americans is that we aren’t used to having loved ones deported. Through the Elian affair, we caught a glimpse of an ordeal that many of our Latino brothers and sisters know all too well. Though I agree that he belonged with his dad, I do have sympathies for his American relatives. I have no doubt that Elian’s Miami relatives grew to love him and I also believe that they suffer to this day from his absence. So, maybe we Cubans should remember the pain of that family when their loved one was deported when dealing with the immigration issue in the upcoming election.

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