DMT Beauty Transformation: My Family Fled Communism In Cuba, But I’m A Proud Democratic Socialist
featured Khareem Sudlow

My Family Fled Communism In Cuba, But I’m A Proud Democratic Socialist

October 15, 2020BruceDayne

#DMTBeautySpot #beauty

Unlike other Latinx voters, most Cubans identify as Republican; 58% say they affiliate with or lean toward the Republican Party compared to 32% of non-Cuban Latinx voters. About half (52%) say they approve of Trump, compared to 26% of non-Cuban Latinx voters. Many Cubans, particularly older ones who fled the Fidel Castro regime, are staunchly anti-socialist, but there is a new wave of young people embracing the ideology their parents abandoned. Millennial and Gen-Z voters are expected to make up 37% of the 2020 electorate, and both generations have a much more positive view of socialism than older people. We spoke with a Cuban-American member of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) about what it means for her to be a socialist in the U.S.

My name is Victoria and I’m 26 years old. I was born and raised in Miami, and have lived in West Kendall since I was little. I graduated from Florida International University in 2016. My father is Puerto Rican and my mom is Cuban. 

I consider myself a Democratic socialist, but it’s working on Democratic campaigns that actually radicalized me. In 2017 and 2018, I worked on four campaigns back-to-back, both statewide and local, and it opened up my eyes. We were calling people, going door-to-door every single day, and we really didn’t get paid enough. As an organizer, I would make, like, $1,000 every two weeks, and you work around the clock. You come in at 8 o’clock in the morning and get out at 8 at night. You don’t even have time to go to the doctor. It’s so exploitative. It’s kind of like a struggle within a struggle; we’re trying to beat the systems of wage inequality and poverty, but at the same time our jobs are not treating us right. Before that, I had such a hard time finding a job after college. Finally, I moved to Montana to do AmeriCorps for six months; it was the only thing I could find, and it paid $487 every two weeks. So working on campaigns was at least better than that, plus it was something I care about.

Realizing how terrible conditions are for a lot of workers in the U.S. — including on campaigns for candidates who promise to help people — really made me want to do something. That’s how I became involved with the DSA. In the 2020 primary, we canvassed for Bernie Sanders, and it was such a great experience. Student loan forgiveness was a huge reason I supported Bernie. I have $8,000 in student debt right now. On top of that, I have credit card debt to pay off because of all these campaigns I’ve worked on. I got into a car accident during one of them, and had to rent a car to keep my job. They didn’t pay for anything! Honestly, it was so much stress. Bernie wasn’t scared to be honest, and I love that he’s not influenced by big money. He says what he feels is right, from the bottom of his heart, and we need more politicians like him. Medicare for All is another major reason I supported him; just look at what’s happening right now in the pandemic, how we are treating our own people.

My 83-year-old grandmother is a Trump supporter, while several other members of my family, including my mom, are registered Democrats. I’ve had conversations with her about this many times. I tell her, you fled Fidel Castro’s dictatorship, well, Trump, he is a different type of dictator. I mean, look at him sending the National Guard against protestors. But with her, it seems Trump is a lost cause. I think she thinks he’s a good guy a little bit because the media pays attention to him so much. She also worked for a gun company her last 20+ years of work, and she loves guns. We don’t even know how many she has. I guess we’ll discover them all once she’s gone. 

People like my grandmother, you can’t say anything positive about Cuba in front of them. Certain scare tactics — like Trump tweeting about how much he has done for “our great Cuban Population!” and how Joe Biden is relying on “Castro lover” Bernie Sanders to help him out — they seem to be working on some in the Cuban community. I mean, so many people are sharing them on Facebook. My grandmother thinks Trump is a hero for Cubans and she’s very anti-Bernie. She really thinks if a candidate says healthcare should be nationalized, that we’re entering a communist dictatorship. And the positive remarks Bernie has made about Cuba, she really didn’t like that. They were definitely taken out of context by the media and others. I haven’t told my grandmother I’m DSA. 

My family fled Cuba when my grandmother was 16, during Fidel Castro’s revolution. When they left Cuba, they left everything behind, pretty much all of their belongings. At first, they were scammed — a guy offered to take them over to Miami for thousands of dollars, and didn’t go through with it. He took all their money, and they lost so much. When they did come over, my grandmother took night classes for English, really trying to assimilate. She always says it makes her angry when people who have been living here for decades don’t know English, because she had to struggle. But I tell her things are different now. I say, the U.S. doesn’t have an official language. And anyway, we live on stolen land. She gets so tired of it and wants to change the conversation.

When my grandmother talks about Cuba, she talks about how everything was rationed back in the day. You only got x amount of, say, toilet paper. One of her cousins worked in a labor camp harvesting sugar. She had a lot of anxiety, and died younger than a lot of our family. My grandmother speaks very emotionally about that. She says, “I don’t want communism anymore,” because she connects it with all that suffering. Back then, you always had to have mucho ojo — be careful and watch out for others, kind of a Big Brother thing. It came to America with us: Growing up, it was a lot of, “You can’t do this, you can’t do that.” My mom told me she didn’t want me sleeping over at other people’s houses or having people over to visit. It was very hurtful for me to have to tell a friend they can’t come over. There were people who were informers in the totalitarian regime, and that’s where a lot of people’s anxiety in the older generations comes from.

One thing that my grandmother feels very strongly about is worker conditions and wage theft, which is literally the one thing we agree on politically. I just don’t think she’s put it all together, given her support of Trump. One time, I received my paycheck from a campaign maybe a month late and she was so mad. And then, she always asks me, “When are you going to get a new job?” She’s upset that I don’t have a full-time job yet, my job is part-time. It’s a community-oriented job with work-life balance, and it’s literally the first job I’ve had that I enjoyed. But that’s just the reality for a lot of young people these days. It’s really tough out there as it is. I really hope we can win this election, and maybe then I can get my student loans forgiven and go to grad school.

In 2016, I voted for Bernie in the primary and Hillary Clinton in the general election. This election, I voted for Joe Biden — with one eye closed. I filled out a vote-by-mail ballot and then dropped it off at the elections department in Doral. But local elections are what really matters to me. I voted for Daniella Levine Cava for Miami-Dade County Mayor, she is great on COVID recovery and paid sick leave. There’s so much at stake here in Florida for young people, like Amendment 2, which would raise the minimum wage from $8.56 to $15 an hour by 2026. 

I don’t think I would work for a campaign again. But I still volunteer. The other day, my mom came with me for the first time ever. We had face masks and face shields on, everything. Going door-to-door in Miami is no joke, there are mosquitos, hot sun, giant ants, you name it. She always tells me, “You’re crazy going by yourself to do all that canvassing.” After 21 doors, she was like, “Oh my god, how the hell do you do this?” But I’m incredibly passionate about canvassing, about spreading the message that we have to take care of each other in this society — I wouldn’t exchange that for anything. 

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Natalie Gontcharova, Khareem Sudlow

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