Cuban Americans in Milwaukee stand in solidarity with Cuban protesters

Marta Bianchini knows that Cuban cuisine is more than chicken mojo and empanadas.

The flavors his restaurant – Cubanitas – brings to Milwaukee are rooted in the hard work and entrepreneurial spirit of its people.

Like other Cuban Americans in the United States, Bianchini watches with concern as the people of Cuba, led by Communists, demonstrate in the streets for the first time in decades.

The protests on the island come after years of economic distress that have left many people without basic needs, such as food, water and electricity – all of which have been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

Wisconsin is home to approximately 1,000 people of Cuban descent. On Sunday afternoon, several dozen people gathered in Mitchell Park for a rally in solidarity with those demonstrating in the streets of the island 1,600 miles from Wisconsin.

“Patria Y Vida” played on a loop as people waved their Cuban flags. The song, which was released in February by Gente De Zona and other Cuban artists, has served as an anthem for Cubans and their families in the United States.

People sang and danced as they recognized that the rally was not a celebration, but a way to show their support for those struggling for freedom.

Bianchini was born in Cuba and arrived in the United States in 1971 when she was 6 months old and her family requested political asylum.

“They were afraid for their lives and we are forever lucky and lucky to have been able to go out and make a life for us here,” said Bianchini.

Now Bianchini and his family watch the protests and unrest with anxiety. More than 60 of his relatives remain in Cuba.

“We have been hearing about the suffering and what they are going through and what they have been going through not only now, but for 60 years,” Bianchini said.

Marta Bianchini poses for a portrait at Cubanitas on Wednesday, July 14, 2021. Bianchini was born in Cuba and now runs the restaurant located in downtown Milwaukee.

Bianchini’s relatives in Cuba, even those with dual citizenship, cannot travel and have little or no access to basic necessities, such as soap. She has had no communication with her family since the protests began.

Although getting hold of the essentials has long been a challenge for those close to them, not being able to move from one province to another is a new challenge that is gripping the nation.

“My cousin hasn’t been able to visit my elderly aunt for months,” she said.

“People are tired”

On July 11, Yaneisi Gomez, a resident of Milwaukee, received a call from her mother in Guanabo, Cuba. His mother told him about the thousands of Cubans who took to the streets.

“Not all Cubans who watch outside Cuba have slept since,” Gomez said in Spanish.

The unrest was seen on social media, to which Cubans on the island had limited access until they were blocked by Cuban authorities.

Gomez’s mother communicated with her via WhatsApp, although the signal was spotty. She exchanged messages with her parents, sisters and cousins ​​who are all still in different parts of the island and expressed their fears and frustrations.

Gomez, 38, fled Cuba for Mexico at the age of 18. She moved to Miami in 2015 and came to Milwaukee to work a year later.

“The situation in Cuba has always been bad,” Gomez said. “What is happening now is that the situation is worse in every way: food, medicine, hygiene. People are dying from COVID on hospital floors. People have no food.”

Gomez’s family has been kept safe, but they still fear for their safety as they have already expressed their displeasure with the government via social media – including a cousin who was fined by the government after s ” be on social networks to express his frustration with the management of governments. of the pandemic.

“The Cuban people are tired,” she said.

For many Cubans outside the island, the protests came as a surprise.

“We haven’t seen these kinds of protests in Cuba, in part because the system doesn’t grant legitimacy to this kind of civic protest,” said Patrick Iber, associate professor of history at the University of Wisconsin. -Madison.

“The Cuban government often views and accuses those involved in these protests as being interests of foreign powers, and this is the kind of accusation the current president has used against protesters.”

After:“We’re fed up”: Thousands of demonstrators across Cuba protest shortages and rising prices

The difference now, said Iber, is the number of people demonstrating in towns on the island, making it difficult for the Cuban government to point to foreign powers as sources of discontent.

The United States experienced waves of exodus from Cuba following the communist revolution led by Fidel Castro in the 1950s. The first waves of Cuban migration were mainly professionals who found themselves at a disadvantage under the new Cuban government afterwards. have lost property, said Iber.

In the early 1990s, after the fall of the Soviet Union, Cuba experienced another major exodus, this time of poor Cubans and the working class, which changed the nature of Cuban communities in the United States.

“From everything we see, the current situation of the combination of COVID, the economic reforms taking place in Cuba (…) is leading to a period that is at least as difficult as this period of the 1990s,” Iber mentioned.

Raul Galvan, Milwaukee resident and television producer, was born in Cuba and arrived in the United States at the age of 10 as part of what became Operation Peter Pan, an exodus to the United States. over 14,000 unaccompanied minors aged 6 to 18. The exodus lasted from 1960 to 1962.

Galvan, who has a doctorate in world history with a focus on 19th-century Cuba, was shocked when he heard of the new wave of protests.

He has traveled to Cuba for a dozen times when travel restrictions were relaxed and remembers how scared people were to mention Castro’s name.

“Going from that to what I see now 20 years later… the scale of what is happening is so surprising,” said Galvan.

The protests shed light on the complicated relationship between the United States and Cuba. Some Cuban Americans are calling on President Joe Biden to end the Cuban embargo, while others say ending the embargo will only keep Cubans under a dictatorship that has suppressed them for nearly 62 years.

After:Checking the facts: US embargo does not prevent Cuba from trading with other countries

The embargo, or blockade, was imposed by President John F. Kennedy in 1962.

“Most Cubans recognize that the embargo has a huge impact on their lives, on what they can and cannot get and what is available on the island and what is not,” he said. declared Galvan.

“What I also feel is that the embargo is really the excuse for everything in Cuba,” he said. “Nothing is ever considered to be because of the government.”

It is difficult to say how, or if, the protests will have a significant impact on the Cuban way of life.

“They have always said that the Cuban people should be hungry to explode,” Gomez said. “This moment has arrived. The Cuban people say: ‘If I have to die of disease or of hunger, I would rather die fighting.'”

Jessica Rodriguez is a Report for America Corps reporter who focuses on news important to underserved communities for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Please consider supporting the journalism that informs our democracy with a tax-deductible giveaway to this reporting effort at

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