With Felicia and Edmundo in Israel

Edmundo Desnoes

I knew who they were the minute I saw them at JFK Airport. He was tall, white-haired and white-bearded, elegant in a black turtleneck, and she was slender and sleek and had a well-traveled air about her. They were no longer young but you could never call them old. He stood too straight and she looked out at the world with too much curiosity. Later I learned they were both 82.

“Felicia? Edmundo?” I asked.

She turned to me with a smile. “Yes, it’s us.”

Felicia Rosshandler is the author of Passing Through Havana, an autobiographical novel about her German-Jewish family’s escape to Cuba at the time of the Holocaust and her unceasing search for home.

Edmundo Desnoes is the author of the novella, Memorias inconsolables(Inconsolable Memories), which later inspired the screenplay for the 1967 film, Memorias del subdesarrollo (Memories of Underdevelopment), directed by Tomás Gutierrez Alea, one of Cuba’s greatest filmmakers. Read more

Returning from Japan

Everyone wanted to know: Is this your first time?

Yes. My first time in Tokyo. First time in Japan. First time in Asia.

I’m the kind of traveler who likes to go to the same places over and over. I rarely go to places where I won’t be able to talk to people. I’ve made short trips to Turkey and Poland, the ancient homelands of my grandparents, and to Israel, where I have family ties. Mostly I travel to places where I can speak Spanish, my native tongue—Spain, Mexico, Argentina, and Cuba, the land of my childhood. Read more

A Letter From Cuba to My Friend Richard Blanco

Dear Richard,

How thrilling that you were the inaugural poet today. For days I’ve wanted to take to the streets like a peddler carrying braids of onions on my shoulders and shout out the news: “Richard is a great poet! And he’s my friend!” But I’m in Cuba, our native land, and there was no one to share my excitement with, because your poetry isn’t known here, you write in English. So I told the thirteen University of Michigan students who are here with me for three months on our study abroad program. We watched you on CNN, and cheered for you from this side of the ocean.

Over the last twenty years, you and I have talked obsessively about where is home, and what is home, and whether home is a place or a state of mind. Your poems burn with the sorrow of Cubans who longed to go back to the island but never did. Our parents, the Cuban exiles, settled in America reluctantly; they never could get used to eating turkey on Thanksgiving. Now you will speak, not just on behalf of Cuban Americans, but all Americans. You, Richard, symbolize that we have been fully accepted as citizens of our adopted nation. And so I’m wondering: Is it time for Cuban Americans to let go of their obsession with the island, to stop looking back? Read more