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The Cuban protests have taught me we can’t take our freedom for granted

In 1980, more than 120,000 Cuban refugees set out from el Mariel to reach the shores of the United States.

My parents were among them.

When my mother recounts her journey to me, she always says, “Yo salí por el puerto de el Mariel.”

The participants of this mass exodus sought to escape the very conditions Cubans have been protesting this past week: the hunger and scarcity and stifling of human rights Cuba’s repressive regime has inflicted upon the Cuban people for decades.

The current moment is affecting my family as much as it did when my parents emigrated four decades ago.

As I told the Washington Post in a recent story about the Cuban freedom protests, I grew up hearing stories from my mother about her relatives still in Cuba. The protests have completely changed how I think about my family.

I use the term “brothers and sisters” broadly. I equate anyone who is a son or daughter of immigrants or is an immigrant themselves — people who came to this country to make a better life for themselves — as a brother or sister.

But for my parents, these words aren’t abstract. When they watch what’s happening in Cuba, they’re really thinking about their flesh and blood family. Their pain is real. It’s real for me now, too, knowing I have uncles and cousins and sisters still on the island.

I visited my mother when the protests broke out on Sunday, July 11. We watched initial videos of the demonstrations, and her reactions made a deep impression on me.

She was heartbroken. It moved me, seeing her weep as she tried accounting for everyone in her family.

It hasn’t been easy. It’s costly, sending support: We were charged $130 to wire $150 to family this week.

Even more distressing, we didn’t hear from one of our cousins for four days. With no phone lines, he was considered missing. After two days, it’s safe to assume the worst. Thankfully he’s okay — he was found on the morning of Friday July 17. Not every family has been so fortunate.

And that’s what this whole experience has taught me: for those of us in the U.S. who have never been to Cuba and have never met our family members there, it can be easy to take freedom, dignity, and basic human rights for granted.

But we can’t do that.

We need to be reminded the pain and the struggle our Cuban brothers and sisters are experiencing as they seek the freedoms we enjoy every single day.

Click here to read Danny Martinez's op-ed on Cuban freedom in Florida Politics

There’s no simple solution. There’s no hashtag, no easy answer. But hopefully one day the Cuban people will get the freedom they deserve.

Get answers to your questions about the Cuban freedom protests.

Daniel Martinez is coalitions director of The LIBRE Initiative-Florida.