Google the word "balseros" and you'll arrive at a list of links about The Cuban Rafter Phenomenon: A Unique Sea Exodus, "Between 1959 and 1994, in defiance of the law, more than 63,000 citizens left Cuba by sea in small groups and reached the United States alive. Thousands more washed up in the Bahamas, the Cayman Islands and other Caribbean shores. Over the years, they have been collectively known as balseros (rafters) and their precarious vessels as balsas (rafts). At least 16,000 additional rafters did not survive the crossing."
  • There is a documentary by Spanish telejournalists Carlos Bosch and Josep Maria Domenech titled "Balseros." The film was an Academy Award nominee for Best Documentary in 2003.
  • Dick Gordon, from The Connection, has an audio show where he interviews Carlos Bosch on the making of the "Balseros" documentary. The program also includes several balseros talking about their experience.
  • Balseros by taxi is a news clip showing a 1948 Mercury taxi that "sailed" from Cuba on August 2006.
  • There are books such as The Big Idea: Balseros by Alfredo Gonzales, a balsero who survived to write about it.

And then three's the short YouTube video clip that posted to the Cuba: Island of my heart group in that I moderate in myspace,

Each time I watch this clip I laugh and cry at the ingenuity and desperation that would lead someone to make boats out of cars. I know what led each balsero to risk their lives and throw themselves to the mercy of the high seas. It's completely asphyxiating to live under an oppressive totalitarian regime such as the communist government Fidel Castro has imposed on the Cuban people.

I listen to the words of the song in the video and understand them to be true. [Here's a rough translation]: "They continue to arrive day after day, fighting wind, sun and sea. In destroyed balsas and even in car tires bound together. They only want to live in liberty. They bring in their pockets the hope that they can start their lives anew. They left their homes, family and friends, all this to live in liberty. Virgen de la Caridad, you who work miracles...I only ask that you do not stop looking after us...Some have not had the fortune [of surviving the journey] and have lost their lives at sea. For those who died we'll pray daily that they'll find peace in glory. All Cubans are one, those living there (in the island) and here (the exiled community). When Cuba is free we will be one [in the manner in which] Jose Marti united us...May they continue to arrive..."

How desperate would you need to be to work clandestinely to build something you hope will float in the rough seas between Havana and Miami and hold your weight as well as that of your loved ones? Pretty desperate. And that's how thousands of Cubans living in Cuba feel. Desperate enough to risk their lives in order to escape the oppressive totalitarian government of Fidel Castro. If I could I'd change the law and make it so that if they just get to US waters they could get political asylum in the USA, not just if they actually touch US soil.

When my own family wanted to leave Cuba we were offered the opportunity to escape the island. But as my father used to say, "how far can you run with six little girls?" So we applied to leave the country and three years later received permission to leave, after turning over our home, car, and everything else we owned to the government...all except the three dresses and a pair of shoes each member of my family was allowed to take with them.

Do you know of a balsero that made it to US soil? What comes to mind when you watch the YouTube video clip? And listen to the words of the song?


"I Could Not Be Cuban"

I moderate a Cuban-themed group in myspace, the Cuba: Island of my heart group. Today a group member posted a link to Claudia 4 Libertad's August 13th blog titled, "I Could Never be a Cuban," where the blogger describes what being Cuban is all about and why she could not measure up to it. She honors Cubans in her writing by detailing much of what they've gone through over these past almost 50 years since Fidel Castro took over and imposed a repressive and totalitarian rule on the country. I visited the blog and have added a link to it from my page. I love the tag-line she gives her blog, "Proving that not only Cubans care about Cuba".

It is beyond belief that millions of Cubans have endure so much pain, for so long, in and out of the island. That they have survived the nightmare, and in many cases overcome it, is a testament to their indomitable spirit, the strength in the Cuban soul. That Cubans continue to stand up for what's right, even risking their lives to do it, is to be applauded and shouted from the rooftops! Highlights of Cuba's history since 1959 are covered in Claudia's blog entry. There it is. In that blog. Simply stated...and all true.

Her blog ends with the words, "I could not be Cuban because there is no better place in the world to live, in my opinion, than the United States. Cubans, sadly can no longer say that [of Cuba], since although before the revolution, the once beautiful Cuba received over one million immigrants in a thirty-two year period, Cubans will now risk their lives to leave and nobody is fleeing TO Cuba. That tells me that there are much better places to live than Cuba. If I were Cuban, knowing that would break my heart, especially if I had been around before Fidel Castro destroyed the island." I was around before Castro destroyed the island and my heart does break to see what he's done with it.

Claudia4Libertad's blog is a simple yet powerful overview of what being Cuban is about. It made me feel proud of my Cuban heritage...and happy to know that, indeed, "not only Cubans care about Cuba."