The start of 2010 marks the 30th Anniversary of the 1980 Mariel Boat Lift. To most citizens of the world, this is nothing more than a footnote to the troubled history of Cuba and to the island’s complex relationship with the United States. For the more than 100,000 Cubans who braved the expected abuse at the hands of the pro-government mobs and who faced both the unknown dangers of the sea and the risks of future uncertainties, the Mariel exodus is an identity-defining landmark. As a child then, I shall never forget that night in my hometown of Manguito, when I had to leave bed, home and familiar surroundings, board a shrimp boat, plunge below deck, and attempt to sleep despite being shaken by a rough sea. Because of security concerns, my parents had not warned me of our imminent departure. Now, during the rush to leave, they offered me details, but these were not easily processed by a distressed nine-year-old. Where was I going?
A lot of things have happened in the three decades since that night. I now have both a family and a university career, but when I witness my nine-year-old son fashioning his own Cuban-American identity, the same as the children of my West Palm Beach friends with similar Mariel backgrounds, I’m conscious that the events of that fateful night always will play a role in our lives.
When I left Cuba in May of 1980, I couldn’t have imagined that three decades later I would be reviewing the unfinished business of the Mariel diaspora; yet, in the eve of the anniversary, I feel the need to follow the steps that have brought me and my fellow marielitos to both our blessed present and to our promising future. Because of my profession, literature surely has to play a significant (but not exclusive) role in such a journey of (re)discovery. I invite others with common experiences, and similar interests to visit my Manguito Review. We have travelled far… together we shall give meaning to our collective journey.