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0000017b-35e5-df5e-a97b-35edaf910000Interest in Cuba has surged since the Obama administration’s announcement of a thaw in U.S.-Cuban relations. Opportunities may exist to build trade with the communist island nation, with exports of both manufactured and agricultural goods. And “I’ve always wanted to go to Cuba,” is a refrain that may help spur tourism between Michigan and the “Pearl of the Antilles.” Michigan Radio has two journalists in Cuba to tell some of the stories of Michigan’s connections to the Caribbean nation.

PURE CUBA: Portraits

Cuba, Havana, Pure Cuba
Mercedes Mejia

What do Cuban people think about the thawing of relations between their country and the U.S.?

Tracy Samilton and I are in Havana gathering stories about the Michigan connection with the island.

As part of the series Pure Cuba: Portraits, I’m asking residents to share a little bit about themselves and talk about life in Cuba today.

Silvia Cabrera is 60 years old and a cook at a pizzeria in Havana.

“I used to be a dishwasher," she said, "then an assistant cook and now I’m a cook. I make pizzas and spaghetti. Life is good because I’m dedicated to my work.”

On the U.S. reestablishing relations with Cuba she says, “For me it’s good.  I don’t like politics, but for me it’s the best thing that can happen.  With respect to Obama, I think what he’s doing is really good. I don’t care what anyone else thinks. He’s not against anyone here. He wants a friendly relationship with Cuba, and that’s good. Why be enemies and harbor bad feelings?”

Credit Mercedes Mejia
Yolanda Aguilar is 57 years old. She holds dual citizenship in Cuba and Spain.

Yolanda Aguilar is 57 and holds dual citizenship in Cuba and Spain. Her two sons live in Naples, Florida. She spends most of the year in the U.S with her family.

“In this country people are afraid to talk.  [But] I’m not afraid to talk," she said. “I was born with the revolution and people in our generation sacrificed a lot. At the beginning we all believed in the revolution, but there came a point when the revolution got stuck."

Aguilar says the worst thing about the revolution is the separation of families. "When I was young, I had an uncle that fled to the U.S. with his family. Back then, my parents would tell me ‘Shh, don’t tell anyone that you have an uncle in Miami, shh don’t tell anyone that we are religious’. That harmed us."

"My family and I are very happy with the renewed relations between the U.S. and Cuba.  Obama was received very well here,” she said.

Cuba, Havana, Pure Cuba
Credit Mercedes Mejia
26 year old Victor Terran works at a farmers market in Vedado, Havana. His job is to unload sacks of produce. He makes $2 per day.

Victor Terran is a 26 year old worker at a farmer's market. His mother lives in Laredo, Texas. Two years ago, she crossed into the U.S. from Mexico.

"She’s coming back to visit at the end of the month or early next month to see the family," he said. "Here in Cuba, it’s me, my brother and my grandmother.  One can work hard in the U.S. and reap the fruits of their labor, which is not true here. I’d like to join my mother in the U.S. and know the American dream.”

Check in periodically to see more profiles from Havana, Cuba as we explore life on the island and the Michigan connection.  

Michigan Radio's Tracy Samilton and Mercedes Mejia are in Cuba this week to cover the connections between Cuba and Michigan and opportunities for the future. You can find more of their stories here.

Mercedes Mejia is a producer and director of Stateside.
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