As Alina Fernandez, the illegitimate daughter of the former dictator of Cuba, Fidel Castro, took to the podium last night in the Lory Student Center’s North Ballroom, almost 400 people looked on in hushed silence.
Setting down her large, red bag at her feet and holding up her bottle of water she said, “First I need my paper-thin eyeglasses and a bottle of vodka.”
Fernandez started her presentation by reintroducing herself and giving some of her own family’s background.
She said that her mother’s love for Castro began when he was imprisoned after his failed attack on Moncada Barracks. Castro, at the time, was actually married to a different woman, but Fernandez said, he and her mother exchanged letters.
Because of his guard’s mix-up, Castro inadvertently sent his actual wife the letter intended for Fernandez’s mother. As a result, when he was released in May 1955, he found himself single.
“There are two lessons here: The first one is that men can cheat even if they’re in jail, and that the second one is that if you are in search of a good divorce, you have a way now,” Fernandez said.
One of her first memories of Castro was from a 3-year-old’s perspective of him on the TV as he led his revolutionary coup against Fulgencio Batista, then Cuba’s leader, in 1959.
She said that suddenly, cartoons of Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck were replaced with images of hairy-faced men shouting “Viva Cuba Libre,” which means, “Long live free Cuba” and later, after the revolution, “Paredon,” which means “to the wall” and was a chant repeated when an execution was planned.
Fernandez said that she was not impressed with Castro as a father figure.
“He never became the one who would fix the car or help me with my homework,” she said.
For the first few years of her life, Fernandez was not privy to her identity as Castro’s daughter, but she said that when she found out, she was neither surprised nor pleased.
Years later, Fernandez finally decided to leave Cuba.
In December of 1993, she fled Cuba disguised as a Spanish tourist with the aide of personal friends. She left without her own daughter, though they were reunited soon after due to international political pressures.
Today, Fernandez is an open advocate against current Cuban politics. In relation to today’s celebration of National Human Right’s Day, when asked about the current human rights situation in her former country, Fernandez criticized Cuban domestic politics.
“In Cuba, we have political prisoners, and everything is illegal. Like selling your agricultural products individually, you can go to jail. So there are a lot of reasons in Cuba for why you get thrown into jail.”
Ernesto Sagï¿½s, an associate professor in the Ethnic Studies Department, gave some insight into the modern, American public view of Castro.
“I think that right now, there is a more moderate view of Fidel Castro,” Sagï¿½s said. “He has kinda become more like a mythical figure; the guy now has outlived 11 presidents so far in his 50-year career.”
“I think people are more intrigued than anything else ï¿½ I always think of Cuba like Jurassic Park. I mean like, it’s this place that we are all curious about that we would all like to see before it disappears,” he said.
Leah Gonzales, a freshmen political science major, said she wouldn’t expect to hear the story of someone, especially Fidel Castro’s daughter, who flees their country.
“It’s almost touching to know that she left her whole life because she felt oppressed. I thought it was really cool.”
Betty Ford, a junior Spanish major, echoed Gonzales’ sentiments.
“I’ve learned a lot about this in some of my classes, and the fact that I got to hear it first hand from somebody who lived those experiences, was really interesting, wonderful.”
Staff writer K.C. Fleming can be reached at email@example.com.