Next Sunday, March 12th, I will be boarding a flight to take a journey back in time.
Arriving before dawn at Orlando International that morning, two friends and I will check our bags, file through security, and board a JetBlue flight that will deliver us back several decades into the past.
Rearing up into the atmosphere as the first rims of sunlight break the eastern horizon, our plane will follow southwards along the Florida peninsula and, after that, cross the glimmering cobalt emptiness of the Florida Straits. Then, if we are angled correctly against the windows, “it” will slowly begin to materialize: at first as an etching against the horizon, then as a green, wavering, oceanic mirage, gradually rising up into the assured image of tropical mountains and a city- a Botero painting rising like bread out of the sea. We will skid down onto the tarmac and, a few minutes later, take in our first breaths of the thick, palm scented breeze.
We will be in Cuba, and our journey into the past will have begun.
People have asked me with increasing frequency recently as to why I would bother going to Cuba over spring break when I could easily follow the tradition of many other college students- renting a cheap beach house with friends in Panama City or Daytona, whiling the week away in a Tsunami of drinking, partying, and cocaine.
Some regard the fact that I am going with a worrisome apprehension (“don’t you know that they put people in jail down there!”); others, with a playful disappointment (“You could be partying in Daytona for so much less money!”) Nonetheless, the fact that I’m going to Cuba over spring break never fails to elicit responses from people; personally, I’ve yet to meet any other young people who will be doing the same.
These constant questions came to a culmination the other day when, contemplating article ideas for our school magazine, my editor and advisor said earnestly: “Why are you going?”
I already knew deep down why I wanted to go, why I had always wanted to go to the Third World, though out of a fear of sounding too pretentious I concocted a diluted answer which, while accurate, would be more palatable for our lighthearted conversation.
“I want to see it before it all turns into another Las Vegas.”
It is true. Although the loosening of the United States’ economic noose could finally bring relief to the long-suffering Cuban population, the possibility of neoliberal globalization entering Cuba still fills me with simultaneous dread.
I, like all millennials, have grown up in the age of globalization. I have grown up in a world where you can travel to two different countries and yet, thanks to corporate Western globalization, hardly be able to discern the difference. I have grown up in a world where, bolstered onwards by corporate powers, the environment is eviscerated and cultures are squashed in the name of cheap, brief, economic growth.
I have grown up in an era in which the colors of the world are being bleached away irrevocably. In which all the beautiful diversity one might see in National Geographic are slowly being killed by the totalitarian conformism of Walmart and Target, of Goldman Sachs and Meryl Lynch.
My fear is that Cuba, with the economic floodgates opening, may be next in line for the bleaching process.
Which is why I’m going to Cuba now. It is unclear as to where Trump’s administration will drive the U.S.-Cuba policy stance over the next four years, though the opening of economic relations is inevitable to happen at this point: if not now, then four years from now. If not four years from now, then eight.
I’m going to Cuba to see a part of the world that has, by random historical happenstance (in this case, the takeover of Castro), still not succumbed to the imposition of a global, neoliberal agenda.
It is a part of a broader desire to see the world where it is still colorful- where natural beauty still reigns, where individual cultures still flourish- and, if possible, use the insights I gain from these ramparts to stop the bleaching of the world altogether.
I’m going to Cuba not because it’s another pre-planned, cushioned, soul-crushing tourist trap; I want to go precisely because it’s the opposite. Because true adventure- and therefore, life– is only possible when there is a slight factor of wildness, danger, uncertainty.
I’m going to Cuba because it is in those places that are wild in which I would feel the most alive, a window where I could see the original beauty of the world before it’s all razed away to make room for strip malls.
I’m going to Cuba because I love the world, because I want to see an original piece of it before it is possibly destroyed.
I’m worried for the future of the world. I’m worried for the future of Cuba. I want my kids and grandkids to see this beautiful tapestry of color we call Planet Earth, before it’s all bleached by the machine of economic globalization.
So I’m going to Cuba now, in 2017. Even though I’m anxious for the future- or perhaps because I am- I’m going to enjoy the journey.