Shortly before leaving for Cuba from the Fort Lauderdale terminal, Antonio Méndez stuck a sticker on his suitcase in the shape of a heart with the rainbow flag, version of the logo of CubaOne, the non-profit organization that invited him to the second LGBTIQ trip to the island.
“They can teach us many things, and we can teach them. We can return with many experiences to share from this side and show that in Cuba there is a very strong community,” said Antonio.
Two years ago, in May 2017, Antonio Méndez, better known as Queef Latina and one of the most famous drag queens in Miami, traveled to Cuba in the first CubaOne group focused on the LGBTIQ community, to interact and establish links with entrepreneurs, artists and activists, as well as to learn more about Cubans from the gay and queer community.
At that time Queef Latina published on OnCuba: “I grew up with many misconceptions about Cuba, its government and its people” and then added that “not only did we learn about the rich history of the country, but we returned home with a completely transformed perception of Cuba, its policy and the local population, as well as with friendships that will last a lifetime.”
Antonio returned to Cuba, this time as a tour leader of the second Pride trip organized by CubaOne for Cuban-American millennials who wish to connect with their roots on the island and explore the reality of their Cuban peers.
To talk with them is to discover in a Spanglish with a Cuban accent the stories of “My grandmother” or how much they like “Cuban coffee,” while talking about “healing wounds” and paying respect to the generations that preceded them, through dialogue and the interaction with other millennial leaders in Cuba.
Antonio, better known as Queef Latina, shows his Giraldilla tattoo. Photo: Marita Pérez Díaz.
1. Foto: Marita Perez Diaz
2. Foto: Marita Perez Diaz
“This trip is very important for me, for us. It teaches us that we are all human and although politics (between the two countries) is always in the middle of everything, I want to connect with human beings and see how we can help each other,” Méndez said shortly before leaving for Cuba.
At least five of the eight trip participants will be reunited with their families in Cuba, uncles, cousins, granduncles, people who in some way reconnect them with a past that also belongs to them, with their Cuban heritage.
Lissan Ramos, a Cuban-American entrepreneur, discovered that part of her family lived just a few blocks away from the hostel that served as a home for the group in Havana.
Not only did they have the opportunity to meet with LGBTIG entrepreneurs like the founders of Clandestinas, but also to talk with prestigious university professors and activists such as Ramón Silverio, creator of the Mejunje cultural project in Santa Clara.
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Santa Clara has become a center of the LGBTQ community in Cuba over the past thirty years with the highest support levels in the country for gay marriage and an inclusive community. That’s largely because of el Mejunje Community Project, a space started in 1985 by Ramón Silverio as an open space shared by everyone independently of sexual orientation.our 8th #tucuba group had a chance to speak with Ramon yesterday and attend one of their famous drag nights #lgbtq #cuba #santaclara #elmejunje
Witnesses to Cuban gay pride
The trip’s agenda included participating in the conga carried out in Cuba for more than a decade under the protection of CENESEX. However, on this occasion it was interrupted and enveloped in controversies that tarnished the Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.
“There is still a long way to make progress in Cuba and the world,” the organization wrote from its official Instagram account.
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Our 8th #tucuba group attended today's pride march in Havana 🏳️🌈 we're so proud of our brothers and sisters in Cuba and the courage and pride they displayed today. The arrests during a peaceful afternoon show how much further the LGBTQ and Cuban community have to go in Cuba. There's been 60 years of progress since Stonewall and UMAP camps, and there's still so much progress that needs to be made in Cuba, and around the world. 📷 @vistarmagazine @cubareporter @other_oceans
One of the members of the trip, Ivel Posada Martínez, took the incident with optimism and recalled that “Cubans are always in a conga, whether official or not.”
“There are many ways to show pride, not just in a conga. For Me, that kind of pride that you manifest day to day is much more important than a big demonstration,” Posada said.
“The kind of pride that comes from the support and love of the family is what I would like to see in Cuba,” he added.
Posada left Cuba at the age of four and since then has always been linked to his culture, he says, despite not living in Miami anymore.
Posada, who studied at Harvard and later reached a Master’s Degree in China where he researched gender-based curatorial constructions in museum-like spaces, says that he keeps abreast of daily events in Cuba.
Although he has gone to Cuba before, he has never been to Havana long enough to explore the city and its people. He applied to the CubaOne program, he says, because he is interested in traveling with that “LGBTIQ lens, which otherwise would be very difficult to obtain from that perspective.”
“I know what it is to be LGBTIQ and I know what it is to be Cuban in the United States, but I do not know what it’s like to be that in Cuba, that’s what I want to discover, not only from what we can read in the media here, but to understand firsthand the diversity that exists in that community,” Posada said.
What’s interesting for Posada is also to understand “the dynamics of how LGBTIQ people interact with State, government institutions, how they navigate those spaces,” he added.
“What I love about this trip is that we don’t only go to Havana, but to other provinces like Santa Clara, and thus understand how from here we can help the communities in other provinces,” Posada explained.
Posada commented that for him one of the good things about Cuba is that society wants all people to have the same opportunities, without differences between white or black people, but he would love to know more about the dynamics of race on the island.
“What makes an entrepreneur succeed or not? Does race have anything to do with it? These are points that I would like to know,” he said.
Elena Valencia, dancer, actress, event coordinator and “a bit of everything,” was born and raised in New York, without being surrounded by Cuban-Americans and without having a “reminder” of that part of her heritage while she grew up.
For her, participating in this trip is “an eye opener” in the face of a new reality that is presented before her, with the focus of the LGBTIQ community. Previously she had participated in the efforts to help after Hurricane Irma, but this is a different opportunity for her, she says.
“I’ve always had a missing piece in my life, so I need to go back and really connect with people, establish friendly relations with other Cubans like me, despite the political climate between our countries,” Elena said.
For her, her relationship with Cuba does not end with this trip. Her plans include studying at the University of Havana and, even more, returning with a trip focused on dance, with other Cuban-Americans who share that passion.
“It would be an opportunity to connect with Cuban dancers as well and establish connections that allow us to support each other,” Elena said.
“Of course there are different political opinions and that’s good, but the important thing is for us to connect, as Cubans, as human beings,” she concluded.
Because according to the organizers, that is what the CubaOne “return to the seed” trips are about since the beginning of 2016: a way to connect, dialogue based on respect, but to also give back.
Give back. Connect. Accompany.