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Some Oklahoma City Cubans Have Mixed Feelings About Castro’s Death

University of Central Oklahoma student Raul Reyes.
Jacob McCleland
University of Central Oklahoma student Raul Reyes.


University of Central Oklahoma student Raul Reyes sits at a piano in the practice room of the School of Music, his fingers gliding across the keys as he plays “Yolanda,” by Cuban composer Pablo Milanés.

“This song is very popular, but I don’t know if it is very popular here in the States,” Reyes said. “It’s slow, soft music. This song is really famous in Cuba, and probably in South America.”

Reyes grew up in Cuba. In his early twenties, he had a permanent gig in a Cuban hotel’s house band, but he was itching to expand -- both musically and professionally.

“When you do the same thing over and over like for like a long time then you feel like you're getting stuck, musically speaking,” Reyes said.

He feared his career would languish in Cuba, so he went to Mexico and, a few months later, to the United States.

There’s a parallel between that restlessness about his livelihood and the country he left behind. The nearly six-decade communist regime is all he’s ever known, but he was still shocked when he learned of former leader Fidel Castro’s death last month.

“It's funny but, for some reason, we at some point thought he would never die or things like that,” Reyes said. “When someone's doing something for too long, you may be thinking that's going to be forever that way.”

Castro’s ashes were interred on Sunday, culminating nine days of mourning in the Caribbean nation. Many exiles who fled the island following the Cuban revolution celebrated Castro’s death. But some refugees who left Cuba more recently have mixed emotions about his passing.

When Reyes came to Oklahoma City, he already had family here - like his uncle FlorencioBueno. He works as a probation officer at the Oklahoma City municipal court.

Bueno grew up in a religious family. Communist officials would warn his family not to practice their faith. Bueno was singled out in school.

“We were bullied in school, even by the principal and the teacher.  They bullied us and put us in front of their place and say this is a stupid student,” Bueno said.

As an adult in Cuba, Bueno administered a large state-run education technology program. He was successful, and spoke at conferences abroad -- until the Cuban government forbid him from travelling or talking to foreign educators.

So Bueno and his wife fled, first to Ecuador and then as refugees to the United States. Bueno has mixed feelings about Fidel Castro’s death.

“Some of the time Fidel was a hero for me and for most of the people in Cuba. Some of the time he was a dictator,” Bueno said.

Bueno remembers his father sitting in a lawn chair, enraptured in front of the TV, listening to Castro speak for two to three hours. Everybody would stop and pay attention.

“He's so eloquent because he’s a ... he was a smart guy. This is a reality. But in the other hand, so you can find a lot of a stories of people suffering through the system or through the government,” Bueno said.

But he says those stories were covered up.

University of Oklahoma international and area studies professor Alan McPherson says Castro intentionally created enemies on both the left and the right. He wanted to be divisive, not a uniter.

“He would take some positions that were almost fascist in a way and some positions that were very liberal. Others that were very conservative. He was very confusing. There are very few people who are unequivocally admirers of Fidel Castro,” McPherson said.

McPherson says Castro improved Cuba’s healthcare and education, but his regime also hollowed out the middle class. Business owners and farmers lost their property. Cubans had few consumer goods to purchase. The economy never diversified and remained dependent on sugar.

“But I think he will be both loved and hated. But probably less hated than he's hated right now by the Miami Cubans and probably less loved by the left than he has been loved by the left. People will start seeing him as more of a charismatic figure of the 20th century who was, really I think, above all an anti-colonial leader,” McPherson said.

Reyes says Castro’s death does not bring him happiness.

“I will never be happy if someone dies. I understand there are so many people happy about his death. I respect them,” Reyes said.

Reyes attributes the wide range of emotions about Castro’s death to that complicated legacy, and says every Cuban has their own truth, and experience, with the Castro regime to reconcile.


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