Rebel Leader

Rebel Leader

“We want Burger King!” We yelled in unison.

I was 11 and my two cousins were about the same age. We had just left Cuba a few months earlier. We had left a country where the food was rationed and burgers were a luxury if not a thing of legend.

“You’re not going to eat there!” My aunt replied. “We made dinner so that you guys can eat at home!”

In response, me and my cousins locked ourselves in our room, and in the tradition of many Cuban political prisoners, I decided that if our demands were not met, then we wouldn’t eat at all.

“We’re on strike” I said softly, with tears in my eyes. Then I slammed the door and climbed onto the top bunk bed. My cousin Yinet was up there with me. Danay was on the bottom bunk, but was also firm in her belief. No Burger King, no food.

It wasn’t as if we never ate there. As a matter of fact, we had just had dinner there only a few days ago. But in our youthful stubbornness, we needed to eat Burger King that night. But to be honest, my reason for organizing the strike was more than a desire to eat a cheeseburger, minus the pickles.

A few months earlier, I had not only left my friends and my country, but I had left behind my parents. For legal and complicated reasons, they weren’t able to leave Cuba. The day of my departure, I remember being kissed and hugged by both my parents at the airport. And even though I wanted to say that I loved them and I wanted to cry, I felt numb. I wanted to prove to my dad that “men don’t cry,” an adage that I had been told all my life, which only confused me when I saw a few tears in his eyes.

In Cuba, you have to walk from the airport to the plane. That is, you’re actually walking on the runway. I remember walking in a single file, following my aunt and uncle. My two cousins and my great grandmother were also with me. Before I stepped inside the airplane, I did what most Cuban exiles in front of me did, I looked back, not only to catch a glimpse of my parents, but to say goodbye to the island. Our destination was South Florida.

Now, a few months later, my numbness was shattered and a wave of regret and emotion had come over me. Had I chosen the right thing? I missed my parents very much, but I didn’t feel comfortable sharing my feelings with anyone and I didn’t want to cry in front of my cousins who were girls. So, I made my stand with the Burger King issue. When I cried that night, I wasn’t thinking that my aunt and uncle were being mean, but I was crying for my parents. It was a charade. It was a ruse, just like the Cuban Revolution.

But unlike the Cuban political prisoners, many who have died of hunger strikes, my aunt finally gave in. They would drive to Burger King and buy us dinner. My uncle did warn us that if we pulled a stunt like that again we would go hungry that night. I’ve never seen him so mad, so I believed him.

Later, as I ate my cheeseburger, I felt a bit better, now that I had unchained my deep emotions and allowed myself to cry. Sometimes a good cry is all that the soul needs.

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