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Castro's daughter talks life in Cuba

Castro’s daughter talks life in Cuba

By Michelle Tanner
Senior Staff Reporter
November 15, 2006

Alina Fernandez, the illegitimate daughter of Cuban dictator Fidel
Castro, visited the on Tuesday to talk about growing up in
revolutionary Cuba.

“I do speak about a personal experience,” Fernandez said. “But it’s not
about me, it’s about Cuba.”

Fernandez, who published a book in 1998 about her experiences as the
daughter of Castro and as an exile from Cuba, took listeners on a
journey through the history of her parents, her childhood and her
eventual escape from her home country. She emphasized revolution as the
cause for her story and hoped to bring the audience a clearer picture of
what life was and is like there.

Fernandez said she could still recall the first appearances of the
“hairy men” – who she later came to know as rebels – interrupting her
childhood cartoon programs.

“For me, life went from white to black and stayed grey for a very long
time,” Fernandez said.

She told the audience about the destruction of Cuba and its transition
into a militarized, communist country, using her own memories and
inserting humorous comments.

“Even parking meters were destroyed – which isn’t such a bad idea!”
Fernandez said.

As religion and art were forced out of Cuba, and as ,
and all other aspects of life were taken over by the state,
Fernandez said she distinctly remembers how her life had been transformed.

“It is amazing how total communism can change people’s bodies and
minds,” Fernandez said. “It’s something you’ll never imagine.”

Fernandez also told stories of her life as Castro’s daughter – of how
“joyful” he made her mother and of how lonely he seemed. However, until
she was 10 years old, she thought Castro was simply a friend of her
mother’s. Within a year of learning Castro’s true relation to her, she
came to resent it.

“I was really trying to escape this new identity,” Fernandez said.

In 1989, Fernandez publicly joined the dissidents of Cuba and began to
actively fight the new regime.

“Revolution becomes a dictatorship when the state takes over your
personal life,” Fernandez said. “In Cuba, the government decides
everything for you – what you’re going to wear, what you’re going to
eat, what you will fight for.”

Eventually, after her daughter’s access to education was denied and they
were denied legal leave of the country, Fernandez made the crucial
decision to escape from Cuba. She engaged the audience with tales of
falsified passports, press conferences and American “Woody Woodpecker”
hairstyles that were part of her escape.

“My responsibility was to give my daughter an alternative,” Fernandez
said. “I feel if you bring a child into the world, you have a huge

After her presentation, an audience member asked if she would ever
return to Cuba. She took a moment to consider it.

“I won’t be the first person on the first plane,” Fernandez said with a

Fernandez finished with a bit of information on the current state of
Cuba and of what she sees in its future.

“Many people in Cuba are uncomfortable,” Fernandez said. “They’re
expecting something better, but they don’t know what to expect.”

Savannah Lanier, a junior majoring in public relations, said she thought
the lecture was very interesting and admired Fernandez’s motivation and

“I think it’s amazing she can have a sense of humor after all that she’s
been through,” Lanier said. “I love that she has been able to learn from
her experiences and feels like it’s her obligation to tell people about it.”

Solomon Rose, a graduate student in history, said Fernandez’s sense of
humor added to the presentation.

“The anecdotes were certainly funny,” Rose said. “It was entertaining.”

Though Fernandez doesn’t tour universities regularly, she said she does
enjoy the lectures and that mostly she tries to have fun and use her own
story to describe Cuba. Though it makes her nervous to talk to students,
she said, she thinks it is important.

“I think you should go where you feel most comfortable,” Fernandez said.
“And I feel useful doing this and telling what the social regime is like.”

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November 2006
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