United States: Famous People with Cuban Roots / Ivan Garcia

Eugene Salazar

Alberto Salazar, who was one of the most distinguish runners in the United States, today is a highly paid trainer in long distance running around the world.

The best informed on the island know that Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s Executive Director and owner of the Washington Post Newspaper, had a stepfather born in Santiago de Cuba. Ryan Lochte’s mother is from Havana. Alberto Salazar, Mo Farah’s trainer, was born August 7, 1958 in Havana.

Or that Isabel Toledo, the designer of the dress that Michelle Obama wore in January 2009 at her husband’s first presidential inauguration, is from Las Villas where she was born in 1961.  And that the first lady has wore models from Narciso Rodriguez, son of Cuban immigrants that arrived in New Jersey in the 1950’s.  Narciso was raised in a family very attached to their roots.

Due to the lack of access to the internet, magazines or foreign newspapers, many in the island would be surprised to discover that Dudley, Cuba Gooding Jr.’s grandfather was a Barbado’s native and that in 1936 je traveled to the island and there fell in love and married a Cuban.  After her passing, Dudley wanted to remember his love’s homeland naming their son Cuba, who at the same time continued the tradition naming his first descendant Cuba.

Another actor, Steven Bauer, Melanie Griffith’s ex-husband, was born in Havana in 1956, and his real name is Esteban Echevarria.  Marcia Presman, Miami’s socialite, is the mother of Brett Ratner, movie director and musical producer.  She was born in Cuba, in the center of a Jewish family which in 1960 immigrated to the United States.  The famous blogger Perez Hilton (Mario Armando Lavandeira) also has Cuban roots.

Baseball fans follow the news related to Cuban baseball players who decided to compete and earn seven figure salaries in the MLB (Major League Baseball), like Yasiel Puig, Kendrys Morales, Yoennis Cespedes or Aroldis Chapman

But not all know that the Puerto Rican Jorge Posada, ex player with the Yankees is son of a Cuban father and a Dominican mother.  Pitcher Gio Gonzalez is son to two Cuban fans.  Jon Jay, center field for the St Louis Cardinals was born in Miami; his father was from Santiago de Cuba and his mother from Matanzas.  Since his first and last names tend to offer confusion he has said:  “Yes, I am Cuban.  Of rice and black beans, palomilla steak and cafe con leche”.  Perhaps Justo Jay, Jon’s father, might be related to Ruperto Jay Matamoros (Santiago de Cuba 1912-Havana 2008) the largest exponent of naif painting in Cuba.

Of course, Cubans know about the saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera and trumpet player Arturo Sandoval, both American citizens today; they were born on the island. That Andy Garcia came into this world in Bejucal, a town 26 km south of Havana. That Eva Mendez (Miami, 1975) is the youngest of four siblings, all children to Cuban immigrants. And that Cameron Diaz (California, 1972) is the daughter of the American Billy Early and Emilio Diaz, now dead, famous entrepreneur whose parents settled in Tampa.

Also Carlos Leon, the father of Lourdes Maria, Madonna’s daughter, was born in Cuba in 1966. Armando Christian Perez, alias Pitbull, son of Cubans who immigrated to Florida, is heard among toques de santo parties, with white rum and marijuana in the poorest and largely black neighborhoods in the capital.

Willy Chirino (Pinar del Rio, 1947) is almost an “asere” from the neighborhood.  His hit, “New Day is Coming” has become a hymn in Cuba. People rent gossip magazines to read about the model and actor William Levy, born in Havana in 1980.  Or about Gloria Estefan (Havana, 1957) and her husband Emilio (Santiago de Cuba, 1953).

On the island there are some people who believe that the Cuban-American composer Jorge Luis Piloto is related to the binomial author Piloto & Vera. Which doesn’t stop people from El Pilar, the neighborhood where he lived in the capital, from knowing the lyrics of his songs sung by Luis Enrique or Chayanne.

The regime, in his campaign to discredit Cubans in the exile and their descendants, hide their triumphs in the United States. When they mention names of the ex-president of The Coca-Cola Company, Roberto Goizuete; the Bacardi family or the Fanjul, among others, they link them to the national bourgeoisie or the dictator Fulgencio Batista.

The politicians with Cuban origins that swarm mayor positions or other institutions in Florida or other states or the US Congress, are target of criticism from the regime. Disparagingly they call them the “Miami Mafia”.

The message is understood.  Since 1959, when Fidel Castro gained power and started piecing together the most successful autocracy of the continent, the immigrants are considered enemies.  Those that choose to leave the ideological madhouse had to endure humiliations, delays in their immigration dealings, go to work in agriculture, or withstand insults and eggs at barbaric acts of repudiation.

Fifty-four years later, the Castro government attempts to masks their treatment of the exiles, wielding an inclusive and moderate speech. They need it. That’s an important source of their economic support.

1,785,547 Cubans or 0.6% of the United State’s population, per the 2010 census, generates ten times more riches than Cuba’s GDP, one of extreme poverty, with a population of eleven million.  It’s an  incontrovertible statistic.

Iván García

Translated by LYD 

11 November 2013