I’m a Cuban American who came to the United States at 14, and I’m now in medical school. I was overjoyed when Joe Biden won the election. Many of my relatives were not.
For me, Biden and Kamala Harris represent a promise for change on criminal justice reform, climate change and policies to mitigate the pandemic — maybe even inching the United States closer to universal health care. And yet, as I watched CNN and Fox News project Biden’s victory, I kept thinking of my uncle, a staunch Republican and supporter of President Donald Trump.
And I thought, too, of my other family members who boasted about Trump’s resounding victory in Florida and talked about the prospect of buying guns to use for “protection” against Black Lives Matter protesters. Even as I rejoiced in the defeat of their candidate, I felt a deep sense of loss for the love of family, the love of friendships and the love of people who think differently than I do. After all, they had laid the cornerstone for my development.
As a Cuban American, it is not a surprise I come from a divided household. Cuban Americans came out in droves to support our current president, for reasons I understand, but will never condone. The threat of socialism from the left so strategically exploited by the Trump campaign appealed to many with a legacy of generational trauma caused by the forced exodus from socialist Cuba.
Never mind the actual authoritarian tendencies of the current president, which are more reminiscent of Cuba’s oppressive regime than any economic policy espoused by the left: President Trump’s reproach of and attacks on the free press, his inability to commit to a peaceful transition of power, his projecting election fraud (unless he wins) and his baseless attacks on vote counts that disfavored him, to name just a few.
Yet even as I rise today to the wake of love triumphing over hate, I feel a deep sense of loss and longing. I yearn for unity, understanding and dialogue, not only among the like-minded, but also and especially among those who think differently. For I’ve realized that the health of this nation, the true triumph of progress and love, depends on the health of families, friends, colleagues and even strangers, to tap into our common humanity, overcome our grievances and build together an inclusive vision for future generations. A better tomorrow for all.
I believe my uncle shares this view. He crossed the Florida Straits 27 years ago, on a makeshift raft to escape Cuba. He could have died like many thousand others did. Adrift for days, my uncle risked his life in search for freedom, liberty and pursuit of happiness, so that the next generation in our family could aspire to new beginnings.
His devotion to us, the entire family he had left behind, came at a great personal cost that he carries without complaint: He has worked every day since arriving in this country, to send monthly remittances back to our family in Cuba and finance, in my case, our immigration to the United States. In no small part thanks to him and his sacrifice, I am an American citizen with the ability to pursue an education, build dreams of my own making, and yes, vote for a Biden/Harris ticket, organize for Black Lives Matter and support universal healthcare.
At his core, my uncle is selfless, compassionate, caring and loving, but the recipients of his love I believe to be too limited. He has succumbed to tribalism, internalized racism, sexism and many other “-isms” that come with a life of hard work and primal survival instincts that prevent meaningful interaction with the alleged “other.”
I do not know how to repair the relationship with him without being perceived as a self-righteous, morally superior, ungrateful liberal — or feeling that I have to compromise on beliefs that I find central and critical to advancing justice and building a more equitable world. What I do know is that having witnessed my uncle’s love firsthand and his sacrifice makes me confident that love is a core human ability, not endemic to a select few, and that it holds the key to the promised prosperity we can all enjoy.
Whatever the reasons that contributed to the profound divisiveness in this country — and there are many! — liberals and conservatives alike should work on expanding their mantle of love, tolerance, and understanding. We are stronger together. We’ve always been.
Lianet Vazquez was born and raised in Cuba and immigrated to the United States when she was 14, settling in Tampa. She graduated Summa Cum Laude from the University of South Florida with bachelor’s degrees in Biology and Political Science. She holds a master’s in International Security, Summa Cum Laude, from the Paris School of International Affairs, Sciences Po, and is currently in medical school at Harvard University.