How it feels to be a Cuban-Canadian right now

Greater governments have fallen, but this one has its heels dug deep

Perpetual struggle. This is the most accurate way to describe the life of an average person in Cuba. As the child of immigrants, it was a slap in the face to hear non-Cubans rave about their vacations in Cuba and how beautiful the country was. To this day, there are still crumbling buildings, starving families, and a continually declining economy — all of which has become exacerbated by the pandemic.

After 62 years under the same government, this past July, Cubans took to the streets in protest. They were chanting for “libertad” (freedom) and “patria y vida,” (homeland and life). To understand this is to go back to the days when Fidel Castro held power, a time when nationalist propaganda read as, “patria o muerte,” (homeland or death). The slogan was spray-painted all over Cuba, and emblazoned on our coins. However, pride has since fallen away, and “patria y vida” is now being used as a play on archaic propaganda. While it hasn’t found its way onto the coins yet, the phrase is now a token of rebellion and an anthem for the right to liberty.

In response to this, Cuban president Miguel Díaz-Canel called a division into Cuban society by declaring that the streets of Cuba belonged to the revolutionaries (people who support the current government). Through this, he has created a more visible polarization between Cubans, something I have observed in my own life. Arguments of right and wrong have taken shape between family and friends — and at the end of the day there is one truth: the struggle continues for those on the island.

For most Cubans and expatriates, it is clear that the time has come for the communist regime to come to an end. People are tired of having to scrape by for basic necessities through illicit dealings in the black market, or as we like to say, “por la izquierda.” Moreover, they are tired of not being able to say anything critical about it. This is what the protests have been about at their core: the right to speak up about what citizens are unhappy with, the right to affiliate with a party that represents their values, and most importantly, the right to life.

The fight for change is like sledding uphill. Leaders of organizations in favour of democracy and overthrowing the current government have been detained, leading to some trials, but often ending in sentences. Cuban police have been walking through neighbourhoods in plainclothes, actively stalking, assaulting, and detaining anyone they hold in suspicion of conspiring to organize opposition. As a result, there are countless Cubans in jail for expressing their right to protest as outlined in the Cuban constitution.

Growing up in Canada, most of what I was told about Cuba came in the shape of horror stories — empty stomachs, silenced opinions, and tales of friends and family who fled to Miami on rafts. All of this manifested itself in my parents sitting me down prior to a visit to Cuba and telling me that I was not to repeat any of the anti-Fidel talk that I was hearing in our house. I didn’t get it then, but as the years went on I grew to understand the sentiment. Cubans live under an unspoken gag order — if they speak out against the communist establishment, they will be dragged to prison for treason.

In recent news, the Cuban government has imposed new censorship laws to prohibit stories of what is occurring on the island finding their way into western media. This policy aims to prevent expression of dissent through social media, marking these acts as cyberterrorism. It is because of this gag order and the censorship laws that expats have spurred such passionate outcries for the liberation of Cubans. Countless people in the Cuban-Canadian community have taken to platforms like Facebook and Instagram to voice their support for the fall of the current government in favour of one that repeals decades and decades of suffering and starvation.

When I decided to enter the field of journalism, the core of the decision was based on giving a voice to those who have theirs stifled, like Cubans. The article you’re reading is no more than a general picture of something that is ugly at its heart. There are many people who I could have reached out to, but I did not want to put them on the record speaking out about Cuba because they may not be able to return to Cuba, or worse. By no means is this how every Cuban feels. Those who have benefitted under the 62-year regime may feel outraged that a change is no longer a matter of “if,” but “when.”

The fact is that even the Roman empire collapsed. The present organization of Cuban society is one day going to fall, and the freedom of expression, of press, and the people as a whole will one day run through Cuba.


Graphic by James Fay

Student Life

La Habanera: A place transporting Tabarnacos to Cuba

Trendy Cuban restaurant is serving mucho mojitos and impressive dishes

Quebecers love Cuba. It is a known fact. According to the Toronto Star, 1.2 million Canadians travel to Cuba, annually.  The link between our province and the beloved communist state is so prominent that Cubans affectionately call us “Tabarnacos” and “Jean Coutus.”

That connection is what the staff at La Habanera restaurant wanted to bring to Montreal. “We wanted to create a nice vibe from Cuba,” manager Louis-Philippe Rouleau told The Concordian.  Rouleau said the idea was to create “something that you couldn’t get in Montreal.”

Photo by Shakti Langlois Ortega

La Habanera is unique. Inspired by the vibrant colours of Cuban culture, the restaurant’s DIY-style décor is probably the most charming aspect of the downtown restaurant. Its vintage look recreates the antique charm of Old Havana. About 30 tables occupy the small space, and along the back wall sits a  turquoise banquette. Dozens of strategically scattered picture frames filled with vintage Cuban portraits, maps and photos cover the walls, giving the space a relaxed feel. Some may even consider it the perfect Instagram-worthy backdrop to any photo.

Walking into La Habanera feels like stepping into a closet-sized version of Cuba. If you are up to it, you can even test your Spanish skills with the staff, since most of them speak it fluently.

No Cuban-inspired restaurant would be complete without a salsa playlist and this place offers one that will have you dancing in your seat. If you dare, get up between bites and show off your dance moves.

Although delicious and beautifully prepared, the food served at La Habanera is nothing like the typical food found in traditional Cuban households. On the menu, you will find a variety of creative and tasteful small, tapas-style plates inspired by authentic Cuban ingredients, such as plantain and seafood. The restaurant basically takes traditional ingredients to make non-traditional or gourmet dishes.

Plantain cups filled with rum, coconut, and garlic dulce de leche shrimps. Photo by Shakti Langlois Ortega

One of the restaurant’s signature dishes, rum, coconut and garlic dulce de leche shrimps served in plantain cups, is a perfect example of that.

To recreate the open and heart-warming Cuban atmosphere and experience, La Habanera encourages clients to order several plates to share. The spot also offers a special tasting menu for groups, which is a surprise menu picked and designed by the chefs.

You can seat yourself either at the beautiful turquoise banquette, in one of the cozy diner-style booths or at the bar, while a bartender concocts one of the spot’s exotic house cocktails, like the Bloody Maria Con Lychee. The drink translates to a cherry tomato and lychee Bloody Mary.

With more than 20 different types of rum, the Cuban liquor of choice, La Habanera offers an exclusive selection of mouth-watering mojitos made with fresh fruits and herbs.

Designed for millennials, with its trendy yet unpretentious vibe, La Habanera can be your go-to spot for anything from a promising Tinder date to an unforgettable birthday dinner.

La Habanera is the latest restaurant from a team of people who are also behind Montreal’s Mexican restaurants La Cerveceria and Escondite, and the Japanese fusion spot, Biiru. The team will also opening a Hawaiian poke takeout restaurant soon.

La Habanera is located at 1216 Avenue Union, Montréal, QC H3B 3C4.

The spot is open Tuesday to Thursday from 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m.

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