Cuban kids in south Florida grow up fearing a boogie man, one who is a living, breathing person. There's no way you could be raised in a Cuban household and not hear of Fidel Castro, whose name is usually preceded or followed by a string of expletives. You're taught to hate Castro with all your being.
I grew up in the quintessential blue-collar Cuban exile community of Hialeah, Florida. The industrial Miami suburb was so blue-collar that we had a self-deprecating slogan to describe it: "Hialeah: Agua, Fango y Factoria" (Hialeah: Water, Mud and Factories).
I recall Cuban children openly chanting, "Arriba, abajo, Fidel para el carajo," which translates roughly to something like, "Up and down, Fidel can go f--- himself." That's certainly not a Mother Goose rhyme or "Three Blind Mice." It's not what one would expect from a bunch of elementary school kids, yet the chant should begin to explain the hatred toward Castro and his duplicitous rule in Cuba.
Many Cubans take a hard-line stance against Castro's Cuba. I respect and understand the hard-liners. I grew up in a household of them and have been surrounded by them all my life.
My theory is that change doesn't come without some pain. The Cuban people have felt a lifetime of pain, and many don't think they can or should endure any more. My family isn't exempt from these feelings. There is even some conflict among family and friends.
My father suffered a massive stroke in 2003. His carotid artery had to be shut down, which made him physically handicapped and limited in his speech. He can listen, read and comprehend anything put or said in front of him. In essence, though, he's trapped in his own body.
Despite that, my father continues to be the typical Cuban dad: proud, loud and seething with anger deep in his soul toward the Castro regime. Regardless of his physical limitations, my father's mind remains strongly and stubbornly intact. Even before his ailment, he wore his emotions on his sleeve. Nothing has changed. I recognize this most when my father sees either the faces of Fidel Castro and his brother, Raul Castro, or their names in print. The contorted look on my dad's face reveals his obvious disgust. He is gurgling with rage.
My father represents one of thousands of people who suffered all sorts of human rights atrocities at the hands of Cuba's communist regime. Upon arriving in the United States, Cuban exiles such as my father built new lives for themselves by working endlessly to create better situations for their families. They sacrificed everything for a chance at freedom. That way, their children would never have to endure what they did.
Many, such as my mom, still have relatives in Cuba who for many years have lacked basic necessities. During El Periodo Especial (The Special Period), which began in 1989 during the dissolution of the Soviet Union, my mother received word from her relatives in Cuba that they had barely any water and had no food, soap or toothpaste. Their bodies were rotting.
I'll never forget being old enough to understand what was going on and seeing my mother almost crumble to the ground, sobbing upon receiving this news. My parents immediately left the house and spent hundreds of dollars to buy and ship necessities to Cuba. This was, and continues to be, common throughout my life -- seeing my mom spend every available dollar to help a number of relatives who remain on the island.
These are relatives I have never met. We are familiar with each other through letters, photographs and stories passed down within our families. Countless other Cuban families share this reality. How long will they have to suffer? Hasta cuando? (Until when?)
Enter Major League Baseball.
President Barack Obama will be in Havana on Tuesday for an exhibition game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban National Team. He will be the first U.S. president to set foot in Cuba in almost 90 years.
Major League Baseball, meanwhile, is working with the U.S. and Cuban governments to create a legal way for Cuban baseball players to play in America without having to flee their country. Ideally, this would eliminate the stories of human trafficking involving players such as Livan Hernandez, Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez, Yasiel Puig and many others.
All of this is good news and should be celebrated, though a win for Cuban baseball players and potentially the Cuban people is perceived by many as also a win for Cuba's totalitarian government. No es facil (It's not easy). The Cuban exiles have dealt personally with so many injustices at the hands of Fidel and Raul Castro that one can understand their outrage over any efforts to aid the brothers.
But sports can be the great unifier. Whether it's Nelson Mandela as the first post-apartheid president of South Africa using the rugby World Cup to help heal his country, soccer player Didier Drogba pleading with two warring factions in the Ivory Coast to aid the peace process or Jordan Farmar using a basketball camp in Israel to bring Israeli and Palestinian children together, sports can help nations bridge differences and overcome rifts.
The exhibition game Tuesday can be an impetus for real change. For this game to have that kind of social impact, governments and political figures need to use diplomacy to address the numerous and obvious issues at hand.
It's imperative that commissioner Rob Manfred and Major League Baseball succeed in reaching some accord with the two governments to allow Cuban ballplayers to work in the U.S. Ideally, this would extend to all lines of work, so others on the island could also earn a living in the U.S.
The next and final appeal might be the toughest of all. Many reading this will not understand what a monumental request it is:
To all those courageous exiles, you paved the way for me and thousands of others to be born in the greatest country in the world. Your blood, sweat and tears are not lost on me and my contemporaries. But I'm begging you to try to overcome a lifetime of pain and mistrust. It's time for the Cuban exile community to stop playing a split-squad game and for all Cubans to play on the same team. This needs to happen in order to help those who remain on the island, those who don't have a voice, our people.
Si no ahora, cuando?
If not now, when?
Jorge Sedano co-hosts the "Jorge & Izzy" show with Israel Gutierrez on ESPN Radio.