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SoCal-based Cuban composer, noted historian weigh in on Fidel Castro’s legacy

Cuban President Fidel Castro addressing the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
Cuban President Fidel Castro addressing the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
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Like many Cuban Americans around the country, Southland residents are taking stock of what Fidel Castro's death means — both personally and politically.

Castro, who led a revolution that overthrew Cuban leader Fulgencio Batista in 1959, died on Friday evening at the age of 90.

Some local Cuban Americans have gathered in Echo Park, near a statue of Cuban national hero José Martí, to celebrate.

"This is a significant development for Cuba, for Latin America and for U.S.-Cuban relations," says Manuel Pastor, a professor of sociology at USC. "I think there's a sense with the death of Fidel Castro that the future of Cuba is much more up for grabs."

Pastor was born in the United States. His father emigrated from Cuba in the 1930s, among an earlier wave of immigrants who left the country out of economic desperation.

Tessie Borden, who lives in Mount Washington, was born in the United States to parents who fled Cuba during the 1960s. She says her feelings about Castro's death are complicated.

"In some ways, I feel like my life would have been very different if Fidel hadn't come to power, because I would have been full-blooded Cuban," Borden tells KPCC.

She has not yet spoken to her mother, who lives in Texas, but says, "I suspect that my mother is very happy this morning. She's probably one of those who, like [the people] in Miami, are celebrating."

Borden's comments highlight what is sometimes a generational divide among older vs. younger Cuban Americans.

"I don't feel sort of the rabid hatred that some of the people who had to flee, the refugees, feel," she ays. "I never had a homeland taken away from me, so I can't blame that feeling. But at the same time, I feel like over time, it's become almost a caricature. It did get in the way of perhaps finding a different road for Cuba. And I think that kind of division happened on both sides."

Pastor echoes that sentiment: "Cubans who came over in last 10 or 20 years or Cuban Americans who were born in the U.S. don't have quite the same visceral reactions to Fidel Castro. That generational difference is now going to play out probably in a pretty dramatic way."

He also points out that significant change occurred when Fidel Castro handed over the presidency to his brother. The less charismatic and powerful Raúl Castro has walked a more moderate path than his fiery older brother. He has been more open to market activity and vowed to leave the presidency in 2018.

"I don't think this single death is by itself is going to create tremendous change," Pastor says. "But it's a pretty symbolic moment. We'll have to watch for the next six months to see whether the symbolism of the passage of Fidel Castro gets translated actual political and economic change on the island. If that happens and there can be more moderate path to change, that would be a good thing."


Aurelio de la Vega, Cuban composer and professor emeritus at California State University, Northridge. He is in Miami today receiving an award from the National Association of Cuban American Educators. Today is also his birthday, he turns 91

Douglas G. Brinkley, Professor of History at Rice University and the author of many books, including The Nixon Tapes: 1971-1972 (Houghton Mifflin  Harcourt, 2014). He published a piece over the weekend looking at Fidel Castro’s legacy on the CBS News website