Suburban Cuban-Americans see opportunity to renew family ties

  • Julian Vargas, whose parents are Cuban and Mexican, says normalizing relations with Cuba will help him explore that half of his heritage.

    Julian Vargas, whose parents are Cuban and Mexican, says normalizing relations with Cuba will help him explore that half of his heritage. Courtesy of Julian Vargas

Updated 12/18/2014 9:04 AM
Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct a spelling error in the name of Jenette Sturges Vargas.

Julian Sturges Vargas says by the time he finally gets to Cuba, it'll probably be overrun with tourists.

The 30-year-old Cuban-Mexican-American, of Aurora, was hoping he and his wife, Jenette Sturges Vargas, would be honeymooning in Cuba this week. He has a sister there he's never met. But a letter from a cousin proving Vargas had family there never arrived and the trip fell through.


"If things had gone according to plan," said the community organizer for Family Focus Aurora, "I would have been there now."

Like other Cuban-Americans in the suburbs, Vargas is hopeful that with improved diplomatic ties, families can be reunited.

"I really welcome these talks because I feel like I have no connection to that full other half of my heritage," he said.

Isabel Delgado, co-owner of the Congri Cuban Restaurant in Grayslake, has been in the United States since 2002.

"I hope my grandson, who is still in Cuba, can come to this great country," she said Wednesday.

But Jerry Campagna, a Cuban-American marketing expert from Bartlett, said he knows many Cubans in the U.S. are conflicted by the changes.

"For many Cubans, particularly those who still have relatives on the island, this decision is met with mixed feelings," said Campagna, the president of The MOST Inc., a leadership and organizational development firm.

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"On the one hand, the quality of life in Cuba is sure to improve with relaxed import/export regulations -- as long as they are made available to the general population. On the other hand, there is still a strong sentiment by many first-generation Cubans who fled the island because of the oppressive regime, to not empower the Cuban government with resources that may create more stabilization."

Campagna likened it to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and said he believes the time has come to remove the "Havana Wall" that has separated so many Cubans from their American relatives.

"Hopefully, it will contribute to the acceleration of a free Cuba ... and at a minimum improve the quality of life and reunite families that, in some cases, have been separated for over 50 years," Campagna said.

Another businessman, Elgin resident Orlando Miranda, says President Barack Obama's move will do nothing but enrich the Castro brothers.

"Pretty much every Cuban-American I know is (angry)," said Miranda, president of Miranda Hispanic Marketing and former president of the Cuban American Chamber of Commerce of Illinois.


"All you're doing is prolonging the agony of the Cuban people under their dictator. You can have a bird cage in gold -- it's still a cage. And Cuba is a cage."

The right course of action would have been to "squeeze" the Cuban government even more, said Miranda, who came to the U.S. as a child in the late 1950s.

"The only country that was moral about Cuba was the United States -- and that's gone," he said.

Delgado, though, dreams that the Cuba of her youth can re-emerge with improved relations and American tourist dollars.

"When the revolution broke out, Havana was a beautiful pearl," said the 60-year-old. "But now, not only Havana, but all of Cuba is in complete deterioration.

"With the announcement of changes in diplomatic and economic relations between the U.S. and Cuba -- and I have read that this will include construction materials -- I hope Cuba ... regains its luster of yesteryear."

Naivy Gonzalez, of West Chicago, said normalized relations will be good for her native country, which she left at age 9.

"There are going to be changes. Big changes," she anticipates.

Gonzalez, 21, hopes Cuba is opened up to opportunity. Still, true change can happen only when Cuba becomes a democracy, she believes.

"I don't think they will do that anytime soon," she remarked. "There's still a lot to be done."


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