My experience guest hosting NY1 Noticias television news show on Sunday September 20, 2015, to cover Pope Francis’ visit to Cuba was challenging, stimulating, and humbling.
The length of time that I was engaged in a live television production—three hours—was one of the most immediate challenges. Fortunately, Sara Loscos, the show’s producer and Patsi Arias, the lead anchor, were excellent coaches. Using my earpiece, I could hear the live feed and Sara’s suggestions and assistance as Patsi spoke. Once I adjusted to the extra input, I was happy to get the behind-the-scenes feedback live.
To start the show, Patsi warmly welcomed me to the newscast and asked for my reaction to the Pope’s visit to my childhood home. I mentioned being personally touched by Pope Francis’s inclusion of “Cubanos dispersos por el mundo” (Cubans dispersed throughout the world) in his formal remarks at the Jose Marti International Airport upon his arrival in Cuba on Saturday.
It is my personal connection to Cuba that made commenting on Pope Francis’s visit both exciting and challenging. I was born in Cuba following Fidel Castro’s revolution and moved to the United States with my family when I was still a child.
Additionally, my research on ambiguous loss of homeland as well as interviews conducted in making a documentary I am producing, Cuba es mi Patria (Cuba is my Homeland), are relevant to the background discussion we had about the experience of Cuban Americans. When asked to comment on the relevance of my work, I explained that many Cuban Americans have been struggling with ambiguous loss of homeland. Many have described leaving Cuba under confusing and traumatic circumstances, and they had to live with unanswered questions and ongoing ambiguity for decades due to the persistent break in relations between the United States and Cuba.
The sum of my experiences makes me a part of a diverse group of Cuban Americans with increasingly varied voices and perspectives.
Some Cuban Americans continue to await a return to a democratic Cuba. Of these, many feel displaced and somewhat left out of the reconciliation plans spearheaded by U.S. government officials. Some feel hurt by their years of exile and think that neither the United States or Pope Francis are demanding enough from the Cuban government.
Many others—especially Cuban Americans who remain in contact with loved ones in Cuba and their relatives who live there now—welcome renewed relations between the United States and Cuba. They believe in promoting increased communication between Cuba and the outside world.
Although the focus of the television newscast was on Pope Francis and the beginning of a new era of reconciliation, many different approaches to helping Cubans on the island co-exist.
For a large segment of the broadcast, Patsi Arias and I listened and took notes while the Pope spoke at a Vespers (a prayer service) and later during an organized meeting with young people. Pope Francis demonstrated his uncanny ability to execute formidable unplanned speeches. A highlight was his proposal that young people develop a capacity for “amistad social” (social friendship) to avoid world destruction through war. He was emphatic that the way to begin productive dialogue is to table discussion of divisive issues and begin by finding our common ground. More conversation can follow at a later date, he added.
I left the NY1 experience with a strong sense of respect for Pope Francis and his inspirational messages. In particular, I admired when the Pope echoed Mother Teresa’s comment: “Quien no vive para servir, no sirve para vivir (he who does not live to serve does not deserve to live)” a sentiment many in our Fordham community share.
Pope Francis’ facility with the Spanish language, his native tongue, is a tremendous advantage for the Cuban-U.S. reconciliation. But his message extends beyond these two lands and these two languages. He is likely to continue speaking about how troubled he feels by the wars that exist in the world. His message of peace and reconciliation gives many communities with different languages and different cultures a call to action: to forge social friendship and to care for those in our societies who are the most vulnerable. In the words of the Gospel of Mark, Pope Francis stated: “Quien quiera ser el primero, que sea el último y el servidor de todos (Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all).”
Rose Perez, PhD Associate Professor Fordham University Graduate School of Social Service 113 West 60th Street New York, NY 10023 firstname.lastname@example.org