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Local Cubans express hope, elation over renewed ties

Artist and artist development organizer Bernardo Navarro shows

Artist and artist development organizer Bernardo Navarro shows one of his pieces at the Center for Cuban Studies Cuban Art Space in Chelsea in Manhattan, Friday, Aug. 14, 2015. Navarro spoke of Friday's events in Cuba, where an American flag was raised at the embassy in Havana for the first time in 54 years. Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

Local Cubans interviewed Friday said they were elated to see the American flag fly once more in Havana after 54 years of broken relations with the United States.

"It's magnificent," said Alberto Zamora, 50 and born in Cuba. He moved to New York three years ago and works at the Cuban Mission to the United Nations, on Lexington Avenue in Manhattan.

"This is good for everyone," he said. "Families will be able to visit each other and it will help the country -- both countries -- develop."

Sandra Levinson, executive director of the Cuban Studies Center on Seventh Avenue at West 29th Street, said she cried "happy tears" last month when she was in Washington, D.C., for the raising of the Cuban flag at the embassy there, and again during Friday's Havana ceremony, which she watched from New York. "It's very moving for me," she said, adding that diplomatic relations will let "the Cuban people be Cuban."

During a trip to Cuba in June, Levinson said, she saw people with "a lot of hope that there will be new businesses that will be successful and will impact their lives." A wireless Internet connection with the island "will bring up the standard of living and impact the whole population," she said.

But Sarah Ramos, 22, of New Jersey, said she wasn't even aware of the event in Havana. "My grandmother was born there and has not visited since she left after the revolution," Ramos said as she stood in Sophie's Cuban Cuisine, a restaurant near the mission. "She won't go back to Cuba until there is no more communism."

Ramos is interested in visiting her ancestral home, but said, "It would make my grandmother upset if I went."

Cuban artist Bernardo Navarro, whose work is exhibited at the Cuban Studies Center, said his paintings are political caricatures that depict the "estranged love affair" between the United States and Cuba.

Navarro, 38, who has been living in the United States for 12 years, said the raising of the American flag "is a historic moment that symbolizes a new era."

Daniel Domenech, former superintendent of Western Suffolk BOCES and current executive director of the American Association of School Administrators in Washington, came to America in 1955 at age 9 after his father had visited the United States and decided to relocate his family.

"I am forever grateful that he made that decision," said Domenech, former superintendent for the Deer Park and South Huntington school districts. "America is indeed the land of opportunity. Nobody in my family had a high school diploma. In this country, not only did I do that, but I have graduated college and received a doctorate."

Domenech hopes improved relations will bring about a better future for Cuba.

"I am one who supports what the president has done, not because I would ever support the Castro regime, but because what we have been doing with Cuba has not worked," he said. "Fifty years of an embargo has not had the impact we would have wanted. The people in Cuba, most of whom weren't around when [Fidel] Castro took power, were the ones paying the price."

Jose Dominguez, 78, of Rockville Centre, who left Cuba in 1968, said he would love to reunite with a sister he hasn't seen in more than two decades. He hopes, too, that she and other family members will be better off financially and that, for their sake, they no longer will need the packages of medicine he sends.

"I hope they will be doing much better than they were before," he said. With Jo Napolitano


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