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Czech Embassy hosted evening of Cuban American film and discussion about exiles

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The Czech Embassy screened excerpts of "CUBAMERICAN", about Cuban exiles' struggle for freedom and success in the United States, and hosted a discussion and reception on March 19.

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Cuba Democracy Advocates executive director Mauricio Claver-Carone moderated the discussion between the film's writer-producer-director José Enrique Pardo and Cuban blogger-photographer Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo.

The film (here's the trailer) explores the Cuban Revolution's sparking an exodus, and the exiles’ struggle for freedom and success in the United States.

Movie star Andy Garcia is the best-known success featured in the film. Born Andrés Arturo García Menéndez in Havana in 1956, he was five years old when Castro took over, and the Garcia family fled to Miami Beach.

The cast also includes:

  • MacArthur "genius" fellows: sculptor Jorge Pardo, Dr. Pedro Jose Greer (also a Presidential Medal of Freedom honoree), and Dr. Pedro A. Sanchez.
  • Carlos Eire, Yale professor and National Book Award winner for "Waiting for Snow in Havana".
  • Pulitzer-winning journalists Achy Obejas and Mirta Ojito, who also wrote "Finding Mañana: A Memoir of a Cuban Exodus".
  • Prima ballerinas Lorena Feijoo (San Francisco Ballet) and Lorna Feijoo (Boston Ballet), who both studied at the Cuban School of Ballet, founded by the renowned ballerina Alicia Alonso.
  • CEOs, educators, designers, among other highly successful Cuban Americans.

Pardo says of his film, "My father’s death prompted me to look back at my life. I experienced a profound feeling of gratitude to him for getting me out of Communist Cuba and bringing me to the United States, where I had lived free to express myself and choose my own path in life. I imagined a kinship with all other Cuban-Americans of my generation who had grown up in the USA. I set out to investigate their journeys and integrate them with mine."

Spanning the last 60 years, "CUBAMERICAN" is a "pro-immigrant story that highlights the absolute need for all of the world's people to be able to freely exercise their fundamental human rights."

The former Czechoslovakia was under a Communist regime for more than four decades until the "Velvet Revolution" in late 1989. Human rights activist and writer Vaclav Havel, who had led the negotiations with the communist government, was elected President in 1990. The Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic became separate nations on Jan. 1, 1993.

Czech Ambassador Petr Gandalovic told me, "More than 40 years under totalitarian rule has been a painful part of the Czech Republic's recent history. We remember well what it means to be deprived of basic civil rights such as the right to express one's opinion and the right to peaceful assembly. We consider it unacceptable that in some places, including Cuba, people can still be imprisoned for exercising these basic rights. That's why we made a strong commitment long ago to support people in Cuba in their striving for democracy and freedom. Since then, the Czech Republic's policy towards Cuba, whether bilateral or as part of the EU, has been based on this fundamental principle."

A reception with light refreshments followed the discussion.

On a separate but related note, the Cuba left behind is illustrated exquisitely in a book "Cuba Then: Rare and Classic Images from the Ramiro A. Fernández Collection" (The Monacelli Press, April 15). The fascinating book has 250 images, most never before published, collected by Havana-born photographer Fernández. It also has poetry plus foreword by Cuban American Richard Blanco, who spoke and read so movingly at President Obama's second inauguration.

Fernández writes, "Cuba has always seduced indiscriminately -- from revolutionaries to mambo queens, failed spies to socialites, savvy gangsters to honeymooning Americanos." These photographs capture all: young Fidel at a 40 mm anti-aircraft gun; a shirtless Che Guevara; "Queen" Celia Cruz on a break; and prima ballerina Alicia Alonso en pointe (on toe) in a photo from her tutu'd torso down.

The book, and the "CUBAMERICAN" evening at the Czech Embassy, will be very much on point.

As Blanco writes in "Poem Between Havana and Varadero" (Cuba's best-known beach), "...the last thing I need is to love this crocodile-shaped island that was my beginning with no end..."

For more info: "CUBAMERICAN", www.cubamericanthemovie.com, excerpts, discussion, and reception, Embassy of the Czech Republic, 3900 Spring of Freedom Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. March 19, 6 P.M. Here is the trailer. "Cuba Then: Rare and Classic Images from the Ramiro A. Fernández Collection" (The Monacelli Press, April 15).

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