Feedback
News
U.S.-Cuba Relations

For Cuban Americans, A Historic Day Is Personal

Image: Protesters Opposed To Obama's Shift In Cuba Policy Demonstrate In Miami

A protester holds an American flag and a Cuban one as she joins with others opposed to U.S. President Barack Obama's announcement earlier in the week of a change to the United States Cuba policy stand together at Jose Marti park on December 20, 2014 in Miami. Joe Raedle / Getty Images

For many Cuban Americans, it's personal.

The historic steps taken Wednesday as American officials landed on Cuban soil for the first high-level talks in almost 40 years were interpreted from very varied perspectives.

"I view it as a sign of progress in the relationship between us and Cuba," said Cecilia Perez, 30, who works as a beauty consultant in Coral Gables, Florida. "I don't think the embargo has worked and the idea of doing something repeatedly is insane."

NBC News Special: Nightly News' Brian Williams Reports From Cuba 1:44

Perez is in the minority in her family. "My parents are against what Obama has done and they're very apprehensive. They think Cuba is going to prove communism works and Fidel was right."

Perez thinks the increased dialogue will have a different outcome.

"Cubans will have more access to the outside and they'll realize the reason they're starving is because of (Cuban) political greed, not the embargo," she said.

In New Jersey, state Republican party chair José Arango said it was an emotional day "because you never forget where you came from."

Arango, whose family left Cuba in the 1960s, said there is a difference of opinion among Cuban Americans who left shortly after losing everything in the revolution, like his family, and those who came to the U.S. a few decades ago.

He vehemently disagrees with the Obama administration's policy change.

"There's a lot of romanticism about seeing Cuba with 1950s cars and that's beautiful...But it's only the fantasy of a president who doesn't understand what dictatorship is all about," said Arango. He said the administration does not realize there is "apartheid" in Cuba and residents will not enjoy the benefits that American tourists will find. "Cuba has got the tail of the American president; they're laughing now."

Arturo Lopez-Levy, adjunct faculty at the NYU School of Professional Studies Center for Global Affairs, sees the historic meeting as an important first step.

"The U.S. is no longer perceiving Cuba as a threat but as a country in transition," said Lopez-Levy.

The fact that the two countries are starting the diplomatic dialogue does not take away from key differences between both governments, he said. "If you think of it as a ship, the two countries are not going to the same destination, but for a few years they will share the boat," said Lopez-Levy.

As to apprehension from fellow Cuban Americans about the lack of change in Cuba, Lopez-Levy said one of the "best-kept secrets" is that all countries who have gone through diplomatic changes such as these have had to make internal political readjustments.

"The internal debate in Cuba is whether they will be a country or a cause," said Lopez-Levy. He said the U.S. outreach is forcing the communist island to weigh the potential benefits of a more moderate leadership, and the coming years will indicate the direction Cuba's leadership is taking.

#CubaNow, an organization which advocates for closer ties between the two countries, sent out a Tweet Wednesday on a recent NBC News/WSJ poll that found that most Americans favor increased diplomatic relations.

And regardless of different opinions in the U.S., Cubans across the Florida straits were also remarking on the day's significance. "The photo of the day," tweeted famous Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez, who has been critical of the island's government. She tweeted a picture of the two countries' flags, side by side.

-Sandra Lilley