Ana Wong Wood knew Havana’s Chinatown well.
Wood was born in Cuba and was part of the Chinese-Cuban community, whose roots date back to 1847 when 120,000 Chinese laborers entered the country as contract workers. Her father built several successful businesses, including food markets, a restaurant, and a hotel, she said. That work disappeared when Castro and communism changed the country.
Now in her 60s, Wood feels no nostalgia as President Barack Obama, who made a historic speech in Havana on Tuesday, attempts normalization with Cuba. She only feels anger.
“I am not going to Cuba. I will not go as long as Castro is alive,” Wood told NBC News.
She was 11 when she saw her mom and dad, Jose and Ana Wong, stripped of their possessions as they boarded a plane for Miami.
“The minute they got to airport they took everything away from them,” Wood said. “They had a choice between their wedding bands and their watches … They kept their wedding bands.”
“I don’t feel like there’s going to be immediate change. Whatever happens, it’s still going to be a long process.”
Wood’s immediate family were allowed to leave, but extended members of the family had their property confiscated and were sent to work in the sugar plantations. Eventually, Wood and her family made it to relatives in upstate New York, but the memory of leaving her Cuban life to rebuild in the U.S. still gives her pain.
“I think that’s what hurt the most,” Wood, who now lives in Nevada, said. “They lost so much, but yet they maintained their dignity and respect.”
Her family’s loss keeps her from backing any notion of an end to the Cuban embargo. And when she watches the news, the smiles and handshaking just seem like empty political gestures.
“I don’t feel like there’s going to be immediate change,” she said, noting how she doesn’t see a difference in tone from Castro or the military. “Whatever happens, it’s still going to be a long process.”