Sinai Temple guest gives lessons on Cuba
MICHIGAN CITY – In the 1950s, when she was just 13 years old, Cuban native Miriam Levinson immigrated to New York City and then to the Chicagoland area with her family. Later on in her life, however, she decided she wanted to go back to Cuba to teach others what the country has to offer.
Today, she has made 230 mission trips to her homeland throughout the past 16 years with people who want to know more about the Caribbean nation.
Levinson was invited to Sinai Temple Michigan City on Sunday afternoon to discuss her life in Cuba, the early years of the republic, American influence on Cuban culture and what the government leadership was like under Fidel Castro and how it continues to be today.
Levinson said what brought her back to Cuba was the thought of never seeing the home she grew up in again.
“The idea of going back to Cuba and not being able to see my home was unthinkable, and that’s what drove me back to Cuba more than anything else,” she said.
According the Levinson, when Cuba became a republic in 1902 there was no stable government and people in Cuba at this time were either very rich or very poor. She said this continued through her childhood.
“What was known about Cuba at that time was gambling, prostitution and American mobsters,” she said. “For many people it was, and still is, difficult to get by because of their economic situation.”
Children would come into her family’s shop asking for 20 cents apiece so they could buy food, Levinson said. Her mother would give them 20 cents each, but she was soon banned from the store by her husband because he was afraid their family would not have enough money to feed themselves if her mother continued to help the children.
“That’s how bad things were at that time, but we knew that another revolution was brewing,” she said.
This led to a revolution in 1953 led by Fidel Castro
“Fidel had this dream that everyone wanted to be equal. He spoke of wanting equality for all and he got his support through farmers although not everything turned out as planned,” she said.
During Castro’s time in office, and to this day, Cubans have access to free healthcare, education and housing, but it does come at a cost.
Much of the media is censored, Levinson said, with many families living in multi-generational housing, having to check with the government before doing basic household duties such as painting the outside of their home, having limited access to medicine and earning very little money.
“An average income for a Cuban is $30 per month and doctors make around $40, but once they get their doctorate they have to be a doctor in Cuba until they are 45 or over,” she said. “So although they get mostly free housing, free healthcare and free education, $30 per month does not stretch enough to give them enough for food and basic necessities.”
“And even though it’s censored,” Levinson added, “they do get news about the U.S., but it’s from the government’s perspective.”
While Cubans may get most of their news about America from their government, Levinson described Cuban youths as very American when it comes to music, clothing and culture.
“Many Cubans see Americans as cousins. They’re very attune to the American way of life. I think the dream for many Cubans is to attain the financial stability that most Americans have,” she said. "I think if you were to put someone from Europe, someone from South America and someone from America in a line and you would say to a Cuban, ‘Who would you like to be like?’ They would say American.”
Cuba may have its issues, but Levinson said she believes it is one of the safest countries in the world.
“It’s important to me that people know what Cuba is about. Cuba is a beautiful country and the people there are very friendly and they also want to learn about the American way of life,” she said.