While Cuba is literally our neighbor, it has been almost impenetrable to Americans. Cuba is on the map, but it’s otherwise invisible. We know it from its past, from its legacy on our culture and from a Pantheon of notorious, tragic, heroic and historic people and events. Christopher Columbus made landfall in Cuba on his first voyage to the New World. Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders took San Juan Hill in the War for Cuban Independence. Che Guevara and Fidel Castro brought their Marxist brand of rule to the island, setting the course that has disrupted relations with the U.S.
International forces under John F. Kennedy’s watch unsuccessfully invaded the Bay of Pigs, attempting to overthrow the Castro regime. Not long after came the Cuban Missile Crisis. A very different sort of invasion, this time on U.S. soil, came in 1980 — the Mariel Boatlift brought thousands of refugees to Miami fleeing the Communist regime, sparking an unprecedented urban rebirth. In 2000 came an epic international custody battle over a six-year-old Cuban refugee named Elian Gonzalez. So much history and drama for a little island floating in the calm Caribbean Sea.