I'd heard people clap when the plane touched down before. I'd never heard such excitement as when the flight from Havana touched down at Miami.
After we boarded and were all seated, there was an announcement in Spanish. It was not repeated in English. Hands shot up all around the airplane. Had it been asking who wanted a free drink or seat upgrade? Everyone in our group looked at each other, but no one had any idea what was going on.
Finally, a Cuban sitting nearby explained that the announcement had been asking everyone who was staying in the United States to raise their hands, because they wanted to know how many there were.
Remember the visas that the United States had recently started granting more of? Some of them were on our flight.
We were only able to go to Cuba because the United States had eased up on the restrictions for Cuban travel, but it went the other way too. Cubans who wanted to go to the United States ran into at least as many issues from the United States government as from Cuba.
Our tour guide had an uncle who had gone to the United States during the revolution. Five times her grandmother had arranged a meeting with the United States to see if she could go visit him. Five times she'd managed to gather $100 to set up that meeting. Five times the United States had responded “no, you can't go see your son.” She had died without seeing him again.
Several people I met on this trip (especially other non-American tourists) mentioned their approval of the kind of cultural exchange we were on, or how great travel is for learning. I've certainly learned a lot more from this trip than I could have in any other way, and developed a much greater appreciation for Cuba than I could have otherwise. That first step in easing the embargo is so important. Let more Americans tour and learn about Cuba, and let more Cubans come to the United States, whether they want to visit or live there.
The plane exploded into clapping and cheers when we touched down in the United States. Trent gave a thumbs up to a person sitting nearby him and said “congratulations.” The Cuban, now a Cuban-American, gave a thumbs up back. He was crying and hugging his family.
However glad I and the students I was with might be to return to nice showers and beds and families and friends and food, our excitement couldn't compare with the excitement of the new immigrants. They had been waiting so much longer.