Music, food and culture – these are what the media like to report about Cuba, things one Cuban man says do not mean a thing to Cuban exiles. But his attempt to educate TCU students about this fell short.Erasmo Pinero Jr. views Cuba as a hell that he was fortunate enough to escape 33 years ago, a place where books were rewritten and freedoms were squashed.
Pounding his fists loudly on the table, Pinero Jr., 47, said the real Cuba is ignored in this country.
“Media do not like to touch Cuba because it might erase the idealistic image that they have,” Pinero Jr. said. “They see it as a socialistic paradise, and it is not. It is a total hell for people living there.”
Pinero Jr. planned to draw from his experiences of growing up under communism for a course he was to teach through the Office of Extended Education titled “Cuba in the Cold War: A View from the Other Side.” Unfortunately, the class was canceled because of low enrollment, said Julie Lovett, director of Extended Education.
“You have to suffer, you have to feel it in your skin to be able to be a true spokesman of what happened,” Pinero Jr. said.
The lecture course, which would have taken place over two evenings Oct. 17 and Oct. 24, would have been a brief history of the Cold War and how Cuba influenced and participated in the Cold War.
Pinero Jr. said the reasons behind the lack of interest in the course are symptomatic of the situation with Cuba for a variety of reasons.
The Metroplex, for one, has more of a Mexican influence and lacks the Cuban culture found in areas like Miami, Pinero Jr. said.
Cuba is not on anyone’s radar, he said, it is a quiet island, laying dormant waiting for Castro to die.
He said he felt people did not want to hear from a Cuban exile because of the obvious bias in the class. If an American professor with no ties to Cuba had taught the course, he or she may have had more success, Pinero Jr. said.
“The idea behind the course is to give people a sense of the role Cuba played in the Cold War, which was extremely critical, if not essential, to the meaning of the Cold War,” Pinero Jr.said.
He said he wants to expose the truth behind the communistic veil as a person who has lived it and wants others to know what really happened.
“There’s a painful legacy of communism in Cuba that goes largely unreported every day,” Pinero Jr. said. “They talk about the Palestinians, they talk about the Holocaust. They talk about the Darfur events and things like that. But they never talk about Cuba suffering for the last 47 years under communism, and that’s a very big deal for a lot of people.”
Pinero Jr. said Americans need to pay more attention to Cuba.
“Cuba is an economic powerhouse for the U.S.,” Pinero Jr. said. “There is a huge potential for Cuba becoming the Hong Kong of Latin America.”
Lovett said courses taught through Extended Education usually need to be offered a few times before they can get full enrollment.
This is the second attempt Pinero Jr. has made with the course, but he said he is not ruling out another attempt in the future.
Pinero Jr. said people and the media do not want to hear the truth.
“There is a huge exile community in the U.S. that will tell them the truth and when they are confronted with the truth, they have to erase from their minds their idealistic and utopian view of Cuba that they have,” Pinero Jr. said. “They don’t want to face reality.”
The Journey To America
Pinero Jr., along with his parents, Liduvina and Erasmo Pinero Sr., and sister, Marisol Pinero, had been able to buy their freedom from the Cuban government in the form of a visa.
Pinero was 15 years old when he and his family fled Cuba for Spain in 1974, but the memories are clear.
“It was like paying ransom to get out of Cuba,” Pinero Jr. said.
The family moved to Spain for three years while they waited for their turn to enter the U.S.
“You could not fly directly to the United States,” Pinero Jr. said. “You had to get to a third country first.”
When they finally got to Tampa, Fla., Pinero Jr. was 17 and didn’t know English.
“Whenever you get to the U.S. the first priority is to get a job,” Pinero Jr. said. “And, normally, you get a job in the underground economy, in other words, an economy that doesn’t require you speak any English.”
Pinero Jr. entered high school where he was able to learn English quickly with the help of some bilingual friends and managed to obtain a job at a local hardware store.
Upon graduation, Pinero Jr. entered a two-year college in Tampa before proceeding on to The University of Florida where he graduated in 1984 with a degree in aeronautical engineering.
But 1984 was to be an even bigger year.
Pinero Jr. became a U.S. citizen and joined the U.S. Navy the same day in 1984.
“I became a U.S. citizen and walked across the street to join the U.S. Navy,” Pinero Jr. said. “I wanted to payback my freedom.”
Pinero Jr. served as a lieutenant in the Navy where he was a naval aviator.
During the seven years he served, he was able to travel the world with his newfound family.
“There is a strong camaraderie in the Navy,” Pinero Jr. said. “It is a very strong-knit community.”
Pinero Jr. met his wife, Barbara Perez, through his family while he served.
“It was almost like a pre-arranged marriage,” Pinero Jr. said. “They bring the girl because they know that you are a good candidate, and my mother knows that she is a good candidate.”
While visiting his family on a leave of absence, the two were finally introduced.
“It was a very traditional courtship, mostly by letters,” Pinero Jr. said of his long distance relationship with his future wife, who is also a Cuban immigrant.
“All we could do was talk on the phone,” Barbara Pinero said. “We got to know each other much better, but we had very expensive phone bills for two years.”
Barbara Pinero was 12 years old when she emigrated from Cuba to Spain with her family in 1983 where she spent three years before entering the United States, she said.
They had similar backgrounds, Pinero Jr. said, and they held the same concerns and values.
The two got married Dec. 21, 1991. That same year Pinero Jr. was honorably discharged from the Navy.
The couple moved around Florida while Pinero Jr. held jobs at Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. and Pratt & Whitney, and his wife attended college to pursue a degree in economics.
In 2001, Pinero Jr. was transferred to Connecticut with Pratt & Whitney.
In July 2002, he accepted a job with Lockheed Martin and moved his family to Texas.
He has been at Lockheed Martin for five years working as a propulsion engineer.
He lives in Keller with his wife, 36, and their two sons, Leonardo, 10, and Luis, 8.
Pinero Jr. is very adamant about his children knowing the truth about Cuba.
“I want them to know the truth,” Pinero Jr. said. “I don’t want them to be indoctrinated by this left-leaning propaganda.”
The Cuban Controversy
Controversy has been looming around Cuba for some time as to whether Fidel Castro, 81, president of Cuba, is dead or alive.
Pinero Jr. doesn’t care.
“Whether Fidel Castro is alive or dead it doesn’t matter and the reason why is the damage is already done,” he said. “He affected millions of people, he affected Cuba forever and he destroyed Cuba from what it used to be, so it doesn’t matter anymore.”
He said the scenes of Cuban healthcare in Michael Moore’s “Sicko are completely false.
“It’s a total farce,” Pinero Jr. said. “Medical healthcare in Cuba is a myth that the left in this country eats very well. They’re naive and they are gullible about that. It is a socialistic lie that doesn’t work; it never has worked.”
When those who know Pinero Jr. describe him, the first thing that comes to mind is his passion.
Brent Anderson, a co-worker who has known Pinero Jr. five years, describes him as very passionate.
“He has a great appreciation of what he has been given,” Anderson said.
Barbara Pinero said she agrees with Anderson’s description of her husband.
“He is very passionate about aviation and history – any kind of history,” Barbara Pinero said.
Pinero Jr. said he may one day visit Cuba again if the political atmosphere was to change, but he would never live there again.
“The United States is my country, my home, my only allegiance,” Pinero Jr. said.
Pinero Jr. may have been born in Cuba but he does not let that dictate his identity.
“I am an American, not Cuban-American,” Pinero Jr. said. “I don’t like to be called Cuban-American. I don’t like to be called Hispanic. I am an American. Period. And that’s what is important.