Family is forever, is a phrase that you can find tattooed on many people. Nelson has the exact phrase tattooed on his back. For several reasons the phrase never resonated with me, and you might feel the same way as well. My Family members taught me the life lessons that built the criteria for the people I allow in my life. They showed me you can’t trust anyone. Something Lou (You’ll meet him later) always says “I trust you, as far as I can throw you” Basically saying, once you leave my eyesight, I don’t trust you. After spending a week in Cuba, “Family is Forever” might be my next tattoo. (Don’t hold me to it)
Nelson and I became friends through basketball. Every day at 5 pm we would go to the Golden Gate Park on Santa Barbara. Nelson, Weednel (who owes me a game) and I would play until the lights turned off. One day I was fishing at one of my favorite spots and I heard someone say, “Is that Tony?” I turn around and it’s Nelson walking along the beach with his friend. Thirty-minutes later, I pulled out a thirty-one-inch snook. Nelson caught the bait and took the picture and of course, the rest was all me.
Since then we’ve been escorted off private properties, more than once. Fished until 3 in the morning, and now I can add Cuba to the list. Nelson always promised he would take me to Cuba one day, and he came through. We spent my last night in Cuba stuck on the side of the road with 7 bottles of rum (My farewell party has been postponed). With our ride hours away, we opened a bottle and started the interview.
In twenty-five years where do you see our friendship?
“Ha-ha in Habana, Cuba. In 25 years, we will be 52 years old. Hopefully, by then, we will have made it retired and we can travel to places to go fishing and help others “
By the time I’m fifty, it will be the new twenty. For some reason, a lot of people think once you reach 30 or 40 life is over. When in reality, life is just starting. Life expectancy has risen greatly due to modern medicine. Many people are living to be 80-90 years old.
Truthfully, in twenty-five years I don’t know where I’ll be in life. One thing I do know, Nelson and I will be somewhere fishing, cracking jokes and bragging about who’s the better fisherman. I still remember the first day Nelson invited me over to his place. That’s the moment I knew he would be a friend for life. His mom treated me like her son the moment I met her. He was staying in an apartment off Tropicana Blvd. I drive past it every time I’m in Golden Gate. I always get a feeling of nostalgia.
Be honest who’s the better fisherman?
“That’s easy. Me!!! You’re the cameraman.”
Of course, he would say that. One of our best fishing moments was a night trip to a small bridge in Marco Island. We sat under the bridge and caught 2 lb. red snappers back to back. In the process of texting a girl (girls a nothing but trouble) my phone fell in the water. My first response was “Bro call my phone”. For some reason, I thought it would light up (maybe?). He laughed for a while then he said “Hello? It’s the fish. They have your phone”
Nelson and I have spent hours fishing together. We would talk about everything under the sun. During each fishing trip, we shared a moment that made our friendship stronger. I’m not going to concede and say Nelson is the better fisherman. We have our strengths. I am more of a sport fisherman, so I target snook, tarpon, redfish and sharks. While Nelson learned to fish for survival. Catching snappers, grunts, pinfish, grouper and tilapia was how he would feed his family.
What does it mean to be Cuban?
Nelson laughed for a few seconds, then stopped and remained silent for a moment. It seemed as if he was having flashbacks of his life in Cuba. “I don’t think I’ll be able to do this bro, damn that’s tough. I don’t if I can answer that one. It’s so many things. To be Cuban you have to have the party life in your blood. We are party people, outgoing festive. Caring for people we like to help one another. Love food, rum, and tobacco.”
It might sound cliché but for me to be Cuban is to be like water. They are strong enough to move mountains but gentle enough to give life. It takes a special person to survive in Cuba but somehow, they remain loving, caring and gentle to the touch.
I remember in college a girl told me I don’t have a culture and laughed. She meant to cause harm but had no effect. I know what it means to be black American or African-American. I prefer the former. I’ve read the books and poems, and articles, and reports, and experiments. Such as the Tuskegee Syphilis experiment or Crack Cocaine. I’ve watched the movies, plays, and skits on the history of black Americans. From a repulsive past, we have created a vibrant culture like no other. Music that touches every part of the world. Literature that moves the soul. Intellectual achievements that have taken us out of this world. If I wasn’t black/Haitian, the only other ethnicity I would want to be is Cuban lol.
Without your family who do you think you would be today?
“It’s hard to say who I would be without my family, but I think I would be pretty much be the same person I am today.”
Family can determine the path a person takes in life. For instance, many people attend a certain college or work in a certain profession based on their family background. You might want to be a teacher because your grandmother is a teacher. My family as a whole didn’t play a significant role in my life. There were a few people who had an impact on me. One, is my grandfather. There’s no way I can repay my grandfather for taking me fishing as a child. If I didn’t have fishing, I would probably be dead or in jail.
If I had a close-knit family, that was more involved, things might have been different. I probably would have been an economist or lawyer. I have always enjoyed going to school and learning, but I was never pushed or encouraged to take it seriously. I did just enough to get by. A small piece of advice I remind myself from time to time. “Make sure what you do is the product of your own conclusion”- Jim Rohn
If you could pass one value or life lesson on to your kids what would it be?
“To be humble.”
I’ve had the privilege to travel to countries I use to dream about. Venice, Italy will be checked off in 2019. A lot of the things I told people I was going to do. I did them. However, I remained humble. No matter how far I make it in my career, or in life. I’ll always be that nappy headed kid with ashy knees from Golden Gate, FL with no shame. A phrase I say from time to time is “I’m a nobody who’s a somebody”. To put it in reference, it would be the caveman who created the wheel. He changed mankind but at the end of the day, he’s still a caveman that nobody knows. Always stay humble and hungry.
If you could change one thing about Cuba what would it be?
“For the people to be able to live better “
Cuba is still a Communist country. Food rations, low wages, and poor infrastructure are just a few things Cubans must overcome daily. Every day I traveled from small towns to big cities. Each place we stopped at Nelson’s cousin asked for baby food with no luck. Restaurants face similar obstacles. Certain items on the menu are not available due to the scarcity of certain foods. Some reports say that tourists are the reason for Cuba’s food shortage. With restaurants buying the bulk of the food production for tourists. Cubans are getting the short end of the stick.
Since my trip to Rwanda and Tanzania in 2015, I have been conscious of the struggles people face around the world. From the Palestinian-Israeli crisis to the conflicts in Syria and South Sudan. One of the many dreams I have is to help millions of people in one way or another. Maybe I should have listened to Dr. Bhandari and went to school for Public Policies. I’m positive one day I’ll make that dream a reality.
What’s your definition of a real friend?
“A real friend is there no matter what. Through thick and thin. You don’t have to call each other every day but you know if you call one day whatever the time you know that person will be there for you, and not ask questions why or what happened. “
I’m sure you have had friends that you thought were there for you through thick and thin. Once things got a little rough, they disappeared. It has happened to many of us before. As they say, time tells all. I guess I can say I am one of the lucky ones who was able to find multiple friends that looked out for me over the years. It takes a long time to grow old friends.
A question my college mentor Mr. Valentine would always ask is, “who’s a part of your community?”. It made me look at the people I had around me. Since then I have been conscious of the people I allow in my life. You get to decide who’s allowed to take part in your life. Not everyone deserves the privilege to see you grow and flourish as a person. If someone does not add to your overall well-being, you don’t have to tolerate them because they’re family, or you’ve been friends with them for 5 years.
You have a tattoo that says the family is forever. What does that mean to you?
“It’s really hard to explain it. You will have to come and witness where I’m from. What I came from and what I went through. And the people around me. What they do for me and what they have done for me. What they teach me every day the value of family and what it means. I think that tattoo is more than three words. It’s something that is in the heart and something only the eyes can see when you’re here with me.”
I’ve always wanted a family. I still do. When I was a kid, I would watch kids play in the park with their parents. I was never jealous or envied other kids. From the outside looking in, many things look better than they are. I didn’t witness the fights and hateful words. Even though I never had the family I wanted growing up, I always understood the advantages of having a strong family bond. Empires, mafias and cartels are built from strong families. It takes more than one person to make a nation.
Nelson and Cuba showed me Family is Forever. From small-towns like Gral Carillo to the big cities like Las Tunas, I experienced what it feels like to have the family I’ve always wanted. Everyone treated me as if I was returning home to Cuba. Nelson’s uncle Orlando made me feel like a kid again. He took me to the store to buy cigars and beer for the party. He rubbed my head, hugged me and smiled like he hadn’t seen me in years. I never thanked Nelson for taking me on a life-changing trip. From the crazy night hunting with his godfather, to the dinners at the table surrounded by family. I am truly thankful. Family is forever is more than just three words. It’s a way of life. (It will be my next tattoo)
Viewed as poor and people of struggle
Illusions that the mind can’t defeat
Living with unity that kings can’t garnish
Loving all who walk their streets
A family that shall last forever
Cherishing the moments, they need not speak
Living a life of bonded freedom
A government that works the people for cheap
Rhythms, food, love and hardship
A Cuban is something words can’t teach.