The death of Fidel Castro, as significant as it was, does not change a thing in Cuba.
Cuba and Cubans remain enslaved by a lying, thieving, murdering communist military dictatorship created by Castro and that for more than a decade has been run by his far less talented little brother Raul.
Most Cubans remain hungry, and those Cubans brave enough to exercise their God-given right to free expression remain targets for political repression. No free elections have been scheduled, and dozens, if not more, of political prisoners continue to languish in the Castro gulag.
But Cuba's dismal reality does not mean there wasn't reason on Saturday to celebrate, finally, the earthly demise of the bearded bastard.
As soon as I heard early that morning that Castro had died, I knew I would be on a 4-hour drive to Miami. It was a promise I had made to myself long ago, and to the memory of my grandparents and other family members who were not fortunate to survive the man who had taken so much from them.
Police closed Eighth Avenue Southwest -- Calle Ocho -- in Miami's Little Havana to give more room for the crowd that gathered after the death of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, Nov. 26, 2016. (Photo: Marc R. Masferrer)
As I walked down Calle Ocho toward the large crowd gathered outside the Versailles restaurant, I could feel them walking beside me.
Two of the first people I saw and greeted were two former prisoners of conscience, Darsi Ferret and Fidel Suarez Cruz, of the Group of 75 prisoners jailed during the "black spring" of 2003. The encounter lifted my heart, knowing first-hand they were now living in the freedom allowed in the United States and that maybe my 11 years of writing on this blog about them and other Cuban freedom fighters maybe had something to do with that.
I was so happy to see these heroes at the party.
What a party it was.
Certainly, there were a few distasteful, if not macabre displays taking great joy in Castro's death. But who could blame them, considering the tens of thousands deaths Castro was responsible for during his 90 years. His record of death is important to remember as the apologists try to distract with accolades for Cuban education and health care, and suggestions that Castro deserves some sort of respect for surviving 10 U.S. presidents. (Between 1959 and today, there have been 15 free presidential elections in the U.S., compared to zero in Cuba.)
For a majority of the Cubans and Cuban Americans in the crowd, our aim was not to dance on a tyrant's grave, but to celebrate our freedom. Castro's death was just an excuse to do what comes naturally for Cubans.
With songs and chants and dances, we celebrated our freedom, a freedom fueled by the blood, sweat and tears of our parents, grandparents and other family members forced into exile because they refused to raise their children under yet another, more brutal dictator. They came here with little more than the clothes on their backs and built new lives for their families the way they wanted.
As a child, I have many happy memories of my grandparents and other older family members. But I also remember how hard they worked, sometimes at two or three jobs at a time, to provide for their families. After all, they started in America with nothing, thanks to Fidel Castro. But they were never bitter about it, at least in front of me.
After decades of building new lives in America, but never forgetting what had been taken from them, Castro's death unleashed from exiles and their successors a joy more momentous than anyone might have expected. Anyone who knows Cubans, knows we know how to party, but this was more than that.
In the air was also a sense of gratitude. Yes, most were thankful that finally, Castro was dead. Despite all we had lost decades ago, we had prevailed over the dictator. We won, and he lost.
But as evidenced by the American flags flying alongside a field of Cuban banners, there was a thankfulness to America for taking us in. A gratitude for letting us build new lives in freedom, and allowing us a chance to make America even greater than it already was.
Freedom. That is what we were celebrating. This time, it also was accompanied by a sense of hope that Castro's death, despite the evidence on the ground, will finally make possible real change in Cuba.
Celebrating our freedom and other accomplishment is nothing new for Cubans. We do it every day, in our careers and elsewhere, to prove ourselves worthy of the sacrifices made my our parents and grandparents.
This time, on Calle Ocho and everywhere else where Cubans are pondering what Castro's death might mean, it is accompanied by a hope that maybe we're a little closer to Cubans in Cuba being able to celebrate their own freedom.