BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — To some, Fidel Castro was a revolutionary, a symbol of defiance against the machine of capitalism. To others, he was a dictator committed to stifling free speech and civil rights.
His death Friday triggered many emotions.
“I was happy. A lot of emotion. Actually I cried a lot,” said Rosa Gonzalez.
Gonzalez was born and raised on the small island nation of Cuba.
She remembers a childhood filled with hope, when Castro first took power from U.S. backed Fulgencio Batista.
“My childhood there was excellent. And then everything actually changed,” she remembered.
The first time Castro spoke to Cubans publicly after assuming power, Gonzalez recalls her mother’s apprehension.
“And we were listening to him, and we were all excited, loved him. All my family, my brothers [loved him.] However, my mother said ‘I don’t like this, I think he is not the person he claims he is.'”
Gonzalez soon felt the same. She started speaking out against the regime and was later expelled from school.
Unwilling to be silenced, she fled to Spain before eventually moving to Miami, and then to Western New York.
Friday, Gonzalez shed tears not to celebrate a leader’s death, but to rejoice in the possibility of a new chapter for a place she still feels is home.
She met now leader Raul Castro as a teenager. She remembers a kind man, one whom she hopes will continue to improve relations with the U.S.
“This guy had an impact on the world,” said Rene De La Pedraja, another western New Yorker born and raised in Cuba.
Like Gonzalez, he too was a supporter of Castro early on. As a little boy, he saw the dogmatic military leader as a symbol of change.
“His popularity was tremendous, and he begins doing these good things to help people, but at the price of taking things away,” he said.
De La Pedraja, who has written books on the Cuba’s history, feels strongly that despite Castro’s shortcomings, he did more good than harm.
“Things that we take for granted. I mean we had in the United States the Civil Rights struggle, Martin Luther King, and we all know what happened to him. Before all that, Castro came and he abolished segregation just like that in Cuba.”
Now a professor at Canisius College, De La Pedraja lost family members at the hands of the Castro regime, but still feels Castro’s image was tainted by the U.S., who saw him as a defiant figure to their definition of government.
He describes the late leader as a loyal revolutionary.
“He always stayed true. The problem with our politicians, they say one thing and they do another thing.”
For him, Fidel lived up to his name, which in Spanish means faithful.
According to Cuban officials, Castro was cremated.
Sunday, the island began a nine day mourning period for their former leader.