It’s lunchtime at the Havana Grill in Clairemont Mesa. Owner of the restaurant Sandra Cardet is preparing what she says is the best Cuban food in San Diego, but she admits her mind is on her homeland.
"I want them to have the same opportunities that living under a free democratic system gave me and my family," she said.
Cardet, who was born in Cuba before the revolution, says she’s feeling optimistic. On Sunday, President Obama, along with his family and a team of aides and advisors, landed at Jose Marti International Airport. It is the first time a sitting American president has set foot on Cuban soil in 88 years. Cardet said she hopes the visit will lead to change and good things to come.
"I am so thrilled that President Obama and this administration has actually taken the first step toward normalizing relations," said Cardet.
But not all Cubans are pleased with Obama's visit. On Sunday, groups in Havana protested, saying the president should not be dealing with dictators like the Castro brothers. Many Cubans and Cuban Americans believe the visit is nothing but a photo opportunity and will do nothing to help the country and stop what they see as government abuse of the Cuban people.
"They’ve had a policy of isolationism and trade sanctions with Cuba that have lasted for 50 years. And the whole purpose of that policy was to bring down communism in Cuba and to get rid of the Castros. It didn’t work. It never worked. It hasn’t worked and it won’t work. So all it’s done is bring poverty and misery to millions and millions of Cubans,” Cardet said. "Not that the embargo is over, and not that communism has been toppled -- but they’ve taken the first step and I couldn’t be happier."
Cardet says she is fortunate to have escaped from Cuba and to have the opportunities she and her family have had as Americans. She doesn't think changes will come quickly to Cuba, but she hopes Obama's visit will be a start.
"It’s not history to me. It’s real life. It’s my life and it affected my life, and my family’s lives, so I’ve been waiting since I was a child truly for this to happen. So for me it’s a wonderful momentous time and I am so thrilled," said Cardet.