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Cuban President Raul Castro, right, and U.S. President Barack Obama react to a baseball game between the Tampa Bay Rays and Cuba's national team in Havana, Cuba, last month.

Most of America — myself included — probably shared a similar reaction to our country's effort to reconnect to Cuba last month.

The president was headed down there, so too was Derek Jeter. They got together for some chats and a baseball exhibition game. It could only have been more American if there was an apple pie-eating contest and everyone was driving a Chevy.

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Jay Greeson

And Cuba's youth craves to be more American.

J.C. Cedeno experienced it firsthand. The former Chattanooga resident and UTC graduate was in Cuba late last year.

He saw three different classes of people, divided by age as much as their perspective of the Castro regime that has spanned more than a half century.

"The older Cubans fought in the revolution. They benefited from it, and they have houses and were taken care of by Castro, so they are loyal," Cedeno said. "Then there are those who were born during the revolution, and the people who grew up there when the Soviet Union was strong.

"Then there are the young people, and they just want a better life."

Of course they do. But does a baseball game and the pomp and circumstance of a U.S. presidential visit pave the way for that?

President Obama's speeches down there were stirring — the man has a way with words after all — but the reality in Cuba will be far more messy.

Cedeno, who married a woman whose family is from there, is working on a documentary chronicling his daughter getting acquainted with her Cuban roots. Nicolle Ruiz, the narrator and first- person guide on the proposed project, was born in Chattanooga, and knew very little of her grandfather, Frank Pena, who lived and worked in Cuba for most of his life before moving to Chattanooga for the final 10 years of his life.

It's a project Cedeno and his colleagues have high hopes for, and one that coincides with a huge amount of history — both global and personal — for him.

"It's really a mystery for a lot of Americans," said Cedeno, who moved to Miami in 2006. "My daughter wants to see how her ancestors lived there and hopefully a lot of the interactions can be educational for a lot of us."

The subject is rich in material.

Sure American students learned about the Bay of Pigs and watched A Few Good Men and know that Col. Jessup eats breakfast 300 yards from 4,000 Cubans trained to kill him.

The struggles are dated, and maybe that's why the failed embargoes were lifted. Hey, enforcing failed measures repeatedly never yields better results (although, that's as American as baseball for a lot of our governmental processes).

Still the memories of those who had their lives changed — and ruined — by the dictators there give this exercise a different prism. The pain and suffering delivered by the Castro regime is still there because the Castro regime is still there.

No, the economic sanctions our country has used for decades did little to alter that through the years, but doing nothing to help the Cuban people is not the best plan either.

However, extending the gift basket of opportunity to the Castros also seems wrong.

What assurances are we ready to put in place to make sure a difference is coming? What can the people who have known struggles Americans have only read about expect? What daily changes — beyond a Starbucks or a Red Lobster in some coastal towns — can they and we expect?

None, really. Not when Castro was asked about political prisoners and his response was pretty much "What political prisoners?" and his older brother Fidel wrote a full page letter published in "Granma" titled "El Hermano Obama" (Brother Obama) that included some harsh words like this passage:

"Let no one succumb to the illusion that the people of this noble and self-abnegating nation will ever renounce the glory, the rights, and the spiritual bounty won with its achievements in education, the sciences, and culture. We don't need the Empire to give us anything."

Yes, we as a country have a litany of internal challenges.

But this seems more like we have decided that some imaginary clock went off — like the Castro regime's 'timeout' punishment had been completed — and we strolled down there to make amends. Hey, let's have a ball game, and forget all that other dictator-stuff.

The pain left by a half century of tyranny is real for so many.

It's his family study that attracted Cedeno from the start. And it may give him a front-row seat to a new Cuba — or a bird's eye view to the hardening emotions of the old Cuba.

Either way, it promises to be way more entertaining than a baseball game.

Contact Jay Greeson at 423-757-6273 or jgreeson@timesfreepress.com.

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