CHICAGO -- Chicago’s Cuban community is reacting to the death of Fidel Castro with a mixture joy and grief, with many hoping the death will bring long-awaited changes to the country.
At Cuba 312 in Roscoe Village, owner Guillermo Alvarez says Castro’s death has been the talk at every table.
"There’s a sense of relief, there’s a sense of maybe there are bigger things are on the horizon for Cuba," he said.
He’s hoping relations will continue to improve between the U.S. and Cuba.
"We've got to be optimistic. We got to think something good will come out of this," he said.
Across town at the busy Cuban cafe 1492, Fidel Perez says he was stunned by the news of Castro’s death.
"I was in shock because we’ve spent so many years waiting for that news, but when the news come, I don’t know what I think," he said.
After spending his first 32 years in Cuba, he escaped the Castro regime 12 years ago and came to Chicago looking for freedom and opportunity. He says the Castro regime was repressive.
"That’s why people were not free in Cuba and it’s really hard to live like that. Everybody’s watching you, everybody’s pointing at you," he said.
Castro was 90 years old, and he held an iron grip on the country for nearly six decades. Gisela Hamud thought he would never die.
"Finally when I saw, ‘Oh it’s true,’ I was like, 'I can’t believe it,'" she said. "He’s 90 years old. Sixty years in power."
Antuan Reyes came to Chicago from Havana four years ago.
"I realized when I ended college that the salary for a bachelor’s degree, it would be like nothing for a living," he said.
He says Castro’s death is a symbolic moment of change, especially for young people in the country.
Not all people see Castro as a repressive dictator. On Saturday night, the Rev. Jesse Jackson released a statement saying he viewed Castro as a hero for poor people:
"He changed the world. While we may not agree with all of Castro’s actions, we can accept his lesson that where there is oppression, there must be resistance."