Zoo Miami's mediagenic spokesman, Ron Magill, is a celebrity in Latin America thanks to his appearances on Spanish-language TV. But Magill had no idea he was famous in Cuba – until he finally visited the island last month.
Communist Cuba is still a controversial subject in Miami. And because he’s such a high-profile Miami-Dade County employee, Magill had been hesitant to go there. But like so many Cuban-Americans, Magill resolved to see where his late Cuban father was from when President Obama announced last December the U.S. and Cuba were normalizing relations.
“I knew it would create a very heated debate here in Miami amongst the community I live in," Magill says. "But at the end of the day there was a profound desire to find out the homeland of my father, to learn a little bit more about my roots.”
But Magill wasn’t prepared for the welcome he got. Thanks to flash drives, even Cubans watch popular shows like the recently canceled "Sábado Gigante," where Magill does regular wildlife presentations. As soon as he stepped off the plane in Havana, "everywhere I went in that country there was not one stop from Cienfuegos to Havana to Santa Clara to Matanzas – everybody came up to me like I was something special. I mean, they’d invite me into their home, they’d give me food, offer me cigars and drinks. It – it blew me away.”
Magill says the minimal backlash back home has been another pleasant surprise – and a sign of change:
“Following when I decided to make public that I took this trip, I was expecting to get hammered. And out of the hundreds of comments I’ve gotten, I’ve only gotten one negative comment.”
Magill says he’s planning another visit to Cuba – this time with his mother.