18 December, 2006

Of Death, Mortality, and Fidel Castro

By Jorge Reyes

How incredibly to realize that after so long, it seems that the man we all hate to love is finally meeting his own mortality. I'm referring to Fidel Castro, someone who at least for a while seemed to have discovered the secret of life.

It only seemed that way. But even Fidel seems to be taking his own death with moderation and, like John Paul II, making the most even out of dying.

I'm amazed how some still compare present day Cuba to the man we love to hate, Fidel Castro himself, as if Cuba, the Cuban people, the very heart and soul of that small, crocodile-shaped island in the Caribbean, were synonymous with Fidel.  Of course, it isn't, and disentangling both will be what most call for a future reconciliation. 

It wasn't after I returned to the country of my native birth after more than twenty years of absence, that I began to think for myself-- independently of familial or personal prejudices-- of what we, Cubans the world over, have been doing wrong for fifty years or for as long as, well, what seems like Biblical times. 

Simply put, there's an either/or mentality when it comes to Cuba, "a la Fidel." Hence, we are our own worst judges by advocating policies that personal, emotional and irrations because they stem from the heart.  The US embargo, for example, is a failure.  It always was.  It always will be.  Simple as that.

Yet, we've capitulated to Fidel by advocating and remaining stuck in a Cold War relic which still, to my amazement, many if not most Cubans living in exile, still seem to think is Cuba's only salvation.

I love to corrupt the minds of the youth, therefore I will go the extra mile and advocate to destroy this stupid embargo-mentality: if the US embargo against Cuba is the only rational policy that will, ultimately, depose Castro from power, howcome he's still in power? howcome his power is now even on his deathbed more entrenched than ever?

We've advocated the wrong policy. 

And yet, we have Congressmen and Congresswomen in the US government who's sole ticket to fame has been their good-faith attempts to misinterpret what they, themselves, must know is a failure. Like our deepest passions, the US policy against Cuba since 1959 has been anything but rational.  Rather it has shared some of the personal vitriol, one decybel too high. 

I left Cuba with my parents when I was eight years old in 1982. I returned almost twenty years later as a result of my grandmother's illness, which killed her six months after a diagnosis of a rare form of cancer. Luckily, if not hastely and unprepared, my mother, an aunt and I returned to our strangely familiar land. To say much is to veer off into nostalgia. To say too little about our emotions is to be a hypocrite. Returning to Cuba was a mixbag of emotions.  My experiences in Cuba eventually became a published book titled, Rediscovering Cuba: A Personal Memoir, a book which is still in print and which, as the years go by, has proven truer than I believed when I penned the small tome.

I wrote intensely. I wrote and poured my heart out. Basically, I blamed this disaster that has befallen the Cuban nation on all of us-- every single Cuban who made a choice to either leave or stay; to curse and moan against the Castro clan or capitulate and give in, instead of fight. 

Since I wrote the book, I've become a bit more political, which is something I tried to stay away from when I was in the process of writing the book. But every discussion about Cuba eventually turns political. 

Still, my beliefs remain non-sectarian when it comes to politics because it is my strong belief that openess, not isolation, communication, not censure, is what creates a healthy environment to live, raise families and become the person each of us is meant to be.

Book aside (and personal feelings), my journey through Cuba became part of a wonderful collection of pictures I took of local places, local people, and folkloric scenery. These wonderful images and not just the typical images of Cuba with, well, by now you know who, that Biblical Patriarch, is Cuba. Whether Communist or none of the above, whether exiled in Miami or New York City or Paris or whether living under a palm-thatched 'bohio' somewhere in an isolated town, 'this is Cuba', to paraphrase a Cuban/Russian film of the same title.

Long after He is gone, long after His face is just another failed god like Lenin or a sort of historic curiosity, a rebirth of a new Cuba will spring even if from incremental hopes and dreams, and when that day comes we'll all wonder why we didn't think of opening the windows to this beautiful paradise if but just a tiny crack at a time.....

29 October, 2006

“Vamos a Cuba” ! and, what's wrong with that?

by Jorge Reyes

I’m often more perplexed, and disappointed, not to mention angry, every time I see the foolishness of my own community: the so-called Cuban exiled community in Miami.

Not too long ago the Miami-Dade county banned from the school’s library system a book which, had it not been for its controversial banning, would have perished unread and unopened in those perennial dust-bin which most books seem fated to in our public library system.

According to those who know better, the book, which was written for children 10-15, gives a too-cheery positive outlook to the educational, cultural and health care systems to the post 1959 communist-based Cuban government.

To quote "School Library Journal,"

"Grade 2-4-Colorful photographs and brief texts fill the pages of these introductory titles. The table of contents is essentially identical for both: land, landmarks, homes, food, clothes, work, transportation, language, school, free time, celebrations, and the arts. Each topic is covered in a two-page spread with one large photograph and three or four lines of simple text per page. (For example, "Cruise ships stop at San Juan. They bring tourists to the islands," is followed by four more sentences about transportation in Puerto Rico.) Words in bold are explained in the glossary. A "Fact File" is found at the end of each volume along with identical lists of "Words You Can Learn," in Spanish. These books are similar in scope and reading level to the "Take a Trip" series (Watts), but provide fewer details. While the information is very basic and succeeds in giving only a glimpse at life in these countries, the books may be appropriate for collections needing easy titles on different nations."

Marilyn Long Graham, Lee County Library System, Estero, FL
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc

Immediately, the book was slated for a vote to get it out of children’s hands and, God willing, out of the many ways that an open society should debate controversial issues when opposing points of views seem to be of conflict. Of course, never mind that controversial issues are hardly ever addressed by anyone since most of what we end up hearing are blaring sound-bytes written for the evening news, not substantial debates of the issues. Of course, never mind that in this country those of a left political leniency—from social democrats to outright communists—have as much of a constitutional protection to express, teach their kids and, yes, even proselytize as those of a right-wing leniency—from Christian fundamentalists to Libertarians.

A vote was held a few months later and to no one’s surprise, the book was voted out of our endearing children’s hands.

This sends a chill down my spine. Cubans, the community I am a part of, should know better and, honestly, ought to be ashamed. This is more alarming since we are a community that fled our native country in order to escape a political dictatorship, not to mention a monopoly of ideas. 
The same motivating factor that pushes us to ban materials which is not to our liking is the same one that compels someone like Castro to send children and young adults to prison for ten, twenty, thirty years in prison simply because those same children dare to have an opinion which differs from the majority’s opinion.  In the case of Cuba, Fidel's own opinion. 

Again, thank God that this latest travail into my right to read and learn everything I want short of hurting anyone else, will see its day in court. I hope that judges at any level are more interested in protecting First Amendment rights than narrow political allegiances.  We, as a society, gain far more by agreeing to disagree than by creating a society of robots where everyone things the same.

All of which brings me to this: yes, vamos a Cuba! Let’s visit Cuba. End this foolish farcical sideshow called the embargo. Let’s end once and for all type of embargos and let’s start by believing in something very few of us truly know what to do with: freedom.

28 October, 2006

South Florida's Culture-based Segregation

Perhaps South Florida is a separate entity from the rest of the other states. Perhaps, in many ways, we as a community are so diverse, separated and segregated that we seem to be creating a cultural identity separated from other cities. In turn, we are subdividing each other into even smaller pocket groups based, mostly, on cultural differences and not as much on racial ones.

At first this may seem one of the most ironic statements anyone could make. But the more I sit and watch the cultural mind-set that prevails in my community of Miami-Dade County, the more convinced I am that we're unlike the rest of the other states.

Anomalous as it may seem, other states can be as segregated as we are and for many reasons, not just one. Mostly, though, the differences are often divided into either racial and economic barriers. In Miami, for example, the racial aspects are much more fluid due to the fact that with the immigration influx, there are just as many mixed Latinos of either/or race than there are of just one or other: white or black. I, speaking like the hyphenated Cuban-American that makes it easier for me to define myself as part of an identity, has seen white and black Cubans live and get along with not much distrust, were it not for the fact that we got that "Cuban" identity.

But that's as far as this goes for if any Cuban of any race were to be faced with, say, an Afro-American person, then there would be a different set of interpersonal and intercultural problems arising.

Think of it! Racial biases almost obliterated almost solely based on a common cultural identity, and not necessarily over the divisiveness of race.