01 February, 2010

Cuba's "Los Van Van" concert in Miami not as divisive to Cuban-Americans as it once was

by Jorge Reyes

The first thing my mother said when I told her the Cuban band Los Van Van was going to perform in Miami was: “Wow, what memories.”  She, of course, was reminiscing about a band she remembers fondly from her youth, a band that led by Juan Formell celebrates its 40th anniversary with an international tour, which kicked off with a concert in Key West on Sunday night.

If you're somewhat familiar with Cuban issues this may be yet another instance of our seemingly intractable political impasse.  If you're not familiar with Cuban issues at all and your only idea of Cubans in Miami is via the Elian Gonzalez saga, you must be trying to figure out what all the fuzz is about.

In a nutshell, for years Cubans in Miami have refused to welcome any performer or any other public figure who lives in Cuba.  Anyone disagreeing with this mentality has been called everything from fascist to terrorist to, worse, murderer.  I kid you know.  Whether this is true or not, to the exiles anyone who stayed behind is representative of a communist regime, and that's enough to ostracize them in a free country such as ours.    

This all makes for some weird bad publicity to Cuban-Americans.

To the outside world, Cubans in exile seem like a throwback of another age; a community that does love this country and has done relatively well, yet seems to have very little respect for the first amendment.  That's a shame, though, for it is a myth; one that may be shared, perhaps rightfully so, by that first generation of immigrant Cubans still yearning to return to the Cuba of their dreams in a few month's time; those who think the world has remained still since they first fled a political dictatorship in the early 1960's; those who think the Cold War is still a political presence to be fought.  All of that has been a myth; a myth because it simply isn't true any longer.

Thankfully also, the geopolitical issues of 1959 are not those of 2010.

Times do change, folks, and when Los Van Van played last night in the James L. Knight Center, a cultural shift of sorts seems to have occurred in only a decades' time since they played last in Miami in 1999.  At that time, there were more protesters than concert-goers.  This time around, things were different. Radically different.  As reported in the news media, of all the thousands of protesters expected only about 350 showed up.  The views of a new generation of Cubans seems to have shifted from that of their ancestors.  And that, I think, is a good thing.

For many years, one of the things I've always said is that the Cuban community is not a monolithic group.  We have different views on a plethora of issues, including the Cuban embargo, Castro, and what we would hope happens in the last communist country in the western hemisphere.  I once gave a lecture about a book I wrote about Cuba.  Halfway into the lecture,  I got into verbal scuffle with a lady who defied and interrupted every word I said every time I mentioned what I consider to be the foolishness of maintaining the Cuban embargo.  Call it what you want, but that's how discussions about Cuba end up mainly among Cubans-- personal and highly emotional personal attacks.  That's it. 

Dissidents like me who do not share the either/or mentality of the Cuban exiled community for decades have been the most silent minority due in large part to us not wanting to go against the tribe. In the past, to speak and think differently in my South Florida community is often an attempt in intellectual futility and outright censorship.

But regardless of how you feel about this topic, what 4,000 concert-goers did seem to say is that changes can happen, and often in subtle ways.  After all, what happened to the thousands of protesters that showed up during the last concert in 1999? Did they suddenly die?  Did they have a change of heart?  Are they looking at alternatives ways to end what I call the Cuban impasse?  I wish it's the former for that would imply a different strategy towards the betterment of a 50-year old fractured and volatile relationship.

Protesters, of course, have of course have a perfect right to peacefully protest against anyone they choose to.  Obviously the fact that Cubans are displaced all over the world is significant.  What they don't have a right to do is stifle speech, dissent, or music as in the past.   But how do we change this state of mind?  By further dividing our sense of nationhood against anyone immediately branded a communist? Or by using events, such as a concert, to narrow the gap of our great divide? 

What Los Van Van concert shouldn't be about is politics. That, unfortunately, is what it has always degenerated into.  What it should be about is culture and the arts, something alien it seems to many who hold on to this erroneous belief. 

And this is the bottom line: some famous Cubans have chosen to remain in the country of their birth and not try their luck somewhere else.  Like Los Van Van, I can name a few: writers like the well-known author Alejo Carpentier and actors like Rosita Fornes.  Whatever their personal reasons for staying in Cuba, the discussion should not solely focus on their political views, if at all.  What is important, though, is how we interact with one another from now on and how we choose to engage in a substantive conversation about where we go from here.  Hurling glass bottles and empty cans of sodas is hardly the way to be heard above the dim of ad hominens.

Which is probably what my mother had in mind when I told her that Los Van Van were going to play in the sunshine state.  The sudden joy in her face told me of another story, and another Cuban.  One that is not political.  One that is not divided.  One that can careless about any of the things we are often guilty by association.  Not once did she think of politics, Castro, or the so-called "exiles."  To her it was just about remembering her past, and that had nothing to do with politics.  Thank goodness.


Anonymous said...

Los Van Van may live in a communist country, but this is the USA and everyone is entitled to their opinion. Whether they're communist or not is besides the point. Or is it? If it is then we're all in deep trouble.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous, that may be true but we have to be sensitive of people's feelings. Cubans left Cuba for a reason. Los VV represent all the oppression they left behind. Show a little heart!