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As Long as We Remember...

January 10, 2012

Growing-up Cuban and Other Prejudices Part 2

Nick Diaz

In Part I of this discourse, I mentioned how a good number of natural-born Americans are basically unaware of the nationality-based differences among “Hispanics.” In addition, so many well-meaning Americans have little or no idea of what events have been taking place in Cuba and the rest of Latin America in the past 50 years.


All of this, however, is a minor irritation when compared to the painful torture that comes when those of us who are Cuban exiles meet Americans, Canadians, Australians, and Europeans who admire the Castro brothers and their so-called Revolution. They lecture us about the wonderful achievements of that murderous, soul-crushing regime from which we've fled.


Again, I've lost count of how many times I've had to confront this general lack of awareness, which almost always includes hostility toward me, personally. Those who praise the Revolution tend to see me and all other Cuban exiles as "oppressors" who were justly driven out – selfish bastards who simply didn't want to share their possessions with the poor.


The guiding principle undergirding such prejudice is usually called "social justice," a very loose concept that refers to the redistribution of wealth in third-world countries, which are all imagined as equally corrupt and poor, and as peopled by non-whites.


This misguided conception of "justice" is itself derived from a host of other prejudices, including that which I like to call the “Mussolini principle” – to the assumption that underdeveloped or inferior nations need strong leaders and draconian measures in order to function properly.


So, just as the Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini was constantly praised in Europe and North America for finally making the trains run on time in unruly, darker-skinned Italy, Fidel Castro and his henchmen are praised for finally bringing health care and education to the even unrulier and darker-skinned Cuban people.


The chief assumption behind such praise, of course, is that such people are essentially different, and inherently incapable of enjoying the same kinds of rights and freedoms as more advanced light-skinned Europeans and Americans.


Another wrong assumption that guides such thinking is that Cuba was a third-world country before Fidel came along and "improved" it.


The real truth is just the reverse: On many accounts, Cuba was on a par, or ahead of, many European countries in 1958, and ahead of most other Latin American nations. Nothing proves this more convincingly than the fact that between 1900 and 1958, over one million Europeans migrated to Cuba, seeking a better life, and between 1959 and today, over two million Cubans have fled from the island while no one, from anywhere, has migrated to it.


I remember the noticeable number of Chinese people in Cuba, many of whom migrated to the island in the 1930’s. Other migrants included Eastern European Jews, Swedes, Germans, and Spaniards. After both World Wars, migration to Cuba increased in earnest.


Twelve years ago, at a parent-teacher conference, the father of one of my students introduced himself as Cuban. Cuban? With a name like “Kapelina?” His family emigrated from Yugoslavia to Cuba in the late 1940s; chased out of Croatia by Marshal Tito, then out of Cuba by Fidel Castro. Some people seem to be chronic refugees.


This glorification of Castrolandia is pervasive; oddly enough, the higher one goes in the social scale here in America, the more one is likely to encounter it.


In my profession, it is absolutely impossible to escape it, for most people involved in American education, at all levels – though bright and well educated – are predisposed to champion the Mussolini principle unflinchingly and unquestioningly when it comes to Cuba and Latin America in general.


Take the case of Dr. Carlos Eire, author of Waiting for Snow in Havana, and Waiting to Die in Miami. Some years ago, the University of Wisconsin revoked a previously made speaking invitation to Dr. Eire, a professor of History and Religion at Yale University. They had offered the engagement earlier because – as the dis-invitation email put it – I would represent "the unjust oppression of the Cuban people by the exile community."


Among the many ways in which we Cuban exiles encounter such prejudices and blatant ignorance, none is more constantly irritating than that of seeing the face of Che Guevara emblazoned on T-shirts and all sorts of merchandise.


Che was Castrolandia's chief executioner, the very embodiment of ruthless slaughter, the exact opposite of the idealistic hero so many people take him to be. Yet, I and other Cuban exiles constantly run into these bitter reminders of the world's foolishness, and of the prejudices which allow falsehoods to endure and eventually become myths.


The depth and breadth of such ignorance is staggering, and very troubling to me and other exiles who personally experienced the evils of Castrolandia. When falsehoods become history, and psychopaths like Che are turned into saints and pop icons, the whole world is in trouble, not just for Cuban exiles like me, for then we are all one step closer to George Orwell's 1984, or already in it.


* * * * * * * * *


Even as a child in my native land, I remember having the desire to come to the United States of America, not as a temporary tourist, but on an extended basis.


I was eager to experience everything, not just something in particular. The United States had projected itself into my consciousness through its films, television shows, comics, and toys. It was the "real" world, where nearly everything important took place.


In my early childhood years, up to 1959, I was aware of the fact that the U.S. was more stable than Cuba, and that there was no cretin like Fulgencio Batista running the country, and no need for a violent revolution north of the Florida Straits.


Then, after President Batista left and Fidel made everything worse, the USA began to look even better to me. As the repression increased under Fidel in 1960, and as his policies drove Cuba back into the Stone Age – economically, intellectually, and technologically – the U.S. became even more of an ideal Utopia in my eyes. So, of course, I longed to go there, and not just experience it, but live in it, at least for a while.


Little did I know then that, more than a half-century later, I was destined to live here for the rest of my life. Looking back, it couldn’t have turned out any better. Life in the USA has been good. Natural-born Americans, please love and appreciate our country the way it deserves to be loved and appreciated.


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