October 31, 2020

Cuban-Americans behaving badly, or, the Cayman in Winter


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2015-03-11-1426047723-4053680-141217cubanamericanssg1611_2eac0aac80f5365f582083e4e38ee975-thumbBy Alfred J. López Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Purdue University From Latino Voice

Sometimes procrastination is a good thing. I had meant to write a new post some days ago, but the absence of any exciting Cuba-related events persuaded me to wait. It was only my discovery of a tiny, but very grumpy cyber-outpost of old-school Cubans — hating on a book that I have written but they have not read — that gave me my thesis:

That the bad old days when a small, vociferous group of angry Cuban exiles could effectively dictate what could be said or done in Cuba-related matters are reaching their end. Their dwindling numbers are not yet reflected in any diminished influence in Washington or in the media; yet it is hard to avoid the creeping sense that Cuban-Americans — especially the hardline variety — are becoming just another U.S. minority, albeit a noisy one.

Here’s the backstory: A recent post on the right-wing Babalú Blog announced the publication of my new biography of José Martí, Cuba’s greatest founding father and national hero. The post itself is noncommittal, merely noting the biography as a book “of significant interest” to the readership.

What follows is several commenters’ excoriation of author and book. One commenter read my acknowledgments online, and informed the others that I had thanked former professors who were “pro-Castro” activists, among them a supposedly “accused Castro spy”; and that I had taught at Florida International University in Miami, “a contaminated environment.”

The punchline? No one involved has actually read the book, and several declare proudly that they have no intention of doing so.

Again: None of them has read the book.

It is hard to explain to non-Cubans just why a Cuban-American author would take such obviously uninformed babble seriously. But my so-far fleeting brush with the haters has reminded me why I hesitated for years to write a Martí biography that might challenge hardline views of their national idol.

For most Americans, the TV images of Cuban-Americans raging outside of Miami’s Versailles restaurant were little more than entertainment, perhaps minor irritation: There go those Cubans again, just like back with Elian (if in fact Americans even remember Elian). But for me, those images brought back memories of a more violent time. The 1970s brought a string of bombings against Castro-friendly embassies and consulates in the U.S. and abroad. Although hardliners had once limited their attacks to Cuban soil, they eventually targeted Cuban-Americans critical of their politics and tactics. Since 1970, hardline exile groups are believed responsible for nearly 100 terrorist acts in Miami alone, most of them bombings or attempted bombings. The most infamous of these cases was arguably the October 1976 bombing of a Jamaica-bound Cuban airliner that killed all 73 people aboard. The case I remember most vividly, however, was the attempted assassination six months earlier of Miami broadcaster Emilio Milian, who had his legs severed by a car bomb and nearly bled to death in the parking lot of radio station WQBA.

Following several bombings of Cuban hotels in the late 1990s and an attempted assassination of Fidel Castro in 2000, paramilitary exile groups such as Alpha 66 and Omega 7 have been relatively quiet. In many ways, 2000 — which brought us the Elian Gonzalez debacle in April and the prominence of Miami Cubans in events following the Presidential election seven months later — appeared a political last hurrah for the hardliners, who wielded a political influence seemingly out of proportion to their actual numbers or relevance.

None of this, of course, had much to do with my little book, which fellow Cubans assured me would be beneath the notice of entities that (in their minds at least) would have bigger bacalao to fry.

I had launched my Martí biography last November at the Miami Book Fair, on a panel w/ two fellow writers. Nothing much happened: Each of us flogged our respective book, and we sat afterwards and signed some copies. A reading last month in South Florida — at Coral Gables’ revered Books & Books — was a delightful experience, with a warm, receptive audience that listened intently, laughed at my jokes, asked thoughtful questions, and chatted me up afterwards. Most importantly, they bought plenty of books.

Where, I wondered, were the angry flag-waving Cubans who denounced “traitor” Obama on TV? Where was the mouth-foamer wagging his enraged finger and denouncing me as a Castro shill?

A friend joked that the bombers were asleep — my 8 p.m. reading was past their bedtime. There was some truth to that, as the first generation of Cuban exiles, politically the most conservative, were aging and dwindling in number. In the afterglow I came away persuaded that perhaps I had judged my fellow Cubans too harshly, that my audience, especially older Cuban-Americans who had me sign books for their children, had grown beyond the politics of division and hate.

As I said at the top, that was my thinking a few days ago.

And now? I am encouraged by the relatively small number of haters. I am grateful that none of them decided to make a scene at Books & Books, a store I have long loved and would have hated to soil with such an incident. Most of all, I believe that had such a biography appeared 30 or even 20 years ago, the reception would have been much uglier, if only because first-generation exiles, the hardest of the hardliners, would have been alive in greater numbers.

Perhaps that is the best for which one can hope: That the dregs of a minority that, in striving against an oppressive Cuban regime, has generated no small amount of unnecessary misery itself, will not burn out but fade away.

Perhaps both the totalitarian Castro regime and those who despise it most fervently are approaching the end of their shelf life, what my former colleague — to the hardliners, “accused Castro spy” — Lisandro Pérez would call their “expiration date.”

To paraphrase Hamlet, who was not Cuban but knew a thing or two about haters: ‘Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished.



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