The Exterminating Angel, also known as Guardian Angel, is a sculpture by Josep Llimona dated in 1895. Built on the ruins of an ancient cemetery which in turn was built on the remains of an old church of the fifteenth century. The Exterminating Angel is the “Angel of the bottomless pit” who reign over locusts that devastate humanity “not marked on the forehead with the seal of God” (Revelation 9:11). (Credit: Andrés Suárez García)
My mother was a gifted psychic who never believed her talent was a big deal. She scoffed at poseurs and charlatans, was highly suspicious of the use of spirituality for profit, and reserved a deep respect for Catholic nuns and Catholic schooling. Never a churchgoing person, she had a profound faith in the power of her plaster image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (a gift from my father to her before their wedding), and an unswerving belief in the principle of Poetic Justice in the world. She never called it karma, but she maintained, to the end of her life, that eventually we all get our just deserts.
I have been thinking a great deal about my mother during this crisis of abduction and hostage taking of immigrant children by the US government. I remember distinctly the day at the Havana airport when we left Cuba in 1961. At the enclosed glass-area that led to the Pan American airplane, my mother and my aunt were taken away by female guards to be body-searched (Castro militias were looking for unauthorized money or jewels leaving the country). To this day, I remember the fear that engulfed me as I was left by myself with my young sister (I was 7, she was 6) in the departure area. (more…)
“Birth of Jesus with Visiting Magi” by Heinrich Hofmann, circa 1900. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
You’d wake up in the morning wondering if they were still there but you didn’t want to meet them, afraid of the magic of their passage still infusing the lighted Christmas tree in the living room, down the hall from the doorway of your bedroom.
Christmas toys were small, peremptory tokens that fulfilled a duty since you went to an American school in which instruction took place in English. Both Cuban and US holidays were observed. They’d told you all about Halloween and Santa Claus coming to your house with gifts on Christmas Eve. We had no problem taking small toys from Santa Claus, but the important ones—bicycles, Lone Ranger costumes and fake Peacemaker revolvers, Tonto action figures, Zorro’s secret hideout (a miniature plastic mountain), were brought by the Three Magic Kings on January 6. (more…)
Santeria Centro Habana, 3 November 2014. (Credit: Bernardo Capellini)
Soul of the Drum
On September 29, 1947, Dizzy Gillespie and legendary Cuban drummer Chano Pozo unveiled Afro-Cuban jazz at Carnegie Hall by premiering George Russell’s Cubana Be, Cubana Bop. On that date, Chano’s conga drums and Abakuá chants were first combined with Gillespie’s griot trumpet and his band’s bebop sounds. The integration of jazz and Afro-Cuban music demanded virtuoso accommodations from all performers. But in a shining corner of the universe, the ancient sounds of Africa—heretofore fragmented in diaspora—were reunited again. Chano and Dizzy had bridged two separate and distinct ontologies.(more…)
Circus poster showing battle between Buffalo Bill’s congress of rough riders and Cuban insurgents. (Library of Congress)
Sic semper tyrannis! I will not celebrate the death of Fidel Castro. Dictators abound in the world; their deaths should be met with a silent shrug. What joy is there in the tragedy of a people still shattered, a country lost in childhood, and another failure in the centuries-old struggle of Cubans for liberty and equality? Let those who will dance on graves wave flags, honk horns and jump in the streets as a rite of passage.
Rather than spit on a corpse, I choose to recall memories of another Old Man—what he did, and what he meant to us. (more…)
USS Maine in Havana harbor, shortly before explosion, 1898. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Conversely, Ted Cruz is the kind of Cuban North Americans dislike—once they come to know him. Chris Matthews of MSNBC’s Hardball is fond of comparing Cruz to Joseph McCarthy; the more illuminating comparison is with Fidel Castro, whom Cruz eerily resembles.
Both Castro and Cruz were the children of native mothers and foreign immigrants (Castro’s father was a Spanish immigrant to Cuba). They both grew up in rebellious, secessionist minded provinces of their countries (Castro in Oriente, Cruz in Texas). Like Cruz, Castro attended the best schools (Belén and the University of Havana in Cuba). They both became brilliant young lawyers who displayed zealotry in the pursuit of their ends and a penchant for the use of gangster tactics in their politics. (more…)
A 1900 Republican campaign poster for the US presidential election. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
For a natural-born Cuban like me, the sight of two Cubans—more precisely, two descendants of Cuban immigrants who came to the US during the Batista (this is significant), not the Castro era—running for the Republican presidential nomination is a spectacle of horrific proportions.
Cubans were ubiquitous in US history during the 20th century. They were leading participants in significant events such as the Spanish-American War, the Bay of Pigs invasion, the October Missile Crisis, the Watergate break-in, the Mariel boatlift and the Bush-Gore election in Florida. They have re-appeared (like birds of evil omen) at critical moments for the US almost as often as the New York Yankees have played in the World Series.
Now, if you please, two US Senators of Cuban heritage are running for president of this great country. Like the Washington Senators baseball fan in the Broadway musical Damn Yankees, I begin to yearn for a Devil who will buy my soul in exchange for the prevention of such a future eventuality. (more…)
Basilica of Sant’Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, Italy: “The Three Wise Men.” (Credit: Nina Aldin Thune)
You’d wake up in the morning wondering if they were still there but you did not want to meet them, afraid of the magic of their passage which still infused the lighted Christmas tree that you could see in the living room down the hall from your vantage point at the doorway of your bedroom.
Xmas toys were small tokens that fulfilled the date peremptorily, almost a duty since you went to an American school in which instruction occurred in English. (Both Cuban and US holidays were celebrated and they had told you about Santa Claus coming to your house with toys on Christmas Eve.) We had no problem accepting gifts from Santa Claus, but the important toys—bicycles, Lone Ranger costumes, Tonto action figures, Zorro’s secret hideout (a miniature, plastic mountain)—were brought by the Kings on January 6. Train sets were also delivered, which you were not old enough to fix, but which delighted you by running round and around on their own power and on a single track.
Immigrant children, Ellis Island, New York, 1908. (Credit: U.S. Government National Archives)
About 45% of the “illegal” immigrant population in the U.S. entered the country through “ports of entry” with legal documents, and then overstayed the terms of their permits. About 55% entered without undergoing immigration inspection. The Cubans avidly sought—and seek—immigration inspection in order to be declared legal residents of the country.
The “special” status granted to Cuban immigrants has existed since the takeover of Cuba by the Castro Revolution. Cubans have repaid in kind by a steadfast allegiance to US right-wing agendas through the last 50 years. In 1961 they answered the siren call of the CIA to join an expeditionary force that would topple the Castro regime—and then were abandoned by the Kennedy administration on the beaches of the Bay of Pigs. The US barely avoided nuclear war with the Soviet Union over Cuba in 1962. Cubans participated in the US war against North Vietnam and were instrumental in the pursuit and defeat of the guerrilla forces of Ché Guevara in Bolivia in 1967.
Do not forget that several of the Watergate burglars in 1972 were Cuban, and that one of the most fiercely disputed electoral counties (Miami-Dade) in the 2000 Bush vs. Gore presidential election is today (and was also then) largely Hispanic (65%) and Cuban-American (34%). (more…)
Women and children among Syrian refugees striking at the platform of Budapest Keleti railway station. Refugee crisis. Budapest, Hungary, Central Europe, 4 September 2015. (Credit: Mstyslav Chernov / Wikimedia Commons)
Down here in Arizona opponents of “illegal” immigration (they are really opponents of all immigration, whether “illegal” or perfectly legal) are fond of putting an end to all discussion about the subject with the following question: “What part of ‘illegal’ don’t you get?” That settles the issue in their mind. Period. End of story. I have never had an opportunity to answer because the question has never been put to me directly. Mostly, I suspect, because such people think that my immigration status is shady at best and flagrantly illegal at worst. No one ever likes to mention the rope in the hanged man’s house.
But now our clown dynasty (I use the term coined by H.L. Mencken to refer to US politicians) has voted in the House of Representatives that it does not want to accept Syrian refugees, and several Republican presidential candidates are advocating the surveillance of Mosques and the government registry of Muslims (including American citizens who are Muslims). I take the liberty of answering, and explaining my answer, to this preposterous question for all readers of our blog.
The part that I don’t get about “illegal” is how come I’m not?!(more…)
Official logo of the videogame “Scarface: The World is Yours,” distributed by Vivendi Universal Games. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)
In the summer of 1980, in spite of race riots in Miami and the failed military mission to rescue the American hostages in Iran, the U.S. unleashed a vast and welcoming generosity upon the Mariel Cuban refugees.
Military planes carrying ambulances, trucks, tents, field kitchens, portable showers, mobile hospitals and tons of supplies were dispatched to refugee centers established in Florida and elsewhere across the nation. Refugees with families in the U.S. who could act as sponsors were quickly processed and released by immigration authorities. Those who confessed to crimes or prison histories in Cuba were sent to Federal Penitentiaries. Refugees who did not admit to felonies (confession was the only means of determining culpability), or who acknowledged crimes not considered serious in the U.S. (such as the crime of “killing a cow without government permission”), were held indefinitely in the camps.
By 15 May 1980, over 46,000 Cuban refugees had landed in the U.S., a number that would swell to 125,000 by the end of that summer. 2,000 of them were violent criminals; 22,000 were “non-felonious criminals and political prisoners.”(more…)