June 28, 2005

By way of an introduction

Tall palm trees and warm sands. Roaring waves and cool, ocean breezes… rumbas and comparzas rhythmically parading down the street in a colorful flutter of dance, music and worship.

These are not memories I have from Cuba, they’re symbols of a country now lost to me in all but this blog and the history site I’ve been nursing for nine years now… my child.

My own childhood memories of Cuba are less iconic, more abstract, covered by the apparent noise of time like a video image from the 1960s; I’m walking with my dad in Havana, and he seems very tall, as we walk through dense crowds on a small stone-covered street and through an iron gate into a small park. We cross the park and come out through a similar gate into an equally crowded but larger street. I can smell the ocean from here.

This memory plays like a recovered video from a different reality, with no way of telling for sure what came before or after. It’s just there… like Cuba.

More than 500 years after civilized men came to consume and destroy her innocent beauty, after the hardships of conquest and the brutality of colonization, through the barbarity of slavery, the emergence of Cubanidades (a Cuban identity) and the sting of Cubanismo (the Cuban independence movement).

After two major wars against the once mighty Spanish empire… even after the death of many of her most beloved sons; José Martí, Antonio Maceo, Maximo Gómez, Calixto García… men who donated every second of their lives to the idea of an independent Cuba, only to have their dreams shattered by the outcome of the War of Independence in 1898… Instead of the freedom they fought for, what they got was a new master--guess who?

Later, after 60 years of new empire domination, and names like Gerardo Machado and Fulgencio Batista, and then a revolution that evicted the empire but generated other issues to worry about, and names like Castro, Cienfuegos, Guevara… she’s still there, growing and thriving and suffering as always. Still the precious Pearl of the Antilles that every empire must have… if not to own, to dominate. To hang on a wall like so many other trophies.

She’s still there, and I wonder how much of her we’ll have to destroy to satisfy our sense of ownership and frustration after Castro’s gone. How many Cubans are we going to have to kill until they develop the type of government we demand of them? (The first time a mighty empire got a whiff of Cuba, nearly 2 million indigenous Cubans were wiped out.)



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