December 29, 2014

Martí describes an Act of Racial Violence

It still feels distressing to read Marti’s article from 1882; “A Town Sets a Black Manon Fire,” published in Mexico’s “El Partido Liberal.” Reading it today could reveal how much or little has changed, or not, in spite of 125 years of cultural progress and social evolution.
The victim in Martí’s article, identified as Coy, cried for his life; “I offered Mrs. Jewell no offense! You’re going to kill me, but I offered her no offense!” It seems that only Martí was listening.
The men who poured petroleum over his body, and the woman who lit the match, were in no danger of being charged with a crime by the legal system.
Why does José Martí seem so relevant again? Is it the appearance in the news of names like Michael Brown, Eric Greene and Tamir Rice? Or is it the persistent lack of change these names represent?
A different article by Martí depicts an act of mob violence in New Orleans in 1891.  
After chief of police John David Hennessy was shot in front of his home, 11 Italians were arrested and charged with murder, but some were acquitted and others released due to mistrial.
The 11 Italians on the receiving end of the mob violence were broken out of jail and murdered.  The lawyers who instigated and lead the event were carried on the crowd’s shoulders like sports heroes.
A grand jury refused to issue any indictments (surprised?) claiming that there were “too many participants” to know exactly where the guilt should lie.
“The grey-eyed politicians hated the dark-eyed politicians,” wrote Martí, abstracting the nature of racism and, perhaps showing how violence itself merely needs an excuse… a way to ignite… and sometimes any reason or excuse will do.
The lynching brought the word “Mafia” into popular culture, infusing the anti-Italian sentiments that already existed. It also led to a stir with the Italian government, who recalled staff from the embassy in Washington. The after-effects of the lynching are not covered in Martí’s article.
I’ve still not seen the TV movie on the subject (“Vendetta” with Christopher Walken) though I plan to.
“Everything that divides men from each other, everything that separates or limits them, is a sin against humanity,” wrote Martí in 1893. “Racist,” he wrote in My Race, “is a confusing word, and it must be clarified.”

December 03, 2014

Cuba: My Revolution

Recently I reread this wonderful graphic novel “Cuba: My Revolution” by Inverna Lockpez and Dean Haspiel, published by Vertigo in 2010, and was almost brought to tears by the experience.
The story details the horrors of post-revolutionary Cuba from the author’s point of view, with little room for the pre-revolution horrors of the time. Our heroine is a young idealistic woman (about 15 years older than I was at the time) who sides with The Revolution and is shocked to see her lovely island declared socialist after the Invasion at Bay of Pigs. I’ve no doubt that lots of Cubans can relate to this.

While this isn’t the best place to get the details of what actually happened in Cuba and why… you can clearly see the toll that the Cuban Revolution and its opposition placed on Cuban families, and the difficulty Cubans have had with “Castro” as a of pro or con issue… There’s little blame on anything you do to oppose “him,” and nothing bad can happen that you can’t blame on “him.”
“This narrative has been the backdrop of my life,” said Inverna in an interview with Graphic Novel Reporter, “and has resonated throughout my art career.” I can relate to this as well, though this “backdrop” has resonated throughout my life… I’m a gusano before I’m anything else.
Wisely, the book doesn’t embrace the terroristic politics of Posada Carriles and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, or how these impact current American culture, but the personal cost to families and friends and lovers is clearly visible and well articulated.  
I couldn’t help thinking of my mom (now in her late 70s) and her sister as I read it.  They came from a close family, most of which stayed behind, and they’ve spent their whole lives missing the hell out of each other and settling for the few phone calls and fewer visits.
The separation of our families was easier on my father’s side, which is where the rabid anti-Castro fanaticism remains to this day. Everything they went through is Castro’s fault. If only they would have killed him early on, none of this would have happened…
Or, what would have happened? Would Che be as influential if he’d been allowed to get old and foolish? I see a lot of Che t-shirts, but few, if any, Castro t-shirts… was the CIA’s (and Posada’s) failure to murder Castro a win for American culture?
Considering these thoughts during a rainy lunch break, I wonder how hating Castro can be more important than loving your own brothers and sisters, but I realize this is not something that I will probably be able to answer in my lifetime.
It may just be that in spite of our similarities (I came to the U.S. in the late sixties) we would disagree on whether to end the embargo… but I still love this book, if only for the awareness that it brings, and for the fact that it makes it easy to read between the lines.
The book ends with Sonya’s future ahead of her, and her ability to express the truth now a real possibility. It would have been nice if an afterword had provided a clue about the fate of the two lovers.