May 19, 2015

One Hundred and Twenty Years of José Martí

One hundred and twenty years ago today, José Martí died in battle for Cuban Independence from the Spanish Empire.
Today, has an author page for Martí, and I was able to find good deals on used versions of books by and about him. I was lucky that they were generally in great condition, though most couldn’t really pass for new.
Some of the books that I’d traditionally counted on the SF Public Library for have recently disappeared, so I picked up a few of these for myself, such as some of the titles by Philip S. Foner; “On Art and Literature, Critical Writings by José Martí” and “Political Parties and Elections in the United States,” and by Lillian Guerra; “The Myth of José Martí.” I also got the one by Jorge Mañach; “Martí, Apostle of Freedom,” which has a “withdrawn” stamp in all caps on the very first page and a “University of Lancaster Library” sticker on the inside cover, and several others. Most were under $10 each, and probably as old or older than most who will read this. A more recently published title by Alfred J. Lopez “José Martí, A Revolutionary Life” explores every excruciating detail of Martí’s life, and this could be a good place to start.
 Over the years Cubans have elevated the memory of Martí to near God-like status (myself included) and there are plenty of reasons… but it’s not just us Cubans…
A few years ago I met a little boy from Costa Rica named Martí. That was his first name. When I asked his parents about the name (they didn’t know who I was) the mother explained that he was named after the “great Cuban Poet.”
“Marti is the liberator of always and forever” wrote Eduardo Abril Amores in the Cuban newspaper El Diario de Cuba of May 19, 1942. “The warrior of every epoch and the eternal thought of Cuba. Nobody has said, since Martí’s death, anything that he had not said. He was the pinnacle of Cuban liberty, of the Cuban ideal, and of Cuba’s political genius. Martí was Cuba’s Infinite. Martí reached a point beyond which there is nothing.”
Opening the door on 2015 finds Martí’s humanism a decaying element of modern culture, and maybe his writings can help us find it, though clearly not everyone will welcome it.
Martí may not solve the puzzle of our diminishing humanity being replaced by the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition, but many will find it rewarding to learn more about the poet, the teacher, and the revolutionist and the man who walks on clouds.

May 10, 2015

Looking Forward to Peace With Cuba

A recent article by Matt Novak (13 Horrifying Ideas America Had for Invading Cuba)  touches on the sad recent history between the two countries that I love. As we finally move towards peace, it’s important to recognize what we leave behind.
Novak’s article doesn’t provide a comprehensive overview of U.S. aggression towards Cuba, but many  may still find it distressing… and rightly so.
I remember how disturbing all this seemed when I was first learning about it… some of it was so utterly mean and ridiculous that it seemed farfetched… but as declassified documents rolled out, the truth of the war on Castro could no longer be kept under wraps, or simply blamed on the few nut-cases steering the various activities.
When I was a kid, most of the anti-Castro activities that took place at the time were never discussed at home. We just assumed that everything that “went wrong” in Cuba was the fault of Castro and his brand of communism.  Our actions, the embargo, the anti-Castro efforts, the terrorism and vandalism and harassment and everything else we did to trip-up the regime was... well, beyond criticism.
Today, as we move towards peace, it’s obvious that the leaders of the anti-movement will never be held accountable for the suffering they’ve caused or the way they’ve made us look to the world.
Thinking about the 50-plus year war on Castro… I wonder how much money it cost us... How many resources did we squander? How many human lives were lost? How many families were kept apart for most of their lifetimes? And how many communists did the war on Castro convert to Democracy?  
Still, one of my favorite Gandhi quotes is about forgiveness; “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” There’s a related quote from Nelson Mandela; “Courageous people do not fear forgiving. For the sake of peace.”
As our streets fill with racial violence, perhaps due to a history barely discussed in public or in schools, making peace with… somebody, anybody, is a good idea.
In order to be strong and courageous for the two countries that I love, I will try to forgive the anti-Castro movement (they were few but powerful) and forgive the many Cubans who disagreed with them in silence and fear (I was one of them) for year after year... and forgive the misguided souls who trained, funded and pardoned these terrorists into our general population... and forgive the millions who simply chose the comfort of not knowing. (We should still turn Posada Carrilles over to Venezuela to face the legal system we’ve helped him avoid. There’s no better way to show our opposition to terrorism than making those who practice it accountable.)
The next step is to return Guantanamo Bay, and to start replacing these old-world-thinkers with more humanist political candidates.
The age of the ORC is over and the age of humanity begins! (I’ve always wanted to say that.) 
I can’t wait for a Cuban-American politician that all American Latinos can embrace, someone who stands for a peaceful future and for telling the truth on Cuba and our sordid history of attempted conquest… one who will truly embrace the concept of truth and justice… most likely he or she will be a Democrat.
The immediate challenge will be in restricting those who’ve acted without impunity for decades, and making sure they don’t poison the well. They’ve done it before.
A more recent article by Jonas Gamso claims a rosier future for Cuba given the changes of healthcare and education. We should be support these positive changes in Cuban society, not just reclaim past conquests.