Tuesday, February 19, 2008

I'm unnerved by how calmly Cuban exiles have reacted to El Jefe's abdication. Maybe I shouldn't be. My parents, who left the island in junior high, have said many times over the years, with equal parts weariness and bitterness, that they don't care anymore; neither does my 81-year-old grandmother, who left in her late thirties. It has something to do with the way in which odium and vengeance have ossified into paranoia – a mild kind in this case, since so many locals you talk to sincerely believe that Castro died in August 2006 and whose disembodied form rules from an empyrean similar to the one from which Kim Il-sung smiles down on North Korea.

In Miami, still the best book about the motivations of exile culture, Joan Didion described the exile community's Fidel hate – a rage that surpassed all understanding – as a cosmic, comic, unavenged antebellum slight that, like the spirit of pure revolution itself, moved to sights unseen:
[The exiles] shared not just Cuba as a birthplace but Cuba as a construct, the idea of birthright lost. They shared a definition of patria as indivisible from personal honor, and therefore of personal honor as that which had been betrayed and must be revenged. They shared, not only with one another but with virtually every other Cuban in Miami, a political matrix in which the very shape of history its dialectic, its tendency, had traditionally presented itself as la lucha, the struggle.
With the object of hatred removed from the scene, what now? Andy nails my own feelings. I can only begin to understand the inchoate tangle of my parents' feelings: you spent your life waiting for something to happen, only to have nature intervene and stop the game. And a game it remains, for part of what non-Floridian journalists never understood about the exile community was its inability to separate its honest, earned sense of aggrievement and its relish in the politics that enabled this aggrievement for almost 50 years (which is why a site like this, while laughable to many of my readers, embodies a paradigm -- a pathology, if you must -- that's all too common in South Florida). Despite the nonsense you'll read in the coming hours about the miracles of Castro's reform of the educational system (the literacy rate before 1959 was well past 50%, a miracle at the time) and, in a notable example of unsubtle leftie nostalgia, the "inroads" he made in "rooting out racism" (the junta's elite is as white as a Republican fundraiser), the only results Castro's revolution achieved was in unleashing the intellect and political acumen of Cuban exiles into Florida and D.C., a diaspora which required the mediating forces of American constitutional republicanism to prosper. The richness of Cuban culture could bloom only on foreign soil.

6 comments:

blackmail is my life said...

Did you see no irony in a McKinley writing the Castro story?

Alfred Soto said...

oh man! If I only believed in karma.

Hans said...

I loved that last remark, because it is so oddly TRUE. Everything that was worthwhile in Cuba exists here. There's no Cuba left in Cuba.

blackmail is my life said...

@ hans: that seems pretty disrespectful of all those Cubans who didn't flee the country.

Alfred Soto said...

Hans should have mentioned that he DID live in Cuba for most of his childhood.

blackmail is my life said...

It doesn't matter if he lived there or not. It's still a really shitty sentiment. I can't wait til we become a post-authenticity society.