THE DAY THAT I DIE

The passing of a dear friend in Virginia recently has gotten me thinking about the fragility of life, and about what would happen on the day that I die. 

To begin with, we all have a very high and dysfunctional opinion of our importance and about how much we matter to those around us.  We forget that kings and queens, presidents and dictators, billionaires and millionaires, chief executive officers and members of the senior executive service all have a final date on the calendar. 

When one of us receives a medical diagnosis of a terminal condition, our first reaction is to place our hopes on a medical breakthrough that is just around the corner.  Because of the inflated opinion of ourselves, we think that we’ll pay whatever amount of money is needed to prolong our life indefinitely.  In our delusion, we think that the world cannot function without us being a part of it.  But medical breakthroughs are more dependent on research than on profit margins or our immediacy. 

When our time comes, it’s time to say goodbye.  While this may sound harsh to some, there is no way to make it more palatable.  It is what it is.

So, here is what will happen on the day that I die.

All those important appointments that I marked on my calendar will result in “no shows,” and I will not be charged any penalty fees for them.

The calendar that ruled every minute of my life will become irrelevant.

All the time that I wasted surfing the Internet will be replaced by communication via mental telepathy.

The obnoxious e-mails and texts of those who objected to my conservative transformation will no longer be of concern to me.  I’ll become impervious to such nonsense. They don’t realize that life is a journey, and not a destination — and, as such, people evolve after acquiring new knowledge and exposure to new situations.

The friends who stopped being my friends because of my recent political views will fade away from my consciousness.  They were the ones who took the unwarranted decision to unfriend me, not I.

All robocalls, telemarketers, spam texts, and phone scammers will stop annoying me.

My regrets about the different paths that I could have taken will remain in the past forever – where they should have always stayed.

My perennial concern and that of my late mother with the birthmark on my forehead will dissipate.

My carefully crafted reputation that I worked so assiduously to maintain will be left to others to preserve.

All the deep anxieties that robbed so much of my sleep will be rendered powerless.

The big questions that I had about life and death, about damnation and salvation will be answered once and for all when I come face-to-face with my Creator.

Yes, all the things that I listed above will certainly happen on the day that I die – even some that I’ve left out.

But there is one more thing that will happen on that day – one that is so crucial that I’ve left it for last.

On the day that I die, the few people who really knew me for what I stood for and who loved me unconditionally will grieve me deeply.

They will feel cheated when I leave them.

They will feel a void that is unfillable.

They will feel that they are not ready to cope with my loss.

They will feel as part of their being has died as well, and they will never be able to grasp happiness again.

And on this day, they will cherish more than anything in the world to be able to spend more time with me — one more year, one more month, one more week, one more minute.

How do I know these things? Because I’ve seen close friends and relatives grieve in this manner.

And while taking the time to digest these truths, I will make it a point to recognize that my time with my family and friends is limited, and I will try not to waste a second of it.

I will stop worrying about the things that will happen on the day that I die, because the majority of these things are not of my concern or I have no control over them.

Those other things that I listed above have an insidious way of monopolizing your attention span and competing for your affections.

They have a way of robbing you from enjoying those precious “momentos” – those that Julio Iglesias and Andrea Bocelli croon about — with those who love you and want to share them with you.

Don’t waste the time to waltz with these false priorities while you can.  

Don’t let others rob you of the life that they made you believe matters because on the day that you die, much of it won’t matter.

Of course, I realize that my fire-infused Aries personality has led me to live a life full of energy, passion, creativity, and optimism.  I’ve embraced always the golden rule of treating others as I want to be treated.  Awards, titles, degrees mean less to me than good character and values.  The Man from Nazareth, the Man who had an overwhelming influence on the subsequent history and cultures of the world did not have a college degree, nor fancy awards or royal pedigree.

I also realize that the fire in my Aries personality causes me to have quite a temper at times.  I do need some extra time to climb down from the mountain top, but the temper fizzles out quickly after I touch ground. 

But I can be sure of one thing.  And this something, I will always take with me as a badge of honor: I have lived a virtuous life, and I have no regrets. 

I’ve made some mistakes during my journey, but I learned from them and became a better man. 

And with the constant reminder of the Biblical passage in Genesis 3:19 that all of us are dust, and to dust we will return, I don’t want my family to spend one cent on purchasing a cemetery plot, or a coffin, or a mausoleum for the enjoyment of trillions of hungry bacteria and maggots. I want to be cremated.   

And, yes, I want the playing of the late Eva Cassidy’s rendition of “Over the Rainbow” at my funeral.     

So, yes, you and I will leave this planet one day.

But before we embark to the afterlife, let us live each day to the fullest!

And before it’s time to say goodbye to my loved ones, I hope that I have the foresight to tell them — more often than I’ve done in the past — the wise words of a life well-lived: I’m sorry; I forgive you; Thank you; and, most importantly, I love you.

Think of the famous Italian saying of “Eat well, laugh often, love much” and travel the world!

NOSTALGIA FOR CUBA’S PAST AND GENERATIONAL DIFFERENCES

A Cuban-American friend of mine recently e-mailed me a PowerPoint presentation containing slides of pre-1959 Cuba. To put you in the right frame of mind, it came with a soundtrack from that era. I had just finished a book that another friend gave me, Don Miguel Ruiz’s “The Four Agreements.” This is not the first time that I have received these e-mails. In fact, there is vibrant cottage industry that generates similar presentations ad nauseam.

Considering that Don Miguel’s book provides a formula to live a happy life by adjusting our reactions to outside stimuli, I thought it was appropriate to assess the state of mind that the Cuban slide presentation tried to recreate.

The slide presentation attempted to take us back to an era when Cuban-Americans were in full control of their destinies and their lives were idyllic in pre-1959 Havana. In fact, it lent itself to a period where virtuoso American vocalist and conductor Bobby McFerrin would be in his element singing “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” This was a time when the mambo kings sung songs of love at the Tropicana and Capri nightclubs.

But, I’m sure my reaction was not the one that most people expected. It was pretty negative. You see, I prefer to live in the present – as I can’t resurrect the past and I have no leach on what the future might bring. Consequently, I thought that viewing photos of the Cuba of my youth would make me sad. Moreover, it could lead me to avoid my current responsibilities by finding escape and solace in those years past.

But this got me thinking as to why my parents’ generation enjoyed these presentations so much. The fact that I keep getting them signifies that there is a high demand for them. It was then that I realized that there were generational differences in our reactions.

I left Cuba when I was 11 years old. While I had to learn the English language and the Anglo culture, I did not see these as insurmountable challenges. I saw them as temporary setbacks to be overcome with hard work. After succeeding in mastering a few, my confidence grew. Soon, I realized that the opportunities that this country offered were limitless to those willing to pay their dues through hard work. Nowadays, home for me is good ole USA.

It was a different story for my parents’ generation. Most of them emigrated to the USA in their late forties and had to start their lives all over again. Their worries were much greater than those of their children. Most had to find jobs that were inferior to the ones that they left in Cuba, and that paid much less. Their main responsibility was to find jobs to feed their families. And they could not afford to be picky with the jobs offered to them.

They suffered many indignities along the way. Some Americans, the Ugly-American types, laughed at their heavy accents when speaking English and at their customs – from the way they dressed to their family structures. Because these Cuban exiles were so preoccupied with bringing order to their lives, they personalized the put-downs. They became their own worst enemies. To them, speaking with an accent became the equivalent of thinking with an accent. They despaired about the impossibility of not mastering the English language. They became irrational and nostalgic for the way of life back in Cuba.

What happened next was sad, but it was the only way to cope with their despair. Rather than integrating into the American way of life, they segregated themselves by hanging out with other Cuban-Americans of their generation. They felt at ease speaking the language of when they were on top of the world in pre-1959 Cuba. The turned their hostility against anything that didn’t resurrect traces of that idyllic Cuba BC — Before Castro. So the beaches in exiles were only beautiful when you waved them good-bye. To them, no singer of popular music in New York City could match the ones on their heyday in La Habana – like Beny Moré or Tito Gómez of Riverside Orchestra fame.

And with old age came a desire to live in a geographic location with a warmer climate – like the one they enjoyed in Cuba. And to be surrounded by other Cuban-Americans in their age brackets who shared the same jokes, the same culinary preferences, and the same conservative values. Ergo, the explosion of Cuban Mecca Miami.

Ah, history! Such an important word that we need to take great care to define it properly. According to New Yorker author and historian John Jacob Anderson, “history is a narration of the events which have happened among mankind, including an account of the rise and fall of nations, as well as of other great changes which have affected the political and social condition of the human race.” History to Anderson relates to the politics of government that impact the fate of nations. To him, history deals with laws, regulations, executive orders, declarations of war, decisions that impact nation’s economies, etc. Spanish philosopher George Santayana would agree with Anderson when he stated his famous quote “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” But neither Anderson nor Santayana would equate history with nostalgic ruminations about a lost and distant personal past life. Repeated dwelling on memories of pre-1959 Cuba are unhelpful because that Cuba does not exist anymore and will not exist again. It’s gone – forever.  Constant going back to these pre-1959 days would doom people into an inability to forge a better future for themselves and their families. Why? The present would never measure up to the idyllic days of the past. 

I penned this op-ed because I wanted to understand the motivation behind my parents’ generation to hang on to this past. And what I found out is that this was an attempt to stay connected to their lost paradise because they found it impossible to assimilate into an Anglo-Saxon world.  Language and cultural barriers played important roles in their behavior.  I did not want to criticize their demeanor; only to understand it. 

But to Cuban-Americans of my generation and subsequent generations, these barriers were small inconveniences that could and should have been overcome to get on with our lives and to achieve our American dreams. To reach those dreams, we had to deal in the now and love the country that sheltered us from the ravages of a Communist Gulag. We had to move on and get on with our lives.  

I know that I would not have become the man that I am today without the sacrifices that my parents made so that I and my sister could live in the land of the free and the home of the brave. Thus, I am now grateful to the people who continue to put together these slide presentations. While they may not to my liking, I do enjoy the void that they fill in my parents’ hearts.

A MOTHER LIKE NO OTHER

November 25, 2016 is a day that I will always remember. We buried my 94-year old Mom, Hilda Maria Ponce Mencía Bravo on this day.

Hilda was a woman who was ahead of her times. She earned two master’s degrees – one in Philosophy, and the other in Library Science. She was in charge of the Philosophy Department at the University of Havana. On those occasions that she took me to work with her, I was amazed at the way that she interacted on a one-to-one basis with the male professors. I gained enormous respect for my Mom as a 4 year-old boy and later realized that she had been one of the early pioneers to break the glass ceiling. 

Among the core values that played an important role in Hilda’s personality were a strong love for her family and close friends, as well as a deep appreciation for a good education. While she distinguished between friends and acquaintances, she was always compassionate with all and lent them a helping hand when they needed her assistance.

When the Cuban Government authorities closed all private schools in 1961 (many of them run by the Catholic Church) and forced parents to send their children to government-run schools where they would be indoctrinated in the Marxist-Leninist ideology, Hilda told my father that it was time to leave for the United States. This was a very difficult decision that Hilda made, as she realized that she would be leaving her homeland, her dear mother and sister, and her way of life — with no definite timeframe when she would return again. But she laid out a requirement for her departure: she would leave only by following the legal process and not on a raft. This decision delayed our departure until 1966, and made life difficult for Hilda and my father – as they were both fired from their jobs for opting to leave for the United States. In a socialist country like Cuba, the state is the sole employer – which made it impossible for them to get a job through legal means. With two young kids to feed, my father had to come up with a plan to get a salary. And, he did. He became quite a successful entrepreneur in the black market, and made more money here than when he worked as an accountant for the Treasury Department. But, it was Hilda who gave the family hope that a better way of life awaited them in the United States. She reminded us that all the inconveniences were temporary, and that we should tolerate them with a stiff upper lip.

Hilda often found comfort in her strong Catholic faith. Her family were distant relatives of St. Teresa of Avila. When faced with adversity, she always resorted to St. Teresa’s prayer:

“Let nothing disturb you, Let nothing frighten you, All things are passing away: God never changes. Patience obtains all things, Whoever has God lacks nothing; God alone suffices.”

She also had a knack for reciting Saint Anthony’s prayer when she was desperate to find a lost item.  I don’t know if it was her faith or pure luck, but she had an impressive batting average for finding lost items.

Hilda always instilled in my sister Teresita and me the value of a good education. She indicated that the Castro regime had taken my father’s and her bank accounts, her cars, her clothes, and her jewelry in exchange for letting us out of the country, but they could never take away her university degrees and her job experience. 

But make no mistake about it, Hilda liked to have a good time, too. Dancing was one of her passions. You often found her on the dance floor dancing to the Cuban beat of cha-cha’s, mambos, and rumbas. She passed on the dancing genes to my sister and me. 

Like me, Hilda had a weakness for anything that had chocolate. And, let’s not forget that Hilda’s sweet tooth made her favor all the Cuban treats. I remember that during her last days, I asked her whether she wanted to drink a chocolate-flavored drink or a Malta Hatuey. Without hesitating a bit, she opted for the latter.

Hilda was highly opinionated about the right way of doing things. At least, she thought so. For example, eating French fries without ketchup was unheard of. When I visited her in Miami and hung around barefooted, she insisted that I wear a pair of chinelas (sandals). Even if I had slept for eight hours, she always suggested that I take a siesta. And, she would frequently tell me that my sister Teresita had such a sweet personality when she was young that everyone thought that she was going to become a nun when she grew up.  In her mind, she should have. I always thought that this business about Teresita becoming a nun was wishful thinking on her part.

Learning by rote repetition was second-nature to Hilda. If you ignored her suggestions for the best course of action, she would remind you a thousand times. This served her well when she worked as a Spanish teacher to the Green Berets at the U.S. Department of Defense. Her familiar phrase to her students from the U.S. Army Special Forces — “vamos a ver” — was a transformation of her constant admonitions to Teresita and me of “do as I say.”

Cuban mothers have a history of raising their sons in a way that mirrors the ways of Jewish and Italian mothers. They aim for us to become princes who deserve everything and can do no wrong. This is the way that Hilda raised me in a household where I became the darling of the female members – aunt, grandmother, and nanny. When I got married, I expected my wife to give me the same regal treatment. Needless to say, I had to get a PhD in marriage relations, and, what ultimately saved me was that my wife was also Cuban-American. 

Hilda believed in the duality of life. After enduring hardships, good times were just around the corner. As it turned out, on the same day that we buried her, we got the news that Cuban-Americans had been waiting for fifty-seven years: Fidel Castro passed away. Euphoria replaced sadness – at least, for a short time.  

I will always remember my Mom Hilda with great love. She played an important role in molding me into the man that I am today. For this and for much more, I will always be grateful to her. She will always “vivirá” in my heart.

APRIL 17, 1961 — A DAY OF INFAMY!

Tomorrow marks the 60th anniversary since the U.S. launched the ill-fated invasion at the Bay of Pigs, Cuba, on April 17, 1961.

Rather than preparing a long discourse on this incident, I’ve decided to proceed on a different and more personal track. History books are available for those interested in reading the finer details of what really happened. But history books are static. I, on the other hand, am interested in recounting what the invasion meant to me, and the life lessons that it taught me.

On April 17, 1961, I was seven years old, and I was living in Cuba. April 17 was very special to me, as it was my birthday. Birthdays symbolize gifts, money, and a party where one got to be the center of attention. I was the darling of the crowd, and, at least for one day, I could do no wrong. So, when my parents informed me that I would have a scaled down celebration in 1961, I was not a happy camper. While my parents explained the danger that we were in, they promised me to host a much larger fiesta in a post-Castro Cuba Libre. Since the latter never materialized, my memory of April 17, 1961 is one of broken promises – both from my parents and from the U.S. Government.

For the United States, the Bay of Pigs represented a public embarrassment in the eyes of the world community. After it was over, former President Eisenhower told Kennedy that “the failure of the Bay of Pigs will embolden the Soviets to do something that they would otherwise not do.” Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev concluded that Kennedy was indecisive, and one Soviet adviser wrote that the President was “too young, intellectual, not prepared well for decision making in crisis situations … too intelligent and too weak.”

Soon after, Kennedy got another chance to handle a 3:00 AM crisis call. In the fall of 1962, the Soviet leadership believed, based on an analysis of Kennedy’s lack of confidence during the Bay of Pigs Invasion, that he would avoid confrontation and accept the placement of nuclear missiles in Cuba as a fact of life. In October 1962, the United States and the Soviet Union came as close as they’ve ever been to nuclear war over the missiles stationed in Cuba.

Mistakes always trigger consequences. Some historians have treated Kennedy lightly over his handling of the Bay of Pigs Invasion. They claim that it happened just three month after he got elected, and that he was still learning the ropes of governing. While they are right, their arguments are not convincing. The job of President of the U.S. has no room for on-the-job training. It requires a rigorous screening process during the campaign season, and the winner is expected to hit the ground running. Thus, there is simply no excuse for Kennedy’s lack of leadership on that fateful day in 1961. It became a day of infamy for Cubans, for Cuban-Americans, for Americans, and for all freedom-loving people around the globe.

President Kennedy promised those Cubans who participated in the invasion that he would provide them with air support – a promise that he reneged on.

If he had changed his mind before launching the invasion, some people may have disliked his decision, but they would have accepted it in the long run.

However, for him to have changed his plans after members of the U.S.-backed Brigade 2506 had landed on Cuban soil, and, thus, were in harm’s way, was unconscionable. There were many unnecessary casualties as a result.

This was a monumental betrayal that Cubans and Cuban-Americans will never forget, nor forgive. Let it be known that the 2506 troops fought valiantly. They were driven by a desire to restore freedom and democracy to their homeland. They had placed all their hopes in the United States. They fervently believed that with U.S. backing, victory was a sure thing. They failed because of the lack of the promised air support, and because they fell short of ammunition.

They, the members of the 2506 Brigade, answered the question posed by most enemies of a Free Cuba that rather than fighting in their homeland, Cubans vote with their feet by emigrating to the United States. On April 17, 1961, a bunch of over 1,400 Cuban exiles fought bravely an enemy made up of 51,000 Castro troops. And yet, they inflicted losses of 20 to 1 against a Soviet-trained army. They restored the manhood to the Cuban cause, and they silenced those who questioned it.

Despite being let down by a U.S. Administration, some Bay of Pigs veterans never lost faith in the exceptionalism of the United States. Some became officers in the US Army in Vietnam – including 6 colonels, 19 lieutenant colonels, 9 majors, and 29 captains. They have paid back many times over the debt that they owed this country for taking them out of the Cuban Gulag.

Cuban-Americans learned an important lesson on April 17, 1961. They learned that to succeed in the future, they could only rely on themselves. Fidel took away all their personal belongings when many emigrated to the United States. He declared them enemies of the Cuban Revolution, and punished them by letting them carry only the clothes on their back. They were not allowed to bring even a cent to the U.S. Nevertheless, Fidel was not able to take away the family cohesiveness, work ethic, and core values that allowed these Cubans to overcome all odds in the land of freedom and opportunities.

One thing that Fidel was never able to take away from these Cubans was the college degrees that they had earned at the University of Havana. The Cubans considered the hard times in the beginning as a temporary nuisance. Through hard work, most looked adversity straight in the eyes and came out winners.

Nowadays, Cuban-Americans hold the majority of crucial positions in Miami, Florida. Some have served as secretaries of cabinet-level federal agencies, others as U.S. Representatives and U.S. Senators, one was the CEO of Coca-Cola, one received the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and another for Drama, and most have sent their kids to top-ranked universities. They have learned to be self-reliant and to be in control of their own destinies.

Many asked whether the United States would support a future insurrection in Cuba. My answer is that it depends on many factors, and no one can be sure of what the final outcome would be.

Cuban-Americans were again let down during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962 after President Kennedy promised the Soviet Union that the United States would never invade Cuba in the future. They were again disappointed when the U.S. Government returned Elian Gonzalez to the Cuban Gulag – unwilling to understand that the real power-brokers of Elian’s fate would be the Cuban authorities, and not his biological father.

There is an opportunity currently for the United States to support an invasion to topple the Cuban regime. After the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, Fidel Castro refused to repay Russia the approximate $28 billion lent to Cuba by the former Soviet Union. Fidel’s reasoning was that the money was owed to a country that no longer existed. Similarly, the agreement not to invade Cuba was agreed to by President Kennedy and Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev. By using Fidel’s logic, this agreement is no longer binding on the United States as it was made with a country that no longer exists and by two world leaders who are dead.

For Cuba to be free again, Cubans in Cuba will have to be their own agents of change. If the United States Government opts to help them out, let it come as a surprise, but not an expectation. For Cuban-Americans, the lesson was that they can only control the now, the present. Educational achievements, on-the-job experience, and the well-being of their immediate family are the tools to a rewarding life. On April 17, 2020, let us give thanks in our own ways to the fallen and the living members of the 2506 Brigade. I will wear a Cuba lapel pin, drink a Cuba Libre with authentic Cuban Bacardi rum and Pepsi, and say a prayer to my God for giving us such titans.

THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED

American singer and songwriter Lionel Richie reminds us in his song “Easy” about a universal truth that, unfortunately, too many talented people ignore to their detriment. Lionel croons “Why in the world would anybody put chains on me? I’ve paid my dues to make it. Everybody wants me to be, what they want me to be. I’m not happy when I try to fake it!”

From the time that we are toddlers, our parents start making grandiose plans for us. They try to project their unfulfilled dreams onto us. According to them, we have to pursue careers that remunerate us handsomely if we want to be successful in this world. Careers as physicians, doctors, or engineers are paramount on their lists.

But missing from their well-intentioned recommendations is the lack of consideration given for what we truly want, what we are good at, what move us to be passionate and feel alive in this world. Whereas money is important to some individuals, different drives motivate others. For example, some individuals are happy pursuing degrees in the humanities and music because these are the areas that they are gifted at. Others are interested in making a difference with the less fortunate. And some have leadership talents that lead them to fight injustices and organize the less talented into a fighting force.

One must exercise extreme caution by not telling those who seek our advice what they should or should not become professionally. Those giving advice are usually wrong in assessing the talents or lack of them in others. And if followed, their wrongful advice usually turns these individuals into failures, or unfulfilled and very unhappy individuals.

For example, how often have you seen parents who are physicians force their kids into careers in the medical profession? They assume that their children must have inherited an aptitude for science. But, this assumption flies in the face of the laws of inheritance of Gregor Mendel. One of the key precepts of Mendel’s theories is “that a trait may not show up in an individual but can still be passed on to the next generation.” Therefore, an aptitude in science may be inherited by a grandson. To steer a son or a daughter into a career in the sciences in which he/she has zero aptitude would be a disaster. It would also be unfair to the individual.

And, yet, there are others who want us to be what they want us to be for their own selfish reasons.

During my high-school years, I worked innumerable jobs to pay for my college education – from paperboy, to dishwasher, to office cleaner of federal buildings. One of the jobs that I least liked was that of short-order cook at a fast-food joint. My reason for not liking this job was that cooking has never been one of my assets. And, yet, when I approached my supervisor to tell her that I would not be coming back because I would be starting college in the fall, I was surprised by her response. In a very serious tone, she indicated that not everyone was suited to go to college; that there were many individuals who had very successful careers without having a college degree. In other words, she was telling me that I should have remained a short-order cook for the rest of my life.

But, to be fair, what the manager at the fast-food joint told me was partially true. Bill Gates, of Microsoft fame, dropped out from Harvard University and did not graduate from college. Michael Dell, the founder and CEO of Dell, Inc., dropped out of college at 19. Andrew Jackson, is most-known for being the 6th president of the United States, but was also a military governor, Army commander, an attorney, and a congressman – all without ever going to college. Steven Spielberg, the famous movie director and producer, was denied acceptance to film school and dropped out of California State University in Long Beach. But, I am not as talented as any of these individuals, and I never wavered from going to college and graduate school. This manager was willing to ruin my dreams and aspirations simply because there was a labor shortage that year, and I was the solution to her dilemma. Thank, God, that I ignored her advice!

And, then, there are the stories of Hispanic luminaries. Upon receiving a postcard from Princeton University with an X in a square indicating that admission was likely, Sonia Sotomayor shared the great news with others whom she thought would share her excitement. And she found out an important lesson in life that not everyone has your best interest at heart. Her high school guidance counselor had suggested previously some Catholic colleges that she thought suited Sonia best, but she had replied “I want(ed) to apply to Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia and Stanford.” Shortly after, the school nurse approached her about the notice from Princeton, with this question: “Well, can you explain to me how you got a ‘likely’ and the two top-ranking girls in the school only got a ‘possible’?” Sonia responded to the insolent question by citing her accomplishments on the school’s forensic team and her working part-time during the school year and full-time during the summer. “I may be ranked below them, but I’m still in the top ten, and I do more than the others.” Obviously, the high school and guidance counselor did not think that this “wise Latina” would succeed in an Ivy League university, or worse, that minority students were unworthy of these educational institutions. And, yet, Sonia proved that she was ready to attend the best universities in the Nation. She graduated summa cum laude from Princeton, was selected to Phi Beta Kappa, earned the University’s Pyne Honor Prize — a singular honor awarded to a senior who has most clearly manifested excellent scholarship, strength of character and effective leadership — graduated from Yale Law School, and became the first Hispanic to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.

And there are other stories of unfulfilled dreams that could have had a happier ending. Malcolm X graduated at the top of his junior high school class. When he confided to one of his favorite teachers that his dream was to become a lawyer, she advised him against it. She indicated that pursuing a legal career was “no realistic goal for a  n…..” Malcolm lost interest in school and dropped out. And the world lost a potential brilliant mind and a legal scholar. And Malcolm may still be alive today if he had ignored his teacher’s suggestion. We should all listen to the advice given by American poet Robert Frost, “Somewhere ages and ages hence: Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” We should all listen to our inner selves when pursuing careers that make us feel alive in a world surrounded by mediocrity! The road less traveled is the one that will enable us to make a positive difference in others.

MILLENNIALS, BOOMERS – HISPANICS, CUBANS

Oh, the millennials (those born from the early 1980s to the early 2000s), the “me” generation, those who think that the planet earth revolves around them, those who demand an on-the-spot award for brushing their hair are coming of age.  Do they have what it takes to solve today’s challenges?  There are many managers who do not think so. 

Here is a wonderful saying by 19th century English novelist Mary Ann Evans (known by her pen name George Eliot) that describes wonderfully these millennials: “When we are young we think our troubles a mighty business – that the world is spread out expressly as a stage for the particular drama of our lives and that we have a right to rant and foam at the mouth if we are crossed.  I have done enough of that in my time.  But we begin at last to understand that these things are important only to one’s own consciousness, which is but a globule of dew on a rose-leaf that at midday there will be no trace of.”  Indeed, these 19th century millennials do not look much different than our 21st century types. 

As the baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) retire from federal service in record numbers lately, millennials are and will remain overrepresented in the federal workforce.  And with them in charge, it is nearly impossible to tackle the big challenges of the day. 

Take for example the Hispanic underrepresentation.  While this has been a challenge since 1970, the anemic progress made since that time has been the result of the self-sacrifice of baby boomers and their doing the right thing for the benefit of all Hispanics.  Boomers know that when Hispanics are better represented in all pay grades in the Federal Government, they will be able to mentor more Hispanic applicants to rise through the ranks.  Moreover, boomers realize that a greater Hispanic representation will allow the Federal Government to better address the challenges faced by Hispanic communities throughout the Nation.  They are very much aware that to achieve these goals, they have to embrace the wisdom of the famous saying that “in unity, there is strength.” In other words, to succeed, they have to support each other, they have to submit affidavits in civil rights complaints to expose discriminatory practices when they have personal knowledge of them, and they have to make financial contributions to the legal-defense funds to litigate discrimination complaints in the administrative process and in federal courts.  This is how progress is attained.

But this is not the credo that millennials live by. They believe that the “I” comes before the “we.”  They judge their fellow employees by how useful they can be to propel them to the next promotion.  They treat work assignments as mere tools to enhance their résumés and/or get awards.  They are ignorant of the key tenet by management and leadership expert John Maxwell that “one is too small a number to achieve greatness.” With their narcissistic mindset, they will not succeed in getting the federal bureaucracy to extend a helping hand to Hispanic applicants.  With them in charge, Hispanics will remain underrepresented for the next fifty years. 

And, let me pause for a moment to clarify that when I argue in favor of a better Hispanic representation in the federal workforce, I am not arguing for the hiring of unqualified Hispanics.  To do so would do more harm than good – both for the federal workforce and for the Hispanic agenda.  This is nothing more that the wrong type of affirmative action. 

What I am talking about is the right type of affirmative action – the one that takes into consideration the qualifications of applicants.  I worked for the Federal Government for thirty-nine and a half years, and I saw with my own eyes how Hispanic applicants with top job experience and educational credentials got passed over because they were Hispanics, because they spoke with an accent, because of a false perception that they could not be trusted or that they could not become good team players.

These are all false stereotypes, but they are lethal to Hispanics who don’t get selected or promoted for these vacancies.  I saw selecting officials from other minority groups not select Hispanic applicants because they preferred to help members of their own minority groups.  This is simply unbelievable that members of other minority groups who have seen and suffered discrimination up-close would choose to discriminate against Hispanics.  They obviously had not learned that you cannot fight racism with more racism.   But this happens too often for comfort.  And, as long as millennials keep thinking only about themselves, these horrific practices will persist. And the paradigm of anemic gains for Hispanics will soon be reversed to significant losses as a result of shrinking budgets.  And no one will care and no one will notice because they think that Hispanics are not united enough to challenge these inequities. When they think of Hispanics, they think of toothless tigers.

And the majority group in the federal workforce, the white males, usually – not always — want to hire applicants who look like them, who went to the same schools, who travelled to the same places, and who practice the same past-times that they do – like playing golf.  (Like in everything else, there are exceptional white males who do the right thing by hiring qualified Hispanics).  And when outside pressures force them to change their behavior, they only hire a few token Hispanics to silence their detractors.  Rest assured that these Hispanics will never be the Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz (both, U.S. Senators) of the world!  And they expect Hispanics to be grateful for the crumbs that they offer them.  And millennials, with their “me “mentality, are powerless to fight against these unfair practices.

And, I wonder whether the same maladies that afflict millennials are not the same ones that afflict Cubans from Communist Cuba.  What Fidel and Raul Castro, the Communist dictators who have ruled Cuba with an iron fist over the last sixty years, fear the most is the group-think.  They reluctantly tolerate human-rights dissidents as long as they are small in number, but they are well aware that group-think by the Cuban population would lead to mass revolt and the toppling of the old order. 

And, yet, the majority of the Cuban population – especially the Cuban millennials – only think of solving their own problems, instead of acting in unison to bring about a Cuban spring that would abrogate all the suffering that they’ve endured under the Castro brothers. 

When they meet another Cuban at work or in social functions, what goes through their minds is what they can get out of them, how useful they can be to them.  The mere thought of helping other Cubans is foreign to them.  The example of self-sacrifice set by Cuban Founding Father José Martí of fighting against oppression to bring about a democratic government “con todos y para el bien de todos” (an all-inclusive type) does not register in the minds and hearts of these Cubans. 

In fact, they rather make the harrowing journey on homemade rafts across the shark-infested waters of the Florida Straits than joining hands with like-minded Cubans to topple the totalitarian regime.  As long as they keep looking up to Miami and not to La Habana to secure freedom and a better tomorrow, Cuba will never be free. 

In order for millennials and Cubans to succeed in achieving the lofty goals that would culminate in long-lasting change for the good of their communities, to be better represented in the federal workforce, to live in a Cuba Libre, they will have to suppress parts of themselves to fight for a larger cause.  They’ll have to evolve from a culture of self-indulgent decadence to one of noble restraint.  They’ll have to put “character” and “authenticity” on a pedestal. They’ll have to put the “we” before the “I.”

JORGE RAMOS – THE ALLEGED PRINCE OF ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS

On March 8, 2017, Tucker Carlson of Fox News interviewed Senior News Anchor for Univision Jorge Ramos on the topic of immigration.   It was not a pleasant sight to see. Ramos’ bogus claim to be a subject-matter expert on matters dealing with Hispanics came back to haunt him, while Tucker’s attempt to give the impression that he had all the answers pertaining to race and ethnicity did not help him at all. Rather than being better informed at the end of the interview, the TV viewers were left more confused and angry. 

My purpose for picking up my pen and writing this op-ed is to clarify the matters that this interview should have elucidated.

Tucker started the interview by referencing comments that Ramos made back in February of 2017: “I am a proud Latino immigrant in the United States.” “There are many people who do not want us to be here, and they want to create a wall in order to separate us. But you know what, this is also our country. Let me repeat this, our country, not theirs. It’s our country.”

Ramos was obviously disingenuous by claiming that he was still a Latino immigrant, as he became a U.S. citizen in 2008. The wall that Ramos invoked was the one that President Trump wants to build along the U.S.-Mexican border to keep “illegal” immigrants from entering our country.  The President has never indicated a willingness to interfere with legal immigrants who can be fully vetted before they are allowed to resettle in the United States. By failing to distinguish between legal v. illegal immigrants, Ramos lost the same credibility that some national Hispanic organizations and liberal media outlets have lost when arguing this issue. 

Ramos continued the attack by saying “… the interesting thing is that with the Trump administration and many people who support Donald Trump, they think it is their country, that it is a white country, and they are absolutely wrong. This is not a white country, it is not their country.” As of July of 2015, the U.S. Census Bureau showed that whites made up 77.1% of the U.S. population. It is misguided, as Ramos claimed, to think that the United States is not a white country. It still is. 

Ramos would not give up. He cited a U.S. Census Bureau projection that showed that the white population will become less than 50% of the U.S. population and become a majority-minority nation in 2044. While the Hispanic population is projected to increase from 55 million in 2014 to 119 million in 2060 (an increase of 115%), the white population will still remain the largest single population group and its needs cannot be ignored – as Ramos implied. Moreover, as with all projections, there are a lot of variables that could drastically change the 2044 prediction – like a change in the 1965 immigration policy favoring family reunification to one that favors sought-after skill sets.

By mixing up the term Hispanic with race, Ramos opened himself up to a frontal attack by Tucker who pointed out that Ramos was whiter than he was and had blue eyes [while Tucker had brown eyes]. 

Tucker continued by pointing out that “Latino” seems to include Afro-Cubans, German Guatemalans, people who speak Portuguese, and non-Spanish-speaking Peruvians. The best that Ramos could do to defend himself was to define the term Hispanic/Latino as one pertaining to people who come from a region in the world (Latin America) who speak more Spanish at home than others, and who listen to Spanish-language TV networks.  This, of course, was Ramos’ own definition – not the one accepted by federal agencies or by the majority of Hispanics living in the U.S. 

Ramos ignores the fact that the longer that Hispanics live in this country, the less Spanish that is spoken at home and the less Spanish-speaking TV programs that they watch. Hispanics quickly learn that the best and quickest way to move up the opportunity ladder is to obtain fluency in the English language. And they realize that listening to Spanish-speaking TV programs hinders, rather than helps them to achieve that American dream. Perhaps, as a senior news anchor of a Spanish-speaking TV network like Univision, Ramos hopes that there will be more Spanish-speaking Hispanics in the U.S. population than non-Spanish-speaking ones. After all, this represent a matter of job security to him. 

Both Ramos and Tucker were out of their league when discussing the term Hispanic/Latino. The ethnic and racial categories included in the census questionnaire generally reflect a social definition of ethnicity and race, and not an attempt to define these categories biologically, anthropologically, or genetically. 

According to the U.S. Census Bureau and the 2010 census, Hispanic origin can be viewed as the heritage, nationality group, lineage, or country of birth of the person or the person’s parents or ancestors before their arrival in the United States. According to this definition which is derived from the one developed by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Hispanic/Latino refers to a person of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American, or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race. 

This is the way that Ramos should have answered Tucker’s questions regarding the definition of the term Hispanic/Latino. Afro-Cubans would be considered to be Hispanics/Latinos who could check any of the six racial categories listed on the 2010 census form (white; black or African American; American Indian or Alaska native; Asian; Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander; or, Some Other Race). Going on to German-Guatemalans, if the persons were born in Guatemala, they would be considered Hispanics. People who speak Portuguese would not be considered to be Hispanic/Latino, as you do not speak Portuguese in countries who trace their history and heritage to the Spanish culture. White and blue-eyed individuals are not traits that are pertinent to whether one is Hispanic/Latino. 

And, finally, non-Spanish-speaking Peruvians would be considered to be Hispanics/Latinos who most likely would indicate their racial preference to be American Indian/Alaska Native or Some Other Race. As defined by OMB, the term American Indian/Alaska Native “refers to a person having origins in any of the original peoples of North and South America (including Central America) and who maintains tribal affiliation or community attachment.”

Having made the previous analysis, let me say that the U.S. Census Bureau collects ethnic and race data that is based on self-identification. It has been conducting decennial censuses since 1790 as required by Article 1, Section 2, of the U.S. Constitution. Besides apportioning state representation, the 2010 census data is used to make decisions regarding legislation and spending on housing, highways, hospitals, schools, assistance programs, and multiple projects and programs that are key to the health and welfare of the U.S. population and economy. Therefore, any group misreporting information to the U.S. Census Bureau ends up harming the well-being of its own group, and it is for this very reason that there is such high compliance. 

Ramos moved on with a different argument by claiming that 97% of “undocumented” immigrants were good people. No one is denying that to be a fact. But as Tucker indicated, their mere presence in the U.S. illegally is a crime and ours is a nation of laws. 

Then, Tucker invoked a set of statistics that the U.S. Bureau of Prisons (BOP) – an agency of the U.S. Department of Justice – compiled as of January 28, 2017, and that showed that 14.2% of all federal inmates in the U.S. were Mexican citizens. [This figure has been updated in 2021, to 9.3%]. Ramos, in an unbelievable fashion, rebutted the BOP statistics by arguing that since 3% of illegal immigrants – compared to 6% of American citizens – committed felonies, the more immigrants that you allowed, the less crime that you would have. Ramos ignored the fact that the BOP statistics are generated by career federal employees who cannot have any political bias. By failing to address the BOP statistics, Ramos not only lost this argument, but he lost any credibility that he had left.

Tucker ended the interview by moving beyond arguments that were based on race to one that was centered on just simple fairness to American citizens. He indicated that it didn’t help an American citizen making $40,000 annually to have a bunch of illegal immigrants willing to work for $20,000 annually.  At the end of the day, it was the American citizen who was left without a job. 

It’s not surprising that civil rights champion Barbara Jordan, a Democrat from Texas and the first Southern African American woman to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, made the argument that “illegal immigrants” hurt the employment chances of unemployed or under-employed African Americans.

When it comes to doing an interview that will serve to illuminate a contentious issue for TV viewers, it helps to have the facts on your side. Ramos and Tucker did not do a thorough job in researching the facts, and, as a results, the TV viewers were left begging for answers to their questions. Jorge Ramos has not stopped making outrageous pronouncements on illegal immigration to the U.S.  In 2021, he stated that Americans cannot stop migration and must instead open their homeland’s borders to a huge and endless inflow of migrants. It is illogical and ungrateful individuals like Ramos that Americans must protect themselves against. See: 2021.

WHO CAN CONTRIBUTE TO A CUBA LIBRE?

Dr. Armando Fleites passed away in Miami in April of 2017. He was an officer of the Second Front of Escambray, an organization that fought valiantly to topple the Batista regime and restore the 1940 constitution, and, subsequently, opened guerrilla activities in the Escambray mountains against the totalitarian regime of Fidel Castro.  

A Cuban-American friend reacted to Dr. Fleites’ obituary by saying that here was a Cuban-American who did more for the restoration of freedom to Communist Cuba by taking up arms instead of by talking a good game and failing to deliver. 

Another Cuban-American friend from the film industry opined that it is a waste of time to write articles and editorials that call for a democratic transition after over sixty years of dictatorship by the Castro brothers. 

They both subscribe to the philosophy that power is never given, rather it is taken. 

I do agree that the most effecitve and quickest avenue to bring democratic change to Cuba is through a popular uprising. When there are massive demonstrations and a general strike that paralyzes the Cuban economy, the Castro-led bureaucracy will crumble. When enough Cubans chant that they are unwilling to go along, to get along (their idea of “resolver), a brand new day of liberty and hope for a better tomorrow will rise up in the horizon. When Cubans wake up from the inertia of their long nightmare and invoke the dream extolled by President Lincoln of having a “government of the people, by the people, for the people,” the Mambises (Cuban independence soldiers who fought against Spain) in heaven will gather up to sing the Cuban national anthem.

But make no mistake about it, Cubans must end their lethargic demeanor and be their own change agents. They cannot expect a foreign government like the United States to engage in regime change for them. 

As President Donald J. Trump recently said, he was elected to be president of the United States; not president of the world. While President Trump understands well that the United States cannot afford to take an isolationist foreign policy — given its role as the bastion of the free world — he embraces a fiscally conservative posture of prioritizing the trouble spots that he is willing to focus on. This is not to say that if the Cubans took the initiative, they would not find support in the many elected officials in the Federal Government. For one, the Cuban-American congressmen/(women) would support the cause of freedom in their own homeland.

Not taking charge of the situation will bring about the continuation of the dynastic transfer of power. We saw this up close when Fidel turned over the reins of power temporarily in 2006 and permanently in 2008 to his brother Raul. In 2013, Raul, after announcing his intentions to step down from the presidency in 2018, designated former engineering professor Miguel Díaz-Canel – who bears a striking resemblance to former Major League Baseball player José Canseco — as his potential successor.  And recent remarks in 2017 by Mariela Castro Espín, Raul’s daughter, suggest that there is more than one candidate to replace her father – possibly with Col.  Alejandro Castro Espín (brother of Mariela and head of the National Defense and Security Commission) after playing a key role in the negotiations with President Obama’s team to restore diplomatic relations. As you can plainly see, there is no mention of having free elections monitored by international organizations to ensure the will of the Cuban people is safeguarded.

Nevertheless, I do strongly disagree with my friends’ assertion that the only way to help topple the Communist dictatorship in Cuba is by taking up arms.  There are men and women who are best suited for this undertaking – both genetically and by training. 

Others can be just as useful in their contributions to the freedom cause by writing articles and letters to the editor that expose the civil rights violations taking place in the Caribbean Gulag. Still others can lobby their elected leaders to impose sanctions on the Communist regime. Others, like film director Leon Ichaso, can produce films like “Bitter Sugar” that explains the helplessness of daily living by average Cubans through the saga of two lovers. Others like musician Willy Chirino can keep the hope of a Cuba Libre alive by composing songs like “Our Day is Just Around the Corner.” Still others like saxophonist, clarinetist, and composer Paquito D’Rivera continues to pen letters to the editor denouncing the atrocities that are a common occurrence in Cuba. And, let’s not forget the example set by the late Queen of Salsa Celia Cruz of never losing hope that better days were yet to come for her Cuba.

Even Cuban national hero José Martí was criticized for being a man of letters and not of action. His detractors portrayed him as a cowardly opportunist sending others off to die for his own personal aims, as one who “did not discharge his duty as a Cuban when Cuban appealed for the efforts of her children,” and who chose to “live on the savings of Tampa’s cigar workers.” His harshest critics lamented that they could not “shake [Martí’s] hand in the field” because he would “continue giving lessons on patriotism from abroad, in the shadow of the U.S. flag1″

And, yet, there was no other Cuban who did more to free Cuba from Spanish domination – by his extensive writings, speeches, organizational skills, lobbying efforts, and mediation skills – than Martí. A testament to Martí’s efforts is the fact that he is considered the Apostle of the Cuban Revolution to this day by Cubans of all political affiliations. 

He sacrificed his health, his career, his marriage, his family for the wellbeing of his homeland. When his detractors questioned his manhood, he joined the rank of the rebels in the Cuban battlefield and died soon after – a terrible tragedy that never should have happened.  

Many Cubans have opined that the history of Cuba after it gained its independence in 1902 would have turned out differently, for the better, if Martí had not died in the battlefield. It’s hard to speculate on this hypothetical — as governing has a way of changing people’s disposition. 

But I am willing to go out on a limb and agree with the assertion that Cuban history would have seen better days if Martí had been the first president of the Cuban Republic. 

As the late U.S. President John F. Kennedy said “the problem of the world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics, whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need men who can dream of things that never were, and ask why not.” Martí was such a beacon of light for the Cuban cause of freedom and liberty. His dream was cut short by the skeptics who thought that a man of action, a military man, was better suited for the role of governing. 

How sad! My hope is that we have learned the lesson that the contributions of every man and woman who dreams of a better tomorrow for Cuba are welcomed!

Footnote 1: Citation taken Professor Alfred J. López’ book: José Martí, A Revolutionary, Life, 2014, p. 259. 

GABRIEL GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ – HOW TO JUDGE HIM

Gabriel García Márquez, known to millions as simply “Gabo,” passed away on April 17, 2014, at age 87. Many praised him. Others, especially in the Cuban-American community, criticized him.

Who is right? Who is wrong? As it turns out, both of them are right – in their own way. Judging a person’s worth is never an easy undertaking because of a tendency to analyze a person from one’s own perspective. Not only is this unfair, but it is also inaccurate.

In my opinion, to do a person justice, one has to use a three-prong methodology. The analysis has to be based in a measurement of the person’s political, ethical, and contribution-to-humanity perspectives. So, let’s apply this formulaic approach to Gabo and see how he comes out.

POLITICS

Gabo leaned to the left when it came to his political views. One can argue that the genesis of his leftist ideology comes from the Banana Massacre of 1928. Gabo was only 1-year old when this incident took place, but Hispanics as a whole tend to be very nationalistic when it comes to their birthplace and don’t forget easily an affront to their country or their home town. The majority of Hispanics live in a world where the contributions of Latin America have been belittled for so long that their natural posture always tends to be a defensive one.

Gabo was born in Aracataca, a town near Colombia’s Caribbean coast. Its economy flourished until the workers of the banana plantations in nearby Cienaga went on strike in December 1928. The workers were fighting for written contracts, eight-hour work days, six-day work-weeks, and the elimination of food coupons. Rather than negotiate or mediate in good-faith with the workers, the government sent the Colombian army to end the strike. While the exact number of casualties remains in dispute, the estimates range from 47 to as high as 2,000 killed – too many to overlook quietly. The United States Government had threatened to dispatch the U.S. Marines if the Colombian authorities did not act to protect the United Fruit’s interests. Gabo never forgot this slight to his people at the hands of the Colossus of the North.

Jorge Eliecer Gaitan, a prominent liberal politician in Colombia, used his lawyerly skills to fight for workers’ rights, and demanded accountability of those involved in the Banana Massacre of 1928. While a presidential candidate, Gaitan was assassinated on April 9, 1948. This incident triggered a 10-hour riot, popularly known as the “Bogotazo,” that resulted in 3,000 to 5,000 deaths and thousands injured. While many conspiracy theories emerged for Gaitan’s assassination, one points the finger at the CIA. It is not farfetched to conclude that this turn of events caused Gabo to become more anti-American.

The next step in his political development came as no surprise. Anyone who stood up and spoke truth to the powerful North Americans became a natural ally of Gabo. Thus, he befriended Fidel Castro, who returned the favor by making Gabo a member of his inner-circle. Fidel ensured that Gabo led a VIP life in Cuba by gifting him a mansion and a Mercedes, while Gabo authored articles that portrayed Fidel’s exploits in the best light and criticized Washington’s interventions in Vietnam and Chile.

Both men used hyperbole to compliment each other. Fidel once referred to Gabo as a man with “the goodness of a child and a cosmic talent.” Gabo praised Fidel for “his love of verbs, his power of seduction.”

Gabo was also not impressed during his many stays in Europe. His writings reflected his belief that Europeans looked down on Latin Americans despite the fact that European societies were in decline. To make his point, he indicated in one of his speeches that Europeans “insist on measuring us with the yardstick that they use for themselves, forgetting that the ravages of life are not the same for all, and that the quest for our own identity is just as arduous and bloody for us as it was for them.”

In essence, Gabo’s close friendship with Fidel emanated from his strong commitment with the poor and the weak against national oppression in the 1970’s — together with the foreign exploitation in the region that re-ignited his anti-Yankee feelings that he had acquired during his youth.

ETHICS

A dictator is someone who reaches power by force, by ignoring the will of the people. To quote Malcolm X, they believe in attaining power “by all means necessary,” and staying in power for as long as it is feasible “by all means necessary.” To meet their objectives, they resort to force and torture to subjugate their detractors. History has seen its share of dictators from the right and from the left. Both have oppressed the people whom they were supposed to look after.

Gabo, like many Latin-American intellectuals, suffered the bad habit of criticizing right-wing dictators, while ignoring the human-rights abuses of left-wing dictators. While bitterly opposing General Augusto Pinochet of Chile, he befriended Fidel Castro of Cuba.

It is morally unethical to choose sides when deciding which dictator to embrace. One who is honest to his/her ideals must oppose both types of dictators, as both have robbed their people of the right to choose their own destinies. Therefore, Gabo’s critics are justified in their criticism of him for his double-standard.

Those Cuban-Americans who have harshly criticized Gabo for his immense lack of judgment in befriending Fidel Castro cannot be ignored. Fidel came to power by force in 1959 and ruled Cuba with an iron fist until turning over the reins of power, without holding elections,  to his brother Raul in 2008. Food shortages, low wages, absence of labor unions, high prostitution rate, and constant harassment and mysterious deaths or long prison sentences of dissidents have been the law of the land during the reign of the Castro brothers. The long-suffering Cubans have not seen a “Cuba Libre” in over sixty years!

It is difficult to ignore the fact that the same abuses that molded Gabo’s political views during the Banana Massacre in 1928 are the same ones that the Castro brothers are guilty of.

When Jorge Ramos, the controversial news anchor for Univision, asked Gabo to explain his friendship with Fidel Castro, it was Gabo’s wife Mercedes who responded for both. She indicated that “We have known him [Fidel] for a long time.” “He’s our friend; it’s too late to change now.”

It is never too late to change in the pursuit of justice.

CONSTRIBUTIONS TO HUMANITY

Gabo became the first Colombian to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982, and the first South American to do so since Pablo Neruda in 1971.

“One Hundred Years of Solitude,” his most famous novel, has been translated into more than 25 languages, and sold more than 50 million copies. Pablo Neruda described the novel as “the greatest revelation in the Spanish language since Don Quijote of Cervantes.” The Spanish Royal Academy, the final authority of the Spanish language, issued a special edition of the novel during its 40th anniversary – a feat done for just one other book, Cervantes’ “Don Quijote.”

Heads of states and famous writers mourned Gabo’s death. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said “A thousand years of loneliness and sadness for the death of the greatest Colombian of all time!” President Barack Obama stated “With the passing of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the world has lost one of its greatest visionary writers.” Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa, who feuded with Gabo in the past, admitted that “A great man has died, one whose works gave the literature of our language great reach and prestige.” And British novelist Ian McEwan explained that “one would really have to go back to Dickens to find a writer of the highest literary quality who commanded such extraordinary power over whole populations.”

CONCLUSION

One can understand Gabo’s political views by studying how he acquired them. Some may agree with them, while others may object to them. Everyone has the right to his/her opinions in the “free” world of ideas. But, understanding and agreeing are two different things. Those who praise him and those who criticize Gabo may understand how he acquired his left-wing views, while disagreeing on how to judge him.

On the other hand, it is impossible to justify Gabo’s criticism of right-wing dictators and his solidarity with left-wing totalitarian dictators like Fidel Castro. Often, loyalty and friendship are incompatible with ethically-consistent demeanor. When the two do not intersect, one must choose the right path, the road less traveled. Gabo chose the wrong path, the easier path.

In conclusion, if we are to assess Gabo on the three aspects of his life – his political views, ethical behavior, and contributions to humanity – there is little doubt that his literary contributions were enormous and long lasting. They surpassed his political views and moral compass. He was a giant in the literary world, and he brought long-denied recognition to the men and women of letters of Latin America.

SHOULD YOUNG CUBAN-AMERICANS VACATION IN COMMUNIST CUBA?

In the past, I penned an op-ed addressing the question that my mother asked me whether I would accompany her on a trip to Communist Cuba to visit her mother.  More recently, I’ve been asked for my opinion on the wisdom of young Cuban-Americans willing to do the same.  This is a complex issue that calls for a nuanced analysis.

I’ll proceed with a discussion of the two factions that make up this group (the “Cuba Si/Yankee No Crowd” and the “Cuba Si/Castro No Crowd”), and end up with a description of those Cuban-Americans belonging to the “Cuba-Libre” generation who are unwilling to travel to Cuba as long as the Communists are in power. 

I’ve heard from a Cuban-American couple who visited Communist Cuba lately that there is a new vibe in Cuban society.  They assigned a positive connotation to this vibe, but I think differently. 

CUBA SI/YANKEE NO CROWD

These youngsters just don’t believe the stories that their parents and grandparents told them about the hardships and humiliations that they suffered at the hands of Cuban Government officials.  Their solidarity is with the Cuban Regime, and most look at the United States Government as the Evil Empire.

They insist on doing the complete opposite of what their elders told them by vacationing in Cuba.  Their political orientation tends to be, in the majority, a leftist/liberal/socialist one.  They view capitalism with suspicion, while deifying socialist policies.  Their heroes are most likely Che Guevara, Fidel Castro, Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, and Bernie Sanders.  But they are not very genuine with their convictions.  They enjoy the material comforts of life in the United States, as well as the rights protected by our Constitution – one of which is freedom of speech that offers them all kinds of guarantees to criticize the prevailing economic system of their country without fear of retribution.  These are the Dreamers who view socialist societies with respect and admiration, but who forget to remove their blindfolds to the abuses that these governments have implemented consistently in the past to keep themselves in power. 

They refuse to meet with the Cuban human-rights dissidents because they view them as moles of the U.S. Government.  While the latter allegation is true in some instances, isn’t it true that Cuban Government officials receive monetary assistance from Russia, the former Soviet Union, China, and a myriad of other countries who want nothing more than the demise of the United States? The AFL-CIO provided much needed financial assistance to the Solidarity labor-union and its chairman Lech Walesa, which culminated in the demise of the communist regime in Poland.   The United States Government has an excellent track record of providing all types of assistance to rebels throughout the world who are willing to fight to bring freedom and democracy to their homelands.  So, there is nothing unusual about the U.S. Government offering a helping hand to the Cuban human-rights dissidents.

This generation of Cuban-Americans would do well to move to Cuba and experience first-hand what life is like under this type of government.  I guarantee you that it won’t be long before they return to the United States as fanatical converts to the virtues of capitalism – just like former Black Panther leader Eldridge Cleaver did after a self-imposed exile to Cuba and his subsequent return to the United States as a Republican.

While these Cuban-Americans are under the hallucinogenic influence of their mental delusions, they are not to be taken seriously.  They make up the gang of the “Cuba Si/Yankee No” deplorables.

CUBA SI/CASTRO NO CROWD

These youngsters want to validate their relatives’ stories about life in the Cuban Gulag by traveling to Cuba.  Their sympathies are with the Cuban people, and not with the Cuban Government.  They are what I refer to as the Cuban-American Doubting Thomases – a reference to the Apostle Thomas from the Bible who refused to believe that Christ had risen until he had seen Him for himself.  They mean well, but they want to rely on facts and the truth.

“In search of the truth.” This is really important. 

To find the truth in Communist Cuba, it will be an uphill battle.  The Cuban Government masquerades reality with a very efficient propaganda and disinformation apparatus.  Even when you elicit an acknowledgment about the horrible living conditions, they blame them all on the U.S. embargo.  But this is precisely why these Cuban-Americans have to be on full alert.  It is counterintuitive to blame the U.S. embargo for all of Cuba’s vicissitudes when the Cuban Government has traded with a myriad of countries in the past.  Moreover, one must stop to think why did the living conditions of most Cubans not improve significantly during the time when Cuba received generous subsidies from the Soviet Union?  One can find the answer in one of the basic tenets of communist doctrine: the Party is immortal.  In other words, communists place the superiority of the Communist ideology over the bare necessities of the proletarians.  Needless to say, the guardians of the Communist ideology are the members of the Communist Party – who are transformed overnight into the new bourgeoisie.   

To find the truth that they were looking for, these Cuban-Americans will have to stay away from the Mojito and Cohiba-cigar tours.  They’ll have to leave behind their tour guides — whose main goal is to remain in the good graces of Cuban Government officials by exposing the American tourists to a Disney-World version of life in Communist Cuba.  Rather than limiting their trips to the well-known tourist spots in La Habana – like the Tropicana Night Club, La Bodeguita del Medio, El Floridita (one of the favorite hangouts of Ernest Hemingway) and the opulent Miramar residential area (where many of the Cuban Government apparatchiks live now) – they would need to explore a typical Cuban neighborhood on their own. 

What they will find is that the average monthly salary of a Cuban worker is a mere $30 – after over sixty years of empty promises.  They will find that most buildings and households are crumbling away, and many have collapsed into piles of rubble. They will be surprised at the light traffic at all hours on the streets – primarily because the majority of cars are mostly pre-1959 American models with diesel engines from Russian cars. They will be shocked at the deplorable condition of Havana streets, which are full of potholes because of their systematic lack of maintenance.  They will be blown away to see not only old cars on the major roadways, but people walking — using bicycles, horse drawn carts, oxen drawn carts, old buses and flatbed trucks used as buses. They will learn about the long waits for specialty care at medical facilities, and about the need to supplement the meager salaries of physicians with gifts.  They will find a people bereft of consumer goods, nutritious foods, meaningful jobs, and adequate housing and transportation.  They will find that despite years of communist indoctrination, most Cubans love Americans and anything that is U.S. made. 

Upon their return to the United States, they will venerate the words of their parents and grandparents. They will ban from their households all access to the fake-news purveyors.  They will realize that if the mainstream media outlets have propagated so many lies about Communist Cuba, they must be guilty of misinforming Americans about the latest news in their country.  They will become the new freedom fighters for a Cuba Libre and for Making America Great Again.

The motto for these Cuban-American is: “we’ve seen the devastation in Communist Cuba; we believe what our parents and grandparents told us about life in this hellhole.”

THE CUBA LIBRE CROWD

These are the Cuban Americans who refuse to set foot on Cuban soil until there is a government that is truly “of the people, by the people, for the people.” They believe the stories that their parents and grandparents told them.  They’ve seen what they gave up in their native homeland so that their children and grandchildren could thrive in a democratic country and taste and breathe freedom everywhere.  They are convinced that it was their close-knit family ties that allowed them to survive the hardships of exile in a country with a different culture and language.  They’ve seen the failure in every country where socialism has been tried.  They are committed to ensure that the Cuban Government compensates their families for the illegal confiscation of their private properties after the Cuban Revolution. They are determined to vacation in countries where their dollars will be used to better the lots of the population rather than to enrich those who oppress them. They belong to the generation of highly educated Cuban-Americans like Mauricio Claver-Carone — whom President Trump has named Senior Director of the National Security Council’s Western Hemisphere and where he’ll be in a position to enforce a hardline foreign policy on Communist Cuba.  They belong to the generation of leaders like U.S. Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, who repeatedly advocate in the halls of the U.S. Senate for policies that call for the restoration of freedom and democracy to their parents’ homeland.  This is the generation with luminaries in high places in the public and private sectors in the United States, who speak on behalf of the voiceless in Cuba who are not allowed to expose the crimes and misdemeanors of their government. 

They are the ones who will argue with those Cuban-Americans who insist on vacationing in Communist Cuba. They are the ones who invoke the example set by Jews of all age-brackets to protect Israel at all costs because they realize that another Holocaust is just one step away from reality if they don’t stick together.

They are the ones that Cuban National Hero José Martí would call upon to help in the reconstruction of a Cuba Libre.     

CONCLUSION

Cuba nowadays is a country of sorrow.  A failed state.  A country plundered by years of leftist opportunists. A country where dreams for a better life are pure fiction. 

But to create a Cuba Libre requires the Cubans to fight for their freedom. They cannot expect the U.S. military to do the fighting for them.  They have to rely on the same ingenuity that has allowed them to survive all these years of shortages of basic necessities.

They will not find their answer in Miami, but in the lyrics of the Cuban national anthem “morir por la patria es vivir” (to die for the homeland is to live with honor).

And Cuban-Americans and Cubans living in other democratic countries will have to help the insurgency with their pocket books.  And they will have to invest in the reconstruction that will follow after a win-win economic model for all groups has been developed. .  Yes, there is a different vibe circulating in Communist Cuba.  And it’s a vibe that speaks of libertad (freedom)!