They are dancing in the streets of Miami. The man who has impacted the trajectory of my entire life is no more. And yet, his power over my life — and all Cubans who find themselves in a land not their own — will continue to have a strong grip. Maybe it’s too early for merrymaking. Maybe we are giving too much credit to an individual.
Don’t get me wrong — my personal hatred for Fidel was ingrained in my very being ever since I was a child. From an age too young to remember, Fidel has represented the earthly personification of Satan. I, and my community, constructed a monster out of him. My earliest memories of life are of extreme poverty in New York City, where I recall my parents personally blaming Fidel for our plight. My best friend’s father was executed by his regime, and many friends of my parents met a similar fate. My own father, arrested and awaiting execution, barely escaped with his life, fleeing the island with only the clothes on his back. Others that I know and respect spent decades in Cuba’s prisons. I recall a friend telling me about an abuelita (a grandmother) who every morning walked throughout her house appearing to recite the rosary. In reality, with each bead she touched she whispered, “God damn you to Hell, Fidel.”
My own grandmothers have died without me ever seeing their faces, or eating from their gardens. I have no understanding of what it means to have an abuelita. My parents have always taken pride in being among those who never supported Fidel during his rise to power. For me, as well as for most of my compatriots in exile, hating Fidel is as natural as loving our children.
Creating monsters out of humans is easy. Constructing monsters simplifies our hatred. But even monsters pet their dogs. It is so easy to characterize the abuser as inhuman, as lacking any sense of loving emotions. Simple binaries of good and evil make those placed under the label of evil to be inhuman. Although I have no intentions of excusing Fidel’s oppressive and repressive acts, still, signifying the evils unleashed during the Castro years has the ability to unleash, among those of us also capable of such acts, to feel righteous indignation at this monster engaged in atrocities.
Before I construct a monster, I must first dehumanize another human being; only then can I experience righteous disdain. To hate another human being, I must construct my enemy devoid of the image of God. And if indeed they lack God’s image (the imago dei), then they are truly satanic, justifying all the actions I might take against them. Vilifying the enemy, making them into monsters allows for atrocities, leading us to rationally visit upon them all the violence they deserve because they are, after all, such monsters. No greater brutalities have been perpetuated against humanity, making the very angels of Heaven blush in shame, than when the self-defined righteous launch crusades against infidels.
This hatred has taken religious proportions. For many of my compatriots, belonging is measured by the intensity of righteous indignation generated toward Fidel. Everything which is good, holy, pure, true and sacred are the antitheses of Fidel and his regime. Those who criticize the normative response from the Miami Cuban community toward Fidel run the risk of being labeled a communist and ostracized from the community. If I don’t join them in dancing in the streets, then I must truly be an apologist for Fidel, or a secret supporter. I assure you I am neither. I have shed too many tears in my life for the island of pain.
Regardless as to how justified my hostility toward Fidel may be, I refuse to base my actions and responses on hatred. Influenced by my intellectual mentor, José Martí, I realize Martí always fought against injustices, even when the abusers were his own people. With him, I attempt to stand against all structures which perpetuate oppression, all the while cultivando una rosa blanca. We approach the highest ideals of Martí when we pay close attention to his simple verses: “I cultivate a white rose, In July as in January, For the sincere friend, Who gives me his open hand. And for the cruel one who tears out, The heart that gives me life, I cultivate neither thistle nor weed, I cultivate a white rose.”
Rather than creating enemies to hate, what would happen if we see fellow humans to pity, those who have chosen the false consciousness justifying their atrocities? The complexity of being human holds in tension individuals who are loving, tender and caring, but who can also engage in satanic acts, manifested as unspeakable brutality toward fellow human beings. It is so easy to construct monsters, and yet, there do exist dictators who are responsible for much death and destruction. What becomes of our response? Is it pity? Love for our enemies? Forgiveness?
Forgive me if I choose not to dance in the streets today. I will dance in the streets of La Habana when my people are finally reconciled. I will dance when all Cubans, here and there, are again one community — independent of all foreign powers. I will dance in the streets, to the beat of my conga drums, in the land that witnessed my birth when I am allowed to return from exile.
First Published in Baptist News Global