Thursday, December 17, 2015

Cuba, Cubans, Cuban Americans, America, and Americans

The island nation, its politics intertwining with ours, and its favorite sons battling to be the GOP nominee are all over my newsfeed this week.

-- Cruz and Rubio, two sons of Cuban parents, are vying to lead the anti-immigrant party:

There’s nothing new about seeing a group of presidential hopefuls who are the grandchildren of immigrants — Irish, Italian, Czech, German — decrying the burden of rampant immigration. Seldom, it seems, are the candidates who rail loudest against interlopers the ones whose ancestors walked off the Mayflower.

What is unusual, though, is to turn on a presidential debate and see two notably young Latino candidates, both born to Cuban émigrés, jockeying over who will close the border faster and more securely. That was the scene in Las Vegas Tuesday night, and it underscored a central paradox of this year’s Republican contest: Both Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio seem like decent bets now to become the first Latino nominee in either party’s long history, at exactly the moment when anti-immigrant fervor is reaching its zenith.


It’s tempting to see Cruz and Rubio as politicians cast from the same mold and reflecting remarkably similar stories. Here are two 44-year-old conservative Cuban-Americans, both lightning fast from mind to mouth, both first-term senators who capitalized on voter rebellion — Rubio in 2010, Cruz two years later — to shock establishment-backed opponents. The parallels are kind of bizarre.

Both men, eyeing the presidency from the moment they arrived in Washington, also wrote readable, if thoroughly forgettable, political memoirs with the kind of anodyne titles that make you think there must be some publishing algorithm for coming up with this stuff: “A Time for Truth” in Cruz’s case, “ An American Son” in Rubio’s.

Cruz’s father fled political repression and existential danger as an ally of communist rebels seeking to overthrow Fulgencio Batista. Once in America, Rafael Cruz grew disillusioned with Fidel Castro and threw communism overboard, replacing it with a new guiding cause: evangelical Christianity.

Rubio’s dad, on the other hand, came to America chiefly in pursuit of economic opportunity. In Florida and then in Nevada, and then back in Florida again, Mario Rubio’s passion was to provide for his family, running small, ill-fated businesses (a vegetable stand, a dry cleaner) and tending bar.

Cruz’s Cuban story is all about zealotry and purity — a journey of faith, both political and religious. The boyhood chapters of Rubio’s memoir, on the other hand, are largely about paying bills and fitting in, as generations of immigrants have tried to do — playing football and celebrating American holidays, switching churches (Catholic and Mormon) in order to adapt to social circles.

Because of Cuba’s outsize role for a tiny island in the geopolitical drama of the Cold War and in American politics, Cuban-Americans have always seen themselves, perhaps more than any other immigrant group, as instruments of destiny. The most common narrative among Cuban-Americans revolves around all the wealth and greatness that would have been theirs save for the scourge of global communism.

“If you put together all the sugar plantations Cubans have claimed to have once owned,” jokes Joe Garcia, a Cuban-American Democrat who represented the Miami area in Congress, “you’d have a country the size of Brazil.”

I'll let you read on from there.  But don't miss this: "Ted Cruz's dishonesty on immigration".

-- Fidel’s niece, Mariela Castro, leads Cuba’s LGBT revolution:

The moment that Mariela Castro Espin met Rory Kennedy on a Monday evening in early December seemed to encapsulate all the promise of a Cuba in transition as relations with America thaw.

Here was the niece of Fidel Castro and daughter of Cuban President Raúl Castro agreeably posing for pictures and gabbing with the niece of former President John F. Kennedy and daughter of Sen. Bobby Kennedy.

More than half a century after their uncles faced off during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the two scions of legendary political families sat down for an in-translation tête-à-tête at a dinner at the San Cristobal paladar, or private restaurant, in central Havana.

The moment came toward the tail end of an evening of good food, music and well-aged rum sponsored by HBO in celebration of Jon Alpert’s documentary “Mariela Castro’s March: Cuba’s LGBT Revolution,” about Castro’s emergence as the most prominent gay rights advocate in Cuba.

Of all the unexpected facts about Cuba today, perhaps none is more so than that the 53-year-old Castro daughter — straight, married, a mother of three — has become its most vocal political advocate on behalf of gay, lesbian, bi and trans rights.

-- Obama wants to travel to Cuba as president, but only if he can meet with Cuban dissidents:

President Obama promised in an exclusive interview with Yahoo News that he “very much” hopes to visit Cuba during his last year in office, but only if he can meet with pro-democracy dissidents there.
“If I go on a visit, then part of the deal is that I get to talk to everybody,” Obama said. “I’ve made very clear in my conversations directly with President [Raul] Castro that we would continue to reach out to those who want to broaden the scope for, you know, free expression inside of Cuba.”

Speaking in the Cabinet Room of the White House, Obama strongly hinted that he would make a decision “over the next several months.”

The president hopes that “sometime next year” he and his top aides will see enough progress in Cuba that they can say that “now would be a good time to shine a light on progress that’s been made, but also maybe [go] there to nudge the Cuban government in a new direction.” 

-- The Americans are coming!  Is Cuba ready?

-- US, Cuba to establish regular air service

-- Exploring the underground real estate market in Cuba

-- Hair has become an art form for Cuban men:

Under Fidel Castro, barber shops and beauty salons were state-owned and state-run. For the most part, a men’s haircut was just that — a cut. There was no shampooing and no styling.

However, in 2010, two years after Fidel’s brother, Raúl, became president, many small salons were handed over to their employees — essentially privatized. 

This quietly implemented, small economic change might be the reason behind the evolving hairstyles worn by men in Havana. When you walk down the streets today, you’ll see guys with carefully sculptured Mohawks, pompadours, fades, and highlights.

Much more from Yahoo: "US and Cuba, One Year Later" and also from the Havana Times.  And be sure and click on the blog appearing regularly in the right-hand column: "Notes from the Cuban Exile Quarter".

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