By Michael E. Miller
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The local reaction to this sea change in sentiment has been the expected circling of the wagons. No less an imposing philosophical heavyweight than pop singer Gloria Estefan finally broke her silence. After ducking the subject of Elian for months, there she was last Thursday outside the Gonzalez's Little Havana home, grabbing a bullhorn and passionately describing her own complex negotiations with Attorney General Janet Reno. Leaving aside the matter of Estefan's newly emergent legal background, a cynic might question why, if La Gloria is truly concerned with the fate of Elian (as opposed to the arc of her career), she waited so long to speak out.
Of course avid Estefan watchers know this deep commitment to social justice reaches back, oh, say, at least 24 hours: The day before Estefan was spotted on a treadmill at South Beach's XS health club. As her hulking personal bodyguard stood silently by with a bottle of water, she waved her arms in the air, and to the entire room loudly began haranguing about the fitness of Juan Miguel as a father. To be fair, though, if one is willing to read between the lines, Estefan's music has always contained lofty convictions. Witness her New Year's Eve concert, wherein she explored the existential duality of mind and spirit in the stirring "My Body Wants to Salsa," or the finely nuanced critique of urban sprawl expressed in "Miami Is a Party Town."
Musicians weren't the only ones to spring into action. We also saw the prattlings of Juan Carlos Espinosa, who, thanks to the funding largess of Jorge "Baby Mas" Santos and his Cuban American National Foundation, is just one of a growing number of right-wing ideologues masquerading as objective academics. As the assistant director of the University of Miami's Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, Espinosa is charged with producing policy reports; while these reports may have the reassuring stamp of UM, their actual credibility is on a par with the "scientific studies" commissioned by the tobacco industry: You get what you pay for.
Indeed, last November's Cuban Film Festival, cobbled together by Espinosa's institute, provided some telling insight into how that organization sees its mission. While the festival's organizers trumpeted it as representing the broad spectrum of Cuban film, only exile-produced productions actually were screened -- and even then, mostly works of facile agitprop that toed the appropriately frothing anti-Fidel line.
Accordingly, speaking to ABC news, Espinosa chalked up the current barrage of media criticism to anti-Cuban "racism," as if questioning the ludicrous posturing of Miami officials was anything but exercising common sense. While Espinosa's playing of the race card is a welcome step up from the usual ploy of labeling anyone who dissents from exile shibboleths a communist, it also serves as a sad reminder of just how debased academia in South Florida has become.
The ivory towers were hardly the only source of bizarre commentary. Take Miami Mayor Joe Carollo, who stood before a phalanx of TV cameras, and without a shred of irony declared the Cuban-American community "has no history of violence."
Hello? It's hard to imagine another community in America with a greater history of violence. How else to describe the dozens of bombings over the past three decades, all aimed at radio commentators, writers, museums, embassies, stores, and nightclubs that dared to question intransigent exile positions on U.S.-Cuba relations? When a 1992 Americas Watch report warned that "moderation can be a dangerous position," the city they were speaking of wasn't Bogotá; it was Miami. With a tip of the hat to H. Rap Brown, in our neck of the woods, violence is as Cuban as moros y cristianos.
If there's a silver lining to recent developments, it's in the forging of new links -- not only between Cuban Americans tired of having nut-job extremists speak on their behalf but also between Haitian Americans, Jamaican Americans, Latinos of all stripes, and yes, Anglos, all arriving at a common ground of disgust with the status quo.
Coalescing this anger into a united front and acting on it isn't going to be easy, but a good first step was voiced during the recent Nightline "town-hall meeting" held at Florida International University. One audience member stood up and said, "Many in the hard-line exile community want to present a picture that Miami is united in their cause. And it's not. This isn't a monolithic city." Turning to Miami-Dade Mayor Alex Penelas (already visibly squirming after being asked by Ted Koppel to repeat his "the blood will be on your hands" comments to Janet Reno's face), this same man pointedly added, "You left a lot of us feeling incredibly disenfranchised from this community, and it's going to be very, very difficult to ever forgive you for that." Amen, brother.