Letters to the Editor

From the issue of February 22, 2001

I'm Just a Wisconsin Cheesehead
What the heck would I know about Cuba? I need to start this letter with an apology. I've been meaning to write to you ever since I moved here last September. To say thank you. I appreciate what you do, and I'm happy you're around, although I could do without the ads for plastic surgery. Back home (in rural Wisconsin, farm country of all places!) progressive folks tend to think of breast enlargements and stomach reductions as sexist, harmful, mutilating practices that shouldn't be advertised in progressive publications. But we're just backwoods hicks, so what do we know?

Anyway, I meant to write sooner, a simple thank-you note, and didn't make the time for it. My apologies and my thanks. And no, this isn't a mere thank-you note. Kathy Glasgow's article "A Cuban Idyll" (February 8) set my teeth on edge and caused the hair on the back of my neck to stand up. Where to begin? Perhaps with the author. Ms. Glasgow may be a deeply thoughtful, reflective person who asks serious questions about her own race and class location, especially when traveling outside the U.S. in a Third World country.

She may have done all those things in relation to this trip and simply decided not to share those reflections in her article, which reads like a breezy, chatty travelogue with a few whiny comments thrown in to break up the pattern. I wish Ms. Glasgow had seen fit to discuss her own race and class, her ability or inability to speak Spanish, her U.S. passport, and her privilege. Of course certain details about Ms. Glasgow do leak through. She thought Paulo was joking when he said they'd be hoofing the twenty kilometers to Benjamin's house (which tells me a lot) and then offers a lengthy description of the ensuing walk. I'm deeply disturbed by this passage. Yes, it's hard to walk twenty kilometers without comfortable footwear, and I'm sympathetic about pain and blisters. But the vast majority of people around the world live with such hardship on a daily basis. To me, that's what's important here. While Ms. Glasgow does mention her boyfriend's relatives and their experience of the walk, the focus is on her. This comes across as a kind of cluelessness and arrogance that trivializes the common experiences of most of the world's population. I began asking if Ms. Glasgow is yet another white American with class privilege stumbling into a group of poor people of color and making breathtakingly insensitive cultural errors with every look and word.

Before meeting Lucinda, Ms. Glasgow "thought Lucinda would be uncommunicative and a bit dull," presumably because she cannot read or write. Ahhhhhhh! Excuse me while I tear out a few more pieces of my own brown hair! Surprise, surprise! Class-privileged white people thought the very same things -- and said them, right to our faces -- about my dull, uncommunicative Arab-immigrant relatives who couldn't read or write. And gee, gosh, well, um, golly, believe it or not they were smart! They communicated well! Why, they even had a class analysis!

Then there's Ms. Glasgow's scintillating reference to Cuba as "Hell in paradise," which is, according to her next thoughtful statement, "the way many Cubans describe life on their beautiful tropical island." Darn it all, no matter how hard I try, I just can't seem to get over my elementary journalism training. I believe you're actually supposed to back up statements like that. With proof. With the names of the people who said them. I know I'm old-fashioned. I also believe it's important to stay away from sweeping generalizations and to include the social/political context when writing an article like this. Maybe, just maybe, the decadeslong American embargo might be mentioned as a factor contributing to Cuba's intense poverty?

In any case let me stop haranguing Ms. Glasgow and turn elsewhere, because it is the editors of New Times who decided to run this article, who believed it deserved to be featured on the cover. Or was someone asleep at the wheel? Did you get tired of choosing informative pieces with critical analysis? Are you powerfully affected by the Cuban-exile community? (Now, there's a pleasant euphemism for a group of disenchanted, right-wing folks who worship capitalism like nobody's business.) Perhaps a travelogue with a few comments about "Fidel" (and maybe Ms. Glasgow really is on a first-name basis with Fidel Castro and referring to him this way is not simple disrespect) is as far as you dare go here in Miami.

I do give you credit for describing the article accurately, with the headline "A Cuban Idyll." According to my Concise Oxford Dictionary, an idyll is a "short description in verse or in prose of a picturesque scene or incident." It's a kind way to describe the article. I've experienced little kindness in Miami, and I appreciate you trying to spread some around.

My last question to all of you at New Times: What on earth made you decide to print the photos the way you did? Why, they look like historical photos -- as in photos taken of a time and place long since passed, as in not currently relevant. Funny. That's kind of how the Cuban-exile community describes the place.

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