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.

Anyway thanks for hearing me out, and thanks for being here.

Joanna Kadi
Pinecrest

I'm Just a Visitor from the Big Apple
What the hell do I know from Third World? Kathy Glasgow's well-written "A Cuban Idyll" describes a slice of country life in Cuba today as if it were the Third World, as she herself says. Yet within the text of this interesting and compelling story, Ms. Glasgow recounts admissions to a hospital with successful treatment. The patriarch of the family owns his own land since the revolution -- imagine that! They have electricity, a solid house, available potable water, and they apparently have more than enough food -- at least enough to throw a fine party. In addition they have security, being able to hike a long distance without fear in a sparsely populated countryside.

This is typical Third World? Three billion people living on less than two dollars per day might disagree, knowing full well the hellish worlds in which they must somehow survive.

Ms. Glasgow also reveals that (1) Cuba does not tolerate the growing of drugs; (2) Cuba has a working mass-transportation system that is affordable; (3) blacks can move into formerly white-only neighborhoods and establish friendships with whites; (4) education at higher levels is available free of charge; (5) illiteracy is rare, not at all common; (6) there are those in Cuba who do have hope for the future; (7) young men and boys have time, energy, and health to play competitive games.

Hardly "Hell in paradise," as Ms. Glasgow puts it. The reality is that Cuba has indeed made tremendous strides in giving its people -- all its people -- elemental human rights in spite of the unrelenting U.S. blockade: housing, food, medical care, education, potable water, electricity, security of the person and family, and, yes, hope for the future.

Martin Theodores
Manhattan

I Live in Miami Beach
So allow me to make an observation: Kathy Glasgow's story carried this subtitle: "The soul of the island resides in the quiet dignity of its people."

Fistfights in the parking lot at Radio Mambí. Flying tea caddies. Machismo. That's what resides here in Miami. Castro's socialist dictatorship, which we so often vilify, has somehow left its peoples' soul the room to flower. Can we say as much about the Cuban community in Miami? Or indeed about ourselves?

Paul Waters
Miami Beach

Leave My Carlyle Alone
It's a swell place, and I should know: Two times now Lissette Corsa has trashed Carlyle on the Bay, an assisted-living facility where I am a resident ("Home Is Where the Hurt Is,"October 26, 2000, and "There's No Place Like This Home,"January 25, 2001).

I think it is totally unfair for Ms. Corsa to write about Lourdes Franco as an uncaring individual. Lourdes is a very loving, caring individual and is always there when the residents need assistance or just a shoulder to cry on, so to speak. Her portrayal of administrator Rose Wilson is not fair either. We have a very caring and helpful staff here at Carlyle on the Bay, and I should know since I am a resident.

We would not have state agencies looking us over if the management did not have to hire union or agency workers, with whom they must "put up or shut up" for a certain trial period of employment. But about 90 percent of the employees here are always working around the clock to make this a much better place to be. We have very good, wholesome food and the best doctors, nursing staff, and medicine that any psychiatric or geriatric resident could ever want. They are not abusive in any way, shape, or form.

If you are going to trash an assisted-living facility, you should look elsewhere, because Carlyle on the Bay is a cozy, warm, and friendly environment for almost anyone.

Ronald S. Ouellette
Miami

Carlyle? You Want to Hear About the Carlyle?
It's not exactly pleasant: In late spring of 1994, with my father in failing health and living in West Palm Beach, his health plan recommended Carlyle on the Bay as a place to bring him so he could be closer to me and get good care. He rented a one-bedroom apartment overlooking the bay for $2000-plus.

As soon as I moved him in, I found the care questionable and began looking for another facility within a week. Unfortunately my father's health deteriorated, and he did not want to move. He complained that there was not enough programming downstairs in the activity areas. The library/activity room was dirty. The food, in my opinion, was not of good quality. The hallways were poorly kept. His health-care aide was unpleasant, and the supervisor downstairs didn't want to hear of any complaints. I visited Dad every day, and they were not too pleased with my oversight of his care. One supervisor admonished me for coming daily!

But the issue that has plagued me was an uninvited visitor my father had one night. My father was on oxygen and had his own daytime private nurse. But at night the Carlyle had its nurse or health-care aide look in on Dad. His door was left unlocked but closed. One night there was a knock on the door, and my father welcomed the visitor, even though he was unknown to him. He was young and was smoking and carrying a paperback book. He asked Dad if he wanted to buy the book. My Dad told me he was scared. The man seemed agitated, and of course he was smoking while my Dad was using oxygen.

When I came to visit the next day I found the paperback book in my Dad's bedroom. Inside the front cover was the man's name and a prison-identification number! It was then Dad told me of the visit he had the night before.

I went downstairs to ask about this man and his prison record, but no administrator would talk to me except to say they would ask this person not to smoke and not to visit Dad. I asked why they were mixing a frail population with a person who had a prison record. No one I spoke to had the facts, but I was told they would research it. Well, a few days later my dad died from a stroke. In complete fairness he was battling terminal cancer, but there were no signs that death was imminent. To this day I wonder whether that incident shortened his life.

Benjia Morgenstern
Miami

The Meaning of a Free Press
Among other things, it means you don't have to read it: To all the Marshall Freelands of this world ("Letters,"February 15), this is America not Russia. Just because you do not like the thought of cigarette advertisements in New Times does not mean everyone must agree with you. This is a free society, with emphasis on free.

If you do not like the advertisements, then read another paper. And if you don't want to smoke, then don't. Again, this is a free country. We have the right to do as we choose, and we don't need anyone to tell us what is right -- or worse, what we should do.

Please go to Cuba or another totalitarian country. There you can ban anything you want in their government papers.

John Tollefsen
via the Internet

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