Letters from the Issue of November 14, 2002

Welcome to the great Rosie O'Donnell controversy

Hey People, It's Time to Call Out the Cavalry

And for once let's get our act together: In response to Rebecca Wakefield's story "Little Goes a Long Way" (November 7), it's not surprising to me that members of the Hispanic community aren't coming out in droves to protest the treatment of the Haitian refugees who landed here October 29. Hispanics, particularly Cubans, have always been concerned with their own groups.

But if any group could and should show up in support of the Haitians, it would be the Cubans. Haitians and Cubans have something important in common: Both have risked their lives and the lives of their families to reach the United States in hopes of making a better life for themselves. I couldn't care less what the reasons are.

To detain one group of people while another goes free to be with their families and search for work is pure and blatant racism. It has been more than a week since this incident took place and there have been no sightings of our prominent Hispanic leaders. Where is Alex Penelas? Where is Manny Diaz? Why is everyone acting like they don't know what's going on in Haiti? I'm not blaming any one particular group, but we can all do better.

Hispanics: I have to give this group ultimate credit because they are really militant when it comes to getting what they believe is right. My only thing is that if you truly want to build bridges within the community, then stand up for everyone, don't just protest when your group has been wronged.

We all know that the Cubans are the most powerful group in Miami-Dade County. I just get the eerie feeling that Cubans couldn't care less, and that their issues (read: Castro) are deeper than any other group. They shouldn't act like they're blind to the terrible situation plaguing the Haitian people. They too are being oppressed and persecuted. They too are being killed by evil dictators. And they have no jobs. I mean that literally -- there are no jobs in Haiti for average citizens.

After the Elian incident, Cubans claimed they felt alienated by other racial and ethnic groups. They felt we abandoned them in their time of need. The Elian incident tore our community apart. It's still dangerous to mention those times in the workplace without getting evil looks. We had town-hall meetings and community events for months afterward. But today little has changed. Now that Haitian refugees are going through this great injustice, it would be a perfect opportunity for Cubans to show everyone why they are the leaders of Miami-Dade County. But they probably won't.

African Americans: Yes, this group could do much, much more in the effort to have Haitians receive equal treatment in Miami-Dade County. There have been few African-American organizations or leaders who have shown concern for what transpired on the Rickenbacker Causeway. Carrie Meek and son Kendrick were around, as they usually are, and there was a mention of Rev. Al Sharpton trying to see the refugees. But that was about it.

The importance of getting black Americans to take responsibility is that, although it's not mentioned often, relations between the two groups are not exactly peachy. We could definitely do a better job responding to each other. One reason for the animosity is a lack of trust. Most Haitians try to avoid African Americans for one reason or another. I also notice that many Haitians, especially the older group, rely on stereotypes. African Americans take offense at this, and basically assume a me-against-the-world attitude.

Another reason for distrust is that some African Americans claim Haitian immigrants come here and take all the jobs. When I hear someone say that, I think to myself this is just the sorriest excuse an African American can come up with for being unemployed. Most African Americans are hard-working, God-fearing people, but there are very few activists in Miami-Dade County: Bishop Victor Curry, the previously mentioned Meeks, and sometimes Willie Sims. There are other well-respected blacks in Miami, but not many. The lack of unity between Haitians and black Americans is not a good situation for either of us. We can use each other. Hell, we are all black first. Why can't we unite for a new majority in Miami? We are all brothers and sisters under God, and we need to lean on each other to overcome injustices we have experienced in the past and continue to experience.

Haitian Americans: Whether it is through naturalization or Americans born to Haitian parents, this is by far the most important and least active group. Being Haitian myself, I find dealing with this group to be very difficult, to say the least. There is a great lack of interest among Haitians to join organizations, and there is also very little unity within the Haitian community. Trust me, I grew up in a Haitian household, where there was no community interest whatsoever. Work from sunrise to sunset Monday through Friday. Saturday it's ti mache (the flea market), and Sunday all day at church.

My thinking is that when Haitians get here to the States, they are very frightened and keep to themselves. Most have little or no education and struggle to keep a roof over their family's heads. Most Haitians avoid anything that would stir up controversy and bring attention or the threat of harm toward them. This is why it's so important for young Haitian Americans to become active and militant in their community. Although mobilizing Haitians has always been a problem, it can be done.

It shouldn't take an injustice to bring us together. As Haitians we must put aside all the past suspicions of other groups and learn to work together. We can all do much more for Haitians if we choose to. We ourselves would be committing a major injustice if we close our eyes and ignore the obvious. This shouldn't be about color, race, or politics. This should be about human rights and the pursuit of a better life for all.

Francis Francois

Miami

Editor's note: To clarify one statement made in Rebecca Wakefield's article, Cuban immigrants who reach U.S. soil are not automatically granted political asylum, though they are free to seek asylum. Under the provisions of the 1966 Cuban Adjustment Act, all immigrants from the island -- with rare exceptions -- who are paroled into the U.S. are eligible for permanent residency one year following their grant of parole.

If You Knew Rosie Like I Know Rosie

You'd understand why she had to cancel: In a "Kulchur" column about the highly successful Dade Human Rights Foundation fundraising dinner held October 19 ("The Political Dance," October 31), Brett Sokol, citing unnamed "foundation sources," asserted that a foundation award intended for Rosie O'Donnell was rescinded so it could be offered to Hillary Clinton. That is false. Mr. Sokol should check his sources. To set the record straight: At no time was any award rescinded from Rosie O'Donnell.

Last spring the foundation board of directors authorized two national-impact awards: one to a political figure and another to a relevant nonpolitician who, in this case, was destined to be Ms. O'Donnell. Contrary to what Mr. Sokol wrote, there was never any need to contemplate an option such as "Now that we have Y, let's get rid of X."

I was president of the foundation at that time and I personally handled the transactions with the O'Donnell organization, from our invitation to her acceptance to her later reluctant but very understandable need to cancel -- notice of which came to me even though by that late date my term as president had ended.

To shed any more light on the particulars of Ms. O'Donnell's decision would be to breach the friendly but private manner in which these matters were managed. Suffice it to say that Ms. O'Donnell's decision to cancel was initiated by her and was precipitated by a totally unrelated personal business matter that had nothing to do with the foundation, any award recipient or participant in the dinner, any gay or lesbian issue, politics in general, or even South Florida in particular.

I know the foundation's board and leadership, though disappointed, fully understood Ms. O'Donnell's course of action. They maintain nothing but admiration and deep affection for her, as do I. Given the late-summer date of Ms. O'Donnell's cancellation, the only national-impact award presented of the two authorized the previous spring was the political one, which went to Mrs. Clinton.

Mr. Sokol should not impute crude and offensive behavior to any person or organization without verifying the facts and checking his sources. In this instance, he certainly never attempted to get in touch with me. He owes the Dade Human Rights Foundation an apology.

Ignacio Martínez-Ybor, co-founder and past president

Dade Human Rights Foundation

Miami

Damaging, Threatening, Shocking, Unprofessional, Unethical, Untruthful

In case you haven't guessed, we're just a little bit peeved: The Gay and Lesbian Foundation of South Florida (formerly the Dade Human Rights Foundation) issued a letter to the editor last week in response to Brett Sokol's "Kulchur" column "The Political Dance." Mr. Sokol chose to respond to our letter in a very damaging and unprofessional manner. I believe New Times readers are entitled to the truth, and I would like to set the record straight.

This is part of Mr. Sokol's response to our letter: "After the dinner, foundation vice president Alicia Apfel stated that Rosie O'Donnell was offered the award but never responded." That is not only untrue, it is unethical as far as journalistic standards are concerned. Mr. Sokol has never spoken to me directly or indirectly about the GLFSF/DHRF annual recognition dinner, yet he mentioned me as the source. And he never spoke to me or anyone else at the foundation prior to submitting his column.

Mr. Sokol did speak to foundation president Joe Guerrero after his column was printed. He basically threatened Mr. Guerrero after reading our letter to the editor, which had not yet been published. Mr. Sokol warned Mr. Guerrero that a rebuttal from the foundation would force him to print information that would embarrass him and myself. He was correct about that. He did embarrass two dedicated volunteers in the community and their fellow board members by issuing false statements.

Mr. Sokol spoke to Joe Guerrero twice after his column ran, prior to his published response regarding the letter submitted to New Times. During the first conversation Mr. Sokol told Mr. Guerrero that I had made some statements to him. Later, in his second conversation with Mr. Guerrero, he changed his story and said a third party was his source. He basically lied to Guerrero and later to New Times readers in his rebuttal. This is not a good pattern for any reporter.

The letter to the editor we issued, which was signed by our board president, was sent in order to correct several points in Mr. Sokol's column. What transpired afterward was a shock to all of us. It is our responsibility to make sure correct information about the foundation, its officers, and staff is disseminated. We are always available for comments.

This alternative paper only fills the void if its readership can trust the information printed. Certainly that was not the case in this incident. I think every reader is entitled to know how New Times plans to earn back our trust.

Alicia Apfel, vice president

Gay and Lesbian Foundation of South Florida

Editor's note: Prior to publication of "The Political Dance," Brett Sokol in fact did speak with a representative of the Gay and Lesbian Foundation of South Florida. Lisa Palley, serving as a spokeswoman for the foundation, provided Sokol with information that appeared in his column and in his response to Joe Guerrero's letter. In the response, however, Palley should have been identified as the source of the information regarding Rosie O'Donnell. Although New Times stands by the integrity of the original column, we regret any misunderstanding caused by the lack of proper attribution.

Reefer Badness

Parents, here's one way to ensure your child's future as a drug-addled criminal: Thanks and kudos to Humberto Guida and New Times for the provocative and troubling story on the culture and business of marijuana in suburban South Florida ("The Preppie Pot Papers," October 24). Additionally thanks are in order for the article's substantiation (perhaps unintentionally) of the anti-drug community's effort to reduce if not eradicate substance abuse, beginning with marijuana.

Mr. Guida's article, albeit anecdotal, makes abundantly clear at least three points the prevention leaders in Miami-Dade have been making for the past several years:

By volume, drug use is predominately a suburban, not an exclusively urban or minority, problem. The existing stereotype is pure myth.

The sheer lack of accountability, responsibility, awareness, and moral direction from parents like the mother of "Razz," coupled with the dysfunctional and aberrant influence of fathers like his, are sadly among the most common predictors of drug use and crime in youth. In other words, parents, you want your kids to enjoy the "high times" and life that is drug dealing and using, and all the sociopathic behavior associated with it? Then simply ignore your children or fail to communicate important traditional values to them and that's precisely what you'll get. After all it was Razz's mother who made the story's most revealing statement when she said, "What my son does with his life, I have no control over. Kids today can do what they want, they know what's right and wrong."

The article also proves that marijuana does indeed serve as a gateway to using and dealing harsher drugs like Ecstasy, cocaine, and heroin, the results of which will continue to prove disastrous for this community.

Thanks again to New Times for its clarion call to leaders, elected officials, and families to rise up and take responsibility for drug abuse in South Florida.

Bernie Diaz, director of communications

Miami Coalition for a Safe and Drug-Free Community

Coral Gables

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