The Great Divide

The tale of Elian Gonzalez has generated more comment and created deeper divisions among New Times readers than any subject covered by this newspaper since it began publishing twelve and a half years ago. As revealed by the letters that follow, those comments and divisions extend well beyond the facts of the Gonzalez case, just as Elian himself came to represent much more than a child at the center of a custody dispute.

We considered for publication in this special letters section only correspondence from local residents and only from among those who allowed their names to be used. These were significant criteria in light of the fact that many readers, fearing retribution, did not want their names published, and also because a substantial percentage of those who wrote to us live outside South Florida and followed the case via our Website.

Though the letters included here are but a small fraction of the total we've received, they vividly convey the range of feelings and opinions evoked by the events of the past several months.

Jim Mullin

Having been born in the United States and lived here for all 23 years of my life, I often wondered how it was possible for me to feel such a strong bond with my Cuban heritage. Pictures of this once-beautiful island sadden me. The music and the language inspire me. As an adult I have grown to value my culture, and I now see how fortunate I am to be "Cuban."

I grew to love Cuba and hoped that one day I would be able to share that rich culture with my children and grandchildren. But with that love also came hatred, hatred of a man and a way of life I have been fortunate enough not to know or experience. I do not remember being taught it, but I learned to hate communism and love democracy and the wonderful country in which I live.

My family left Cuba more than 25 years ago, seeking the same thing most Cubans today risk their lives and their children's lives for: freedom. Freedom of religion, freedom of the press, and freedom of speech -- these are the things our founding fathers came to this great land looking for and have succeeded in establishing. Freedom of speech, in my opinion, is the most beautiful of all of these rights under the Constitution. However, it seems that these days many Cubans are taking that right without giving it in return. I have had my own opinions about the Elian Gonzalez controversy. While my greatest wish would be for the child to stay in this country and be able to experience the quality of life I have enjoyed, there is the rule of law in this country, law that must be followed whether it agrees with our emotions or not. The laws are here to protect the rights of all people. At times we may not agree with them, but nonetheless they must be followed in order to keep an orderly government. That is not to say we cannot speak out against it and show our disapproval. But speaking out must be a two-way street. We cannot speak out on an issue and then expect others who disagree with us to keep quiet on the same issues. Since the removal of Elian from his Miami home, I have witnessed behavior that is very disturbing. I have seen people physically attacking others with opposing views and not allowing them to express their feelings on the matter. People have disrupted the daily lives and violated the rights of others while trying to get their points across. There have been threats made against business owners who refused to support the "Dead Tuesday" cause. It is a grave problem when people are forced to support an issue they do not believe in, when they are forced to give up their livelihood and income because of terrorists in their own city -- the same terrorists who fled a communist country and the monster who occupies it because they wanted to be able to speak freely. By forcing their views on others, they are practicing the communism they were trying to escape. The beauty of this country is that everyone is entitled to have an opinion and no one opinion is right or wrong. Everyone has the right to speak their minds without being silenced by the government or anyone else.

In addition to this violation of others' rights I have also seen very upsetting behavior from Cuban Americans toward the United States and its government agencies. I have witnessed the defacement of the flag they fought so hard to be able to live by, while parading the one from which they fled. While I strongly believe in my Cuban heritage, I also strongly believe in my heritage as an American. The flag of the United States is a symbol of our liberty and our freedom. It is very wrong for someone to mar it simply because they do not agree with something the government has done. There are other ways to express disapproval without showing disrespect for a country that has given Cubans and other immigrants the opportunity to live a better life, a country whose government works to protect the rights of all who live under it.

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