Friday, June 22, 2007

Reel Notes

I put my favorite one first. If you can disregard Harvey Keitel's affected accent, Cuban Blood is a little gem of a movie, kind of a Cuban Amacord. Of all the Cuban-themed movies I've seen, this is the one that most closely resembles the Cuba of my mother's stories. I'm also fond the Shakespearian fool in the person of the town drunk.

Bitter Sugar, otherwise known as Azucar Amarga, is one I discovered in my library recently. In black and white, it's an artsy, interesting look at post Castro Cuba with the requisite disillusionment. The ending is a bit melodramatic, but definitely worth seeing.

I saw Honey for Oshun a while back. It is a more personal story, but it is a bittersweet story with some glimmers of life on the island.

I hesitate to say much about The Lost City. It is a lush and haunting labor of love.


My brother and I have spent most of our lives in neighborhoods and towns where we were the only Cubans. You can imagine how excited we were to discover the wealth of Cuban/CubanAmerican blogs on the Internet. It was the Internet equivalent of a physical community. Despite our differences, we are all united by a common heritage, a legacy of loss, and a burning desire.All of which reminds me of one of those ideas that keeps rattling around my often too busy brain, that of exile. There is obviously the physical separation from the mother country; but at least in my life, there is the sense of being different from those around me, although I lead an ordinary "American" life, whatever that is; and finally there is the sense of alienation. It's as if there are concentric circles of exile in my life, and I suspect those of others.


Sometime after the Today Show fiasco, I had a moment of not so marvelous insight. Cubans of both the Exile and American variety face a common enemy. Here are two articles, both of which I spotted on Babalu. They make for great reading, but more than that each in it own way highlights the big problem:
I looked around for a historical parallel, but couldn’t think of one. The only parallel I could think of came from dysfunctional human behavior. I was reminded of a family party, where one of the children came crying that the host’s dog, one of those prissy little creatures, had bitten her. The host went over to shush the child, telling her the dog hadn’t bitten her. It struck me at the time, that you know when a dog bites you. It is pretty hard to mistake, no matter what age. I can think of other parallels I’d rather not get into, but what is important is the denial of someone else’s experience. Face it, most of the MSM media is denying the experience of millions of Cubans in this country. You need only look at one fact- balseros. If Cuba is such a socialist paradise, why would untold numbers take the one in four chance of survival and take their rickety rafts, converted trucks, etc… to the water?My intial reaction to this mini-epiphany was that of despair. They just don’t want to know, I reasoned. What’s the use? Better to suffer the outrageous lies and whitewash ladled on by the MSM cynically, than to be reduced to a spluttering wreck, running to the computer to protest yet another abominably false claim about the island, past and present.But then I was at lunch one day bemoaning the Moore movie to a group of American friends, who reacted with a “duh?” These were intelligent people, who having been failed by the media, were just uninformed. So it came to me. “Tell the truth,” whatever part of it we know, not to power- they already know or don’t care- but to the people we know at any opportunity we get. Keep hollering. That dog bit us and we’re not gonna let anyone else tell us otherwise.


Recently I was in my local library, where you can find me once a week, and spotted yet another children's book about Celia. A few days later, I was trolling the blogs and found a couple of interesting posts devoted to her. It struck a chord with me. Almost four years since her death, Celia is still strong in our imagination. She's transcended her musical fame, and I'd like to propose has become an icon of who we are. At least, that's my experience.


In thinking of Celia Cruz, I share something I wrote when I watched the funeral mass in St. Patrick's Cathedral.

The familiar marble columns of St Patick’s frame a coffin, draped with a large red, white and blue flag. It is not an American Flag. Today, New York mourns Celia Cruz. I am surprised by the tears welling in my eyes. Although I had always appreciated her as an icon and loved her indomitable spirit, I had never been particularly fond of her music. My music was Clapton and Led Zepplin and, I confess, Gordon Lightfoot and Tom Rush. I was too American for Celia. It’s that flag, that last gesture of defiance against the regime that banned her music, made it impossible for her to ever return to her homeland. In death Celia is as defiant as Hatuey, a native chieftain from the dim past.
The story goes that the Spaniards had condemned the warrior to death. A Priest went to see him to try to save his immortal soul. “Heaven is a wonderful place where there is no hunger, no strife, no suffering.” The condemned appeared unmoved. “Son,” the priest tried again, “Don’t you want to go to heaven?”
“Father,” Hatuey replied. “When Spaniards die, do they also go to heaven?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Then, I’d rather not go.”
As the casket makes its way down the aisle, tears flow down my middle-aged face. I realize I cry for the dead, for my own father, for all of his friends, for a long line of relatives gone before, for a generation, the children of the lost world. I cry for myself and who I might have been.