Nestor Diaz de Villegas takes on Professor Susan Eckstein and her book on “Cuban Privilege.”
Susan Eckstein: The privilege of being a gusano [worm]
I’m not going to write a treatise to refute the thesis put forth by Professor Susan Eckstein, the new Lolita of pro-Castro progressives who was invited to give a conference at the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University, located in the state whose mascot is the worm. I will just provide two simple examples that make clear the reasons why our exile isn’t, and can never be, an example of privilege among Hispanic immigrants to the U.S.
I will use two examples taken from the real world, not academic theories. I will begin with Brazil and end with Haiti. At the end of my analysis, Cuba will be at the very bottom of the “privilege meter,” well below nations that just six decades didn’t even reach the sole of Cuba’s shoes. If Balenciaga canceled Kanye West’s contract for speaking anti-Semitic drivel, at the end of my article, the clothing stores in Hialeah will be able to cut their commercial ties to Ms. Eckstein for being a xenophobe and anti-Cuban,
A couple of years ago, I was in a taxi in Rio de Janeiro going from the airport to the home of some friends. Halfway through the drive into the city, I saw in the hills an urban hive divided into small lots, each with its own water tank and roofs bristling with satellite dishes. “Is this a favela?” I asked the taxi driver. “Yes sir,” he replied. “A favela, the Rocinha.”.
I wanted to know more: “And those tanks, are they for drinking water?” The taxi driver replied, with subtle patriotic pride: “Yes, friend, they are tanks. Each house has its own little tank. There are no sewage pipes, but the government takes care of emptying the pits. Electricity is free. There are even low-income professionals who move to the favelas to avoid the high costs of living. The internet is also free. Who is going to charge those poor people who live on soap operas?”
It was not my intention to offend the driver, but the following cry came from my soul: “My God, how beautiful! The Cubans would like to have those favelas!” The taxi driver did not understand. me, and turned in his seat to face me. The shock of bewilderment almost caused him to drive off the road. I spent the rest of the journey apologizing to him, trying to give him a technical background on the Cuban problem. By the end of the trip, the man had lost his innocence and looked sad. But I was much more afflicted.
His illusion of Cuba was abandoned in that taxi like an old coat. Brazil was superior to Cuba in almost everything, but that awful truth had made me slump in the back seat like a worm. My truth was dirty, incommunicable, and so terrible that it offended even the favelas.
Recently, the President of the Republic of Haiti was assassinated. It was a simple and brutal operation. The president’s wife was badly injured and had to be sent to Miami to receive emergency medical attention. A gang hired in Colombia, among other hitman-producing nations, broke into the presidential mansion, entered the rooms, and eliminated the president. In the depths of our collective unconscious, some Cubans feel envy.
Why did something like this happen to Jovenel Moïse, who was a good man, and nothing happens in Cuba, where an unusual regime imposed by the hitmen of July 26 has gone on forever? How is it that, in a matter of hours of having suffered an assault at the highest levels of power, a certain semblance of order was restored in Haiti? How privileged are the Haitians in the midst of chaos!
In an after-dinner conversation among exiles, we discussed the terrible events in Port-au-Prince and concluded that our Caribbean neighbors were, after all, faring better than ours. They could take a ship or a small boat and leave without being hosed down by border guard boats and sunk in the high seas, as it happened to the tugboat “13 de Marzo.” Leaving Haiti is a tragedy, but it is not a political crime, there are no jail sentences for those who try to escape.
Haiti had internet access long before Cuba! The Duvalier dictatorship gave way to an imperfect and corrupt democracy, but nevertheless new compared to our old dynasty of despots. Cuba is, for many reasons, worse off than Haiti. Cubans escape to go shopping in a nation that has, what is for them, privileges such as free enterprise and economic independence.
We have had to spend years captive and starving, without tasting milk or beef; visiting our prisoners in prisons who have already served six decades; beaten by neighbors and abused by relatives and friends in vile acts of repudiation; dying at sea and in the jungle; decimated in wars of conquest and internationalist missions; and deprived of the most elementary rights, so we could be granted the alms of the Cuban Adjustment Act.
There is also the undeniable fact that Cuba is the most Americanized of Latin American republics; more so than even Hawaii or the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. And since the arrival of the Castros into power, we have historically, ideologically, and symbolically depended on the Yankees, even more than when we were a Republic. If the American left is on its way to institutionalizing Castro-like shortages and compulsive politicization, Castroism has also adopted woke philosophy, gender policing, and Yankee militant corporatism.
Beyond that, we deserve preferential treatment for having paid a higher price of entry than any other people in Latin America: we have suffered the discredit of the gringo intellectual class and stoically tolerated the stereotype of retrogrades and reactionaries, bearing the burden of the ungrateful. We, the terrible worms who failed to appreciate the wonders of socialism and resisted the totalitarianism to come.
Neither Salomé García Bacallao nor Anamely Ramos González would find a job, surely, at the university where a Castro lady teaches and explains to us “how Cuban communism has been misinterpreted abroad” (sic) and how, “beneath the Marxist-Leninist rhetoric and the autocratic and one-party government of Fidel Castro, there is a welfare state that promotes care for its citizens, from the cradle to the grave” (sic).
All this can be read in the book Back From The Future: Cuba Under Castro, in which Professor Eckstein has the shamelessness to use as her title a famous phrase (“Cubans come from the future”) stolen from that privileged man Reinaldo Arenas. The saying denotes the opposite of the idea of ??privilege: exiles come from hell, a Castro hell that Reinaldo continued to suffer during his clashes with the American academy.
Even so, Jorge Duany, director of the Cuban Research Institute, sees nothing wrong with Professor Eckstein coming to the Miami ghetto to expose her fascist ideas. Wasn’t Nazi Germany a welfare state for everyone who wasn’t an Ungeziefer? Cuban exiles, by the mere fact of existing in the United States, are the living refutation of Eckstein’s ideas. But Duany would a thousand times prefer to give the microphone to a defender of the dictatorship than to a recalcitrant opponent or a Trump-supporting Cuban.
In fact, the Cuban Trump supporters are the real target of the attacks coming from the “Anti-Cuban Research Institute.” Now that the instruments of cancellation are in the hands of the faculty, the balance of political force in Florida will look more and more like a process of tenure : the Party provosts order the CRI to arbitrate the controversies of those incorrigible Cuban-Americans and, from their ivory tower, Duany will have the power to decide which cubiches are declared persona non grata.
The decision to invite Professor Eckstein is another example of absolutist power at a time when the Party is testing its strength in all areas of culture. Eckstein only has to open her mouth like an ugly American in an indigenous region, assume the role of an indignant gringa, remove her black list from her bra, and say with a Cambridge accent: “Otavalo, Otavalo… I got it written here somewhere… like that … Otavalo… Ota… Ota what?”
Néstor Díaz de Villegas is a Cuban-American poet and essayist. He has contributed to Letras Libres, El Nuevo Herald, and The New York Times. He is the creator of Cubista Magazine and NDDV.blog. He resides in Los Angeles.