White Cuban-American Privilege and Why It Needs to End

Image credit: Eleanor Taylor
Image credit: Eleanor Taylor

And yes, this coming from a White Cuban-American. A friend at work shared a NY Times op-ed article by Ann Louise Bardach entitled “Why Are Cubans So Special?”, knowing that I’d remain objective despite the title’s thinly veiled sarcasm.

Many of the younger Cuban-Americans join me in disavowing a strict adherence to Right-wing politics, (a position that is misguidedly held simply because of its supposed diametric opposition to Communism). It’s difficult, however, to reconcile with the older generations, to which many of our parents belong. For these Cuban expatriates, agreeing that Elian should have gone back to his father, saying that JFK was not the Socialist spawn of Satan, against the embargo, or that the Cuban Adjustment Act (which gives special status to Cuban refugees) should be revised, is nothing short of cultural sacrilege.

This is not to deny that the situation in Cuba is pretty dire. Bardach tells us, “Cuban authorities have demanded an end to the Cuban Adjustment Act, claiming the policy causes a brain drain. (Of course, they never acknowledge why more than a million Cubans have risked their lives to escape.)” Her parenthetical aside is hinting at the undeniable wretchedness of being a Cuban citizen.

According to the Human Rights Watch 2013 report, “Cuba remains the only country in Latin America that represses virtually all forms of political dissent.” Th enforcement of forced political homogeneity takes on many forms: (1) political prisoners (the very idea!), most of which are non-violent, who are detained indefinitely and without due process, (2) Arbitrary detentions for “questionable” activities, (3) Freedom of expression (or lack thereof), particularly when it comes to the rare and often dangerous gem of indie media outlets, (4) human rights activists are simply not allowed–indeed, beaten and detained. Enough said. (5) Travel restrictions, especially dissidents, like the well-known blogger Yoani Sanchez, (6) Prisons that are “overcrowded, unhygienic, and unhealthy, leading to extensive malnutrition and illness” (HRW.org). If prisoners have the brass to criticize the government, they are subjected to increased beatings, solitary confinement, denial of medical care, restriction of family visitation, and whatever else the guards can get creative with.

And then there are the less dour, yet still troubling issues, like scarcity and rationing. As a personal anecdote, my mother’s ration of baby food included nothing but carrot puree for an entire month. As you can imagine, my skin was a bright orange at the end of that month. The jury’s still out on whether this caused other physiological traumas.

Alright so I jest! True story though.

On a more serious note however, the HRW highlights the absolute counter productivity of the embargo: “the United States’ economic embargo on Cuba, in place for more than half a century, continues to impose indiscriminate hardship on the Cuban people, and has done nothing to improve human rights in Cuba. At the United Nations General Assembly in November, 188 of the 192 member countries voted for a resolution condemning the US embargo.”

So how does this all tie back into “white privilege”? It’s congressmen like Marco Rubio who, despite heritage and “diversity” platforms, represent the antithesis of most Latino experiences. He is the type that will dismiss professions like, say, public school teachers, as a waste of a good education. This again comes from firsthand witnessing. You could practically see the smirk, the well-manicured hand swatting away the thought like a pestilence. I suppose it’s also easy to support the privatization of education when you have the same PACs supporting your campaign and when you have the financial wherewithal to send your prized progeny anywhere you’d like. Ransom Everglades, anyone? This is why Bardach cites anti-Rubio slogans like “No somos Rubios;” a crafty pun meaning that the voters are not blond, but more importantly, that they do not share his privilege and values.

So, while recognizing the veritable crimes against the Cuban population, we must also acknowledge those perpetrated against a host of other countries (most notably for us in Miami, Haitians and Venezuelans). Bardach asks, “Are Cubans seeking a better way of life really more deserving than, say, refugees fleeing death squads or drug cartels?” Valid question. It seems that the more egalitarian approach would be to ease immigration restrictions for all. Oh, but I’ve forgotten. It seems Emma Lazarus’s sonnet in 1883 has sadly become empty words inscribed on our Statue of Liberty:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

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