You really can't beat a dead horse back to live, although Val & Company deserve credit for trying. Having noticed, at last, the paucity of comments on the ghost town blog that Babalú has become, and rightly attributing its decline to Babalu's historic disdain for insular Cubans (with the exception of those who are in jail), Val decided, for once, to actually express indignation at the treatment of recent Cuban refugees at the hands of the U.S. government. Whereas before they had defended the Coast Guard in all their predations against Cubans and held Bush blameless for his role in enforcing the "Wet Foot/Dry Foot" policy longer than did his predecessor, a newly chastened Val — who, apparently, saw the error of his ways when The Wall Street Journal ran an article detailing one especially execrable case of abuse, the facts of which have already been known for a year and condemned in season by those who actually care about the new refugees — decided to scrap four years of shameful precedent, and extend a hand, ostensibly, to the brave men, women and children who risk everything for the freedom which Val & Company complacently received as a gift from their parents. I said "ostensibly" because Val's real motivation was to toss a line to his own blog, which was flaundering on the waters of indifference and ennui, and, as always, thinking by rote and pandering to the lowest denominator.
But what were the results of their overdue protestations? The subject, even when fleshed out by CubaWatcher, did not ignite any fire. Apparently, their readers question their sincerity on this subject and with very good cause. Val, whose own support of Bush has been so consistent, unquestioning and unrewarded, did not allow himself more than one sentence to make his case, although his poetic "the Coast Guard can kiss my ass" went as far as possible, within such self-imposed limitations. CubaWatcher presented the facts as compellingly as one can at such a remove from the actual event. Others, as we have seen, condemned the murder of Anay Machado in season. Even Longfellow condemned it a year ago, and if it could penetrate his addled brain, what excuse can Val & Company have for their belated epiphany?
But is it really an epiphany of conviction or one of convenience? Val is still beating the old drum about these latest rufugees not being "real" refugees or at least not so authentic and deserving as earlier generations. One would think that having suffered Castro's dictatorship for 5 decades rather than one, as did most of the exiliados históricos, their claims would be five times as compelling for asylum. One would think. But, according to Val, these refugees are unworthy even of the name because of their insistence on visiting the island as soon as they can after landing in this country.
For a long time I also was unable to understand this myself. Why were they so desperate to return to the hell that they had just left behind? Why did they become obsessed with returning the very moment they had realized the obsession of coming here? Did the fact that they returned so soon betray some kind of support sub rosa for the regime? Were they really just economic refugees like the Mexicans, aggrieved by oppressive poverty but not by the government that oppressed them?
And then the truth dawned on me, as it will on anyone open to the truth. My generation of refugees and theirs belonged to two different realities. Although on a historical continuum these realities faced each other from opposite ends of the spectrum. For us, the members of the exilio histórico, our reality is the Cuba that existed before Castro. For them, their reality is the Cuba which was engendered (actually, aborted) by the Revolution. They have known no other. That is their life. Their reality. The Eternal Cuba is ours. The Real Cuba (as it exists today) is theirs. We look with horror and infinite pity on their Cuba, and can't comprehend why anyone would want to return there for even a minute while Castro still rules it, especially those who have endured his tyranny all their lives. They see it differently. That Cuba which we can hardly contemplate without horror is all the Cuba they have ever known. They love it as we do our Cuba. We love the ideal which we were fortunate to know was no ideal, but actually existed in time and space. They love the ruins, which is all that they ever got to know and which to them are still beautiful.
Cubans of my generation who visit the island return crushed and traumatized by what they have seen and regret ever having hit the "Refresh" button on their memories. It is very different for the newcomers. They are acclimated to living in hell, which is not the same thing as embracing hell as an ideal. On the contrary, their wish (just as ours was) is to rescue their dear ones who remain there and bring them to freedom. In the meantime, they do whatever they can to relieve their suffering. The cheapest and most efficacious means to do so — and, remember, they are as poor as we were when we landed in this country — is to succour their relatives in Cuba. They know the ins and outs of that system as we will never know it (thank God!). And they know how to circumvent and thwart it. They return to Cuba to sabotage the system and relieve the misery of their families. They return but do not stay, and the more times they return the more inimical towards and distanced from the system they become. It is the height of impudence to think that they could ever be enamoured with a regime that oppressed them and still oppresses their families and friends.
If we had had that option 40 years ago or more, would be have availed ourselves of it? Speaking personally for myself, no. Not then or now. But that is my choice, which I am free to make just as they are free to make another. As I said, my reality is not their reality; my choices are not their choices.
When first afforded the opportunity of returning to Cuba in 1979, myriads of exiliados históricos did, for the same reasons as those who follow in their footsteps today. Yet I have never heard them denounced as crypto-supporters of the regime, unworthy of the asylum they received here. I would never have done so myself to protect my mental health and because there was no one left in Cuba for me to visit or aid. But I could not, in good conscience, fault them for asserting their right as Cubans to return to our country. Because it is our country, despite of everything and because of everything. The moment that we no longer consider Cuba our country and cede it to the Castros is the day we shall cease to be Cubans. And that holds true alike for the old refugees as well as the newcomers. One Cuba. One people. Indivisible.