Over the past three weeks in Cuba, I spent time thinking about a lot. About how the vibration of the Cuban people is different from any other place I have gone to. My friend Sharon called it a “baptism.” The more I am thinking about it, the more accurate I believe she is. Yes, you can say this past trip was a baptism of sorts. And two thoughts or ideas remained in my head or vibrated repeatedly on this last baptism. One, the idea in a paper by Cuban writer Roberto Zurbano that the Cuban revolution has not ended, or in Spanish: “no ha terminado.” This was a phrase that my host, Magía taught me about, when she recalled the way that The New York Times misrepresented his ideas in 2013 when they changed his idea that the “Cuban revolution has not ended” to “the Cuban Revolution has not begun.” This misinterpretation by a liberal mainstream paper is the kind that ultimately supports imperialist division. One of the first divisions came from Europeans’ first interaction with the indigenous leader Hatuey, who Tony Martin quoted as saying, when facing a Franciscan Friar’s inquisition: “I’d rather go to hell, than go to any place where the Christians are.” I recall a gas station in Havana near the home of Tomas Robaina named “Hatuey.” The New York Times misquote is not their first; Lorraine Hansberry lambasted them in 1959 for printing an op-ed criticizing the Freedom Riders, and Toni Morrison called Michiko Kakutani’s 1998 review of her novel Paradise on the level of a “high school” book review. The New York Times has a history of interpreting news in favor oligarchy and their misrepresentation of Zurbano’s 2013 is no exception. I appreciated our conversation and my attending his lecture on Friday, July 6th at the Casa de las Americas. The lecture was about how the tourism industry in Cuba functions as an invisible plantation. I immediately thought of the sugar plantation setting in Jamaica.
Magía explained the importance of The New York Times in providing basic information. I agree that they provide basic information, and I added that it is ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL TO QUESTION THE LENS THROUGH WHICH THEY INTERPRET THAT INFORMATION. My trip to Cuba underscored the routine habit of misinterpretation by liberal mainstream. In the English class I taught there, I talked about the difference between the mainstream news sources, and alternative news sources. Magía was an incredible host. Her group, El Club Del Espendru hosted an English class I taught. I appreciated the support Magía and her mother Caridad and her friend Milagros, gave me during this entire trip. It is a kind of love I will never forget, that I will always hold close to me. A kind of love that I cherish. Thank you, Magía, Caridad, and Milagros.
Although the New York Times is an example, along with the Washington Post that provides important basic information, it is important to know their theoretical approach to how they explain the news. It is a theoretical approach usually in favor of the U.S. oligarchy. The U.S. oligarchy since 1959 has shown nothing but hostility to the Cuban revolution including the imposition of their racist blockade that is a modern day version of the U.S. blockade against Haiti since 1800. The New York Times ultimately represents the interest of U.S. oligarchy. The only journalist I have read to really describe this is James E. Jackson, who wrote about the liberal mainstream antagonism against the Cuban Revolution in 1959. I was hoping that Teishan Latner in his latest book Cuban Revolution in America: Havana and the Making of a United States Left, 1968-1992 would mention James E. Jackson and his contributions to the U.S. understanding of the Cuban Revolution but he didn’t.
I was able to attend his book talk on July 19th in Havana and was disappointed that James E. Jackson was not mentioned, but I was glad to notice in his book that he mentioned William Worthy, who was a Baltimore Afro-American reporter arrested in the U.S. for reporting the Cuban revolution.
One of the other two thoughts I was baptized in included the motivation of Marlon James’s fiction character Homer, from his second novel The Book of Night Women. Like no other time, I started thinking very deeply about the motivations of this character. Homer is so sympathetic to me because she was a character on a sugar plantation was trying to radicalize a younger character, Lilith, who is the protagonist in this novel. Homer was trying to encourage Lilith to join other enslaved women in Jamaica to revolt on the island while the Haitian revolution was happening. The dramatic irony for me was Lilith’s interest in, yet ultimate unwillingess to, join this revolt. A revolt that was in solidarity with the Haitian revolution. For me, this novel is written as a tragedy. It is a tragedy because Lilith is unable to appreciate the necessity of joining a revolt in solidarity with the Haitian revolution. After seeing a very sterile documentary with Magía on Cuban television about the mother of Cuban revolutionary Antonio Maceo, Mariana Grajales y Maceo, I started comparing her to Marlon James’s Homer. Magía explained the significance of the phrase “Y Tu…Empínate!” which is a phrase that comes from Mariana Grajales y Maceo.
Empínate means, in Jamaican patois, ‘tan up!’ or in American English “stand strong!” I was thinking a lot about how Mariana Grajales raised all of her children to prepare to fight against colonial Spain. Cuba is remarkable because it defeated the colonial control of Spain, through the work of revolutionaries like Mariana Grajales y Maceo, Antonio Maceo, Jose Martí and it defeated the neocolonial control of the United States, through the work of Fidel Castro, Celia Sanchez, and Che Guevara. I found it divine that as I was reading the part in Martí’s book “The Golden Age,” in English, that said that he wrote it for children, a young Cuban boy walked up to me and asked me where I was from.
In her undated biographical sketch, compiled and published by Tony Martin, Amy Ashwood Garvey writes that when Marcus introduced himself to her, he impressed her by explaining how he came “to admire men who fought their way to the top.” She lists the men he admired and one of them is Antonio Maceo. His mother was born in Jamaica like my mother, and I was thinking about the revolutionary energy that existed in her time. I was thinking about what I would look like, what my occupation would be, if I lived in the time of Antonio Maceo. I was especially asking this question after taking screenshots of, and reading an excerpt of Tomás Robaina’s book El Negro En Cuba.
The book taught and teaches me about the enormous AGENCY that Black people in Cuba had. I had an important discussion with Robaina about Marcus Garvey. He showed me a paper he wrote that included speeches by Garvey that I have never read before, in Cuba in 1921.
The English class I taught included an excerpt of a work about Marcus Garvey by Tony Martin. I was astounded by the influenced of Garvey in Cuba, written about by Tony Martin in the 1970s but also clearly evident in the 21st century, such as this bag that Magía showed me:
Marlon James’s second novel put me right in the time of the late eighteenth century, but I was thinking about where I would be if I was alive at the end of the nineteenth century? In Maceo’s time, who would I be? I thought about this a lot during my conversations with Magía about the difference between having knowledge and having consciousness. Simply because one is knowledgeable does not mean they have consciousness. The difference between Reuel Briggs and Professor Stone in Pauline Hopkins’s fourth novel Of One Blood. The difference between Homer and Lilith in James’s novel The Book of Night Women. Based on the behavior and the role that many of us without a developed consciousness play in the world today, would we be the type to turn a blind eye to chattel slavery? I love how Octavia Butler addressed this question in her novel Kindred. I like to think about the level of helplessness that many would-be revolutionaries face, and how they over come this helplessness. Did Maceo think that his actions would lead to the liberation of the children of the mambises? What were the kinds of relationships where one radicalized the other, the way that Homer tried to radicalize Lilith? Who else besides his mother Mariana radicalized Antonio Maceo? These are questions that I was essentially baptized in, in La Habana. One of the students of my class, Liza, shared an article from the Cuban Granma newspaper about the group that Magía is part of, Obsesión.
I was able to see Obsesión host their monthly open mic in La Regla:
And hear the conscious lyrics of Magía, Alexey, and Orlando. Magía told me about the very supportive effort of Harry Belafonte to connect artists in Cuba with artists in the United States.
Another motivation I received was from Gloria Rolando. After seeing two of her films in 2015 with CODEPINK, I was glad to see her latest film “Dialogo con mi abuela” about her grandmother who was from the province of Santa Clara. Like Marlon Riggs in his film Ethnic Notions, Rolando challenged the mainstream depictions of Black women that altogether “tried to destroy my grandmother’s image.” Here Gloria Rolando is on the left with Rosa Campoalegre and Magía.
This film gave me ideas on how to write and present my narration of a film I am doing preliminary research on, about a prominent novelist of Barbadian descent. I was baptized, yes. Thank you, Cuba. I was there during the birthday celebration of Nelson Mandela who said, “When Africa called, Cuba answered.” I have an idea of what that answer feels like. Thank you to Norma Guillard for her hospitality. And thank you to Catherine Murphy for making this trip possible. -RF.