Reflections on Cuba Richard Feldman
Last month, I traveled to Cuba with 18 other folks from Detroit, California, New Jersey, & Toronto. We were part of a two week Learning Journey with Leading Edge Seminars of Toronto.
Now is is an historic time for Cuba. It’s also an important point in my life’s journey as my commitment to Detroit, the Next American Revolution and the need to understand a rapidly changing world evolves.
As a young student radical in SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) in 1969-1970, I did not have the courage to join the thousands of young people going to Cuba to cut Sugar Cane with the Venceremos Brigade.
After traveling to Nicaragua (Sandanista Revolution) in the 1980s, Haiti, Oaxaca, Mexico, Chiapas, Mexico (Zapatistas) and most recently Vietnam, it was time to go to Cuba. Janice (my friend, wife and lover) wanted to go because of her deep respect for Michael Kerman’s of Leading Edge Seminars, decades of work, and relationship building with Cuban caring communities.
I do not travel or visit other places in the world to evaluate or criticize their journey but to reflect and learn for our journey at home. I am always amazed at the ability of Americans and progressives to criticize other nations with so little understanding of our own. The world is filled with horrific acts of war and torture and I often think we forget that our nation was founded on land theft, the massacre of indigenous people, and the sale of slaves for one hundred years after the Declaration of Independence. We have yet to host our truth and reconciliation and reparations movement. I believe each nation creates its own history.
Early in our tour we met with documentarian, Estela Bravo, who talked about her work, and then we watched her film “Operation Peter Pan,” I knew nothing of this story and was filled with pain and anger for days to follow. In 1961, a CIA scare campaign with the support of the Catholic Church convinced Cubans that their children would be “nationalized.” Subsequently, more than 14,000 unaccompanied Cuban children left their homes and were sent to the US. This was a story about stealing children, breaking up families and creating chaos, a mantra repeated way too often in our nation’s history. It was all too similar to sending Native American children to boarding schools in the US and to the 15,000 First Nation Children in Canada who were sent away to boarding schools. I was filled with tears and anger at my country and the viciousness of its foreign policy. It was a moving moment for my soul. At the screening, Estela Bravo shared her deep respect for Danny Glover as a strong supporter of the Cuban Five and the Cuban Revolution.
We visited a 35-acre organic, urban farm near Havana called Organiponico Vivero Alamar. It was run as a co-op and a few of the members and leaders have met with Will Allen of Growing Power, and others have visited D-Town Farm in Detroit. I often looked, listened and remarked that the commitment to community, the land, urban farming, and culture is so similar to our work in Detroit . We may not have 35-acre organic farms in Detroit (yet), but we do have Earthworks, Feedom Feeedom Growers, D-Town Farm, Gerogia Street and hundreds and hundreds of community gardens and farms across our city. The resilience and the acknowledgment that we need sustainability was inspiring.
We walked throughout Havana, Old Havana, and along the sea coast wall. We visited Muraleando, a neighborhood art project, similar to Detroit’s Heidelberg Project, started by community artists in an area away from tourist spots. It features installations and murals reflecting Cuba’s culture and history where a band played and we danced.
And we rarely saw police and never saw the military. People on the streets were totally friendly and engaging. There are thousands upon thousands of US made cars from the 50’s with engines from Toyota, Kia, and parts from what seemed like every auto company in the world. The body of the vehicles are GM, Ford or Chrysler but the engines and insides are hybrids from across the globe. The long-standing embargo/boycott prevented new parts from making it to the island, but the Cuban’s resilience and creativity made the cars run.
We attended community children’s plays and dance programs, met with leaders and founders of social service and education centers, initiatives that provided dance and music programs for young people with disabilities, attended a ballet of Cuba at the Gran Teatro de la Habana. A great highlight was The Children’s Theatre of Cuba, La Comenita [The Little Beehive]. 4 year-old Setti, the son of Detroiter Monique and grandson of Myrtle, was totally engaged with the young people and brought a special touch of love and spirit to all the adults on the tour. At one point he went on stage with the other performing children and at other times he posed for pictures with the presenters. We often presented gifts from Detroit ( Feedom freedom T-Shirts, Boggs Center R(E)volution -shirts and Grace’s book, The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism in the 21 Century. One time, Setti raised his fist and said: “Power to the People”. We met with the theatre’s founder, Alberto Creamata, the child actors andd staff. The group started as a neighborhood project 22 years ago. It reminded us of Matrix Theatre and Mosaic Youth Theatre of Detroit. As the trip progressed, I realized that the commitment to grassroots initiatives, the resilience and love for creating spaces of dignity began to become more important to my Cuba learning than the reminder of the barbarism and violence that our country placed upon the Cuban People.
In many ways, the US Government did to Cuba what corporations, the movement to the suburbs (first white and then blacks), technological displacement, and the changing global economy did to our cities. Just as Cuba was an ideological threat to US Control and corporate domination and also an inspiration, the movement of blacks to our cities, the rebellions of the late 1960’s were seen as a threat to the fundamentals of race-capitalism and white control of America. The rising Trump voice and anger represents the fear of white working class and middle class folks who are losing their American dream in a changing world.
Cuba had a revolution. Detroit had a rebellion, a war on drugs, a war on welfare, the leaving behind of an underclass, and unemployment among young people of color reaching 40-50%.
We went back to the old city and attended a very moving performance of The Psycho-Ballet, a dance performance featuring cognitively challenged young people who gained self-esteem and confidence by participating. We attended a number of lectures at the Federation of Women that focused on the economy, the history of the revolution and Hayee Santa Maria by Mata Rojas who was a young woman at Moncada in 1953.
While we were introduced to lots of history, community initiatives, journalists, artists, community activists, it was our two guides who made it a special time, Roberto and Rita.
Roberto Rivera Perezworked with the Foundation for Nature and Humanity in Cuba, 2013. He shared a love for his country, his people, his history, the planet and an authentic acknowledgment that Cuba and the world live in an epoch changing moment. Every question was welcomed and his energy and voice never stopped sharing as we traveled by bus, ate dinner or lunch of just tour the Museum of the Revolution.
Rita has been a long time leader and pioneer within the Women’s Federation who traveled internationally representing Cuba at the Women’s conferences in Kenya & China. She brought to the tour a love of language, of sensitivity and contradiction showing that the revolutionary journey to inclusion continues. She has been a strong advocate for lesbian, gay, transgender, rights and voices in Cuba. She introduced us to the community groups that gave individuals an opportunity to express their dignity and human potential. Resilience and love blossomed from her words.
They both spoke of the 4 fundamental initiatives, programs and values that guide Cuba and are fundamental to Cuba as a nation. Health Care, Literacy and Education, Subsidizing the Arts & Recreation/Sports. Cuban pay very little to go to a ballet but charge tourists an appropriate fee.
We americans are often confused on ways to discuss poverty and progress. We often forget that we are 5% of the world’s population and utilize 24-26% of the world’s resources. While the Cubans believe everyone should have health care and community doctors responsible for particular geographic neighborhoods, we believe in privatizing health care, education and making baseball tickets outrageously high. We displace people from their homes in downtown Detroit so a hockey stadium can be built for returning white suburban folks.
Resilience and love will be held inside me along with the anger towards my country and the recognition that it is the American Wealth, Consumerism and Materialism that drove the militarism and racism across our country and the globe. As MLK said in 1967: We need to struggle against the evil triplets of racism, militarism and materialism as we create a radical revolution in values. I know that our Nation can be better and thus I will work to Love America: Enough to Change it.
Che said “that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love.” The understanding of love which is so similar to MLK’s beloved community and Agapic Energy and Love was not born with Che and the revolution but is deep in the soul of Cuba in the words of their founding father, poet, independence fighter and intellectual, Jose Marti.
A Sincere Man Am I A sincere man am I From the land where palm trees grow, And I want before I die My soul’s verses to bestow.
I’m a traveller to all parts, And a newcomer to none: I am art among the arts, With the mountains I am one.
I know how to name and class All the strange flowers that grow; I know every blade of grass, Fatal lie and sublime woe.
I have seen through dead of night Upon my head softly fall, Rays formed of the purest light From beauty celestial.
I have seen wings that were surging From beautiful women’s shoulders, And seen butterflies emerging From the refuse heap that moulders.
I have known a man to live With a dagger at his side, And never once the name give Of she by whose hand he died.
Twice, for an instant, did I My soul’s reflection espy: Twice: when my poor father died And when she bade me good-bye.
I trembled once, when I flung The vineyard gate, and to my dread, The wicked hornet had stung My little girl on the forehead.
I rejoiced once and felt lucky The day that my jailer came To read the death warrant to me That bore his tears and my name.
I hear a sigh across the earth, I hear a sigh over the deep: It is no sign reaching my hearth, But my son waking from sleep.
If they say I have obtained The pick of the jeweller’s trove, A good friend is what I’ve gained And I have put aside love.
I have seen across the skies A wounded eagle still flying; I know the cubby where lies The snake of its venom dying.
I know that the world is weak And must soon fall to the ground, Then the gentle brook will speak Above the quiet profound.
While trembling with joy and dread, I have touched with hand so bold A once-bright star that fell dead From heaven at my threshold.
On my brave heart is engraved The sorrow hidden from all eyes: The son of a land enslaved, Lives for it, suffers and dies.
All is beautiful and right, All is as music and reason; And all, like diamonds, is light That was coal before its season.
I know when fools are laid to rest Honor and tears will abound, And that of all fruits, the best Is left to rot in holy ground.
Without a word, the pompous muse I’ve set aside, and understood: From a withered branch, I choose To hang my doctoral hood.