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La Lucha for Cuba

Religion and Politics on the Streets of Miami

Miguel A. De La Torre (Author)

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Paperback, 200 pages
ISBN: 9780520238527
October 2003
$31.95, £21.95
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For many in Miami’s Cuban exile community, hating Fidel Castro is as natural as loving one’s children. This hatred, Miguel De La Torre suggests, has in fact taken on religious significance. In La Lucha for Cuba, De La Torre shows how Exilic Cubans, a once marginalized group, have risen to power and privilege—distinguishing themselves from other Hispanic communities in the United States—and how religion has figured in their ascension. Through the lens of religion and culture, his work also unmasks and explores intra-Hispanic structures of oppression operating among Cubans in Miami.

Miami Cubans use a religious expression, la lucha, or "the struggle," to justify the power and privilege they have achieved. Within the context of la lucha, De La Torre explores the religious dichotomy created between the "children of light" (Exilic Cubans) and the "children of darkness" (Resident Cubans). Examining the recent saga of the Elián González custody battle, he shows how the cultural construction of la lucha has become a distinctly Miami-style spirituality that makes el exilio (exile) the basis for religious reflection, understanding, and practice—and that conflates political mobilization with spiritual meaning in an ongoing confrontation with evil.
List of Illustrations
List of Abbreviations
Preface

1. An Ajiaco Christianity
2. La Lucha: The Religion of Miami
3. Psalm 137: Constructing Cuban Identity while in Babylon
4. Machismo: Creating Structures of Oppression
5. The End of the Elián Saga: The Continuation of La Lucha

Notes
References
Index
Miguel A. De La Torre is Assistant Professor of Religion at Hope College. He is the author of The Quest for the Cuban Christ: A Historical Search (2002), Reading the Bible from the Margins (2002), and, with Edwin Aponte, Introducing Latino/a Theologies (2001).
“Recommended.”—M.A. Olshan Choice: Current Reviews For Academic Libraries
“Interesting and accessible.”—British Bulletin Of Publications Of Latin America, The Caribbean, Portugal, And Spain
"This, the first major study of popular religion in Miami’s community of exiled Cubans, is outstanding. De La Torre captures the intimacy and flavor of a spiritual movement that crosses moral and theological lines. It’s bound to upset some for its frank conclusions; but all great books go against the inherited grain in some way."—Luis León, author of La Llorona’s Children: Religion, Life, and Death in the U.S.-Mexican Borderlands

"A daring and careful exposé of the political and religious right-wing discourse circulating among Cuban exiles. In this extremely important, courageous, and long-overdue project about cubanidad (Cubanness), De La Torre has created a historical marker in the effort to clear the way for a more democratic and spiritually compassionate world for Cuban Americans."—Laura Perez, Associate Professor of Ethnic Studies, University of California, Berkeley

Chapter 1

An Ajiaco Christianity

On Thanksgiving Day, 1999, while the United States feasted on the traditional turkey dinner, a small Cuban boy of five was found off the coast of Fort Lauderdale clinging to an inner tube. Within a few days, Elián González's name became nationally known, as the boy emerged at the center of a furious custody battle between the Exilic and Resident Cuban communities.1 Surrounding Elián's new temporary Miami home, Catholics and Protestants, rich and poor, young and old gathered to pray. Signs written in blue beseeched the nation to "Pray for Elián." Exilic Cubans held hands and surrounded the house to recite the rosary. These same worshipers were prepared to unclasp their praying hands and lock arms to prevent the U.S. government from taking Elián. While the world focused on the unfolding political saga of this child, a religious subtext developed. Some worshipers claimed to have seen the Virgin Mary hovering over Elián's Miami home. Others referred to Elián as the miracle child, or Miami's Jesus. Across the street lived a santera, a believer in the African-based Cuban religion known as Santería. For her, Elián was a child of Ochún, the quasi-deity of the sea. She and other followers of Santería believed that Ochún had spared Elián's life to bear witness that she is still the mother of all Cubans.

The Elián story illustrates how religion, politics, and power merge within the Miami Exilic community. The focus of this book is not to determine what Elián's fate should have been, or to review the legal and political battles that surrounded his case. Rather, it is to explore how the powerful Exilic Cuban community in Miami formed a religious response to the Elián story, and how that response unconsciously masks a political agenda designed to maintain and increase the power base of that community. Along the way, it attempts to understand how a community of fewer than a million Exilic Cubans amassed the power to influence the strongest government in the world, confounding for months the U.S. endeavor to return Elián to Cuba.

The Unfolding Saga

What actually occurred in the Straits of Florida before Elián's rescue at sea remains a mystery. According to the official reports, a seventeen-foot aluminum boat left Cardenas, Cuba, for the United States on November 21, 1999, at 4:30 a.m. Stories that Elián's mother was seeking freedom for her child notwithstanding, it appears she probably left Cuba to follow her boyfriend, who had planned the boat trip. On board were fourteen individuals, one of them Elián. Hours before the boy was rescued, the boat capsized off the Florida Keys. Except for Elián and two adults, all the others drowned, including his mother, Elizabeth Brotons. Two Broward County fishermen, cousins, were out on the water when they spotted an inner tube bobbing in the ocean, shortly after 9 a.m. Thanksgiving morning. When he saw a hand move from within the tube, one of the fishermen jumped into the ocean and pulled Elián out of the water. Exhausted by his ordeal, Elián was taken to the hospital for medical treatment. He was released the following day, and the Immigration and Nationalization Service (INS) gave temporary custody of the boy to Lazaro González, the child's great-uncle, who lives in Miami. This ensured that the boy would be cared for while the agency determined his immigration status. The next day, November 27, from his home in Cardenas, the boy's father, Juan Miguel González, demanded the return of his son. With that, Elián was thrust to the epicenter of a fierce political tug-of-war between the Exilic and Resident Cuban communities.

Four days after Elián was pulled from the water, on November 29, he literally became the poster child for the Exilic community. Because it was believed that Fidel Castro might attend the World Trade Organization meeting that early December in Seattle, posters and flyers were rapidly produced with a picture of Elián on a stretcher under the caption "Another Child Victim of Fidel Castro." Elián's political appeal as a symbol of opposition to the Castro regime was obvious. Yet his true value to the community became apparent only with his transformation into a religious symbol. This rapid metamorphosis was not the Machiavellian formulation of a few individuals with political power, but rather the cumulative effort of the entire Exilic Cuban community in its attempt to comprehend the will of a God who had seemed so silent during the forty years of their "captivity" in Miami.

As a sacred symbol, Elián merged the religious and political hopes of the Miami Cuban community. According to Father Francisco Santana of Our Lady of Charity Shrine, "[Exilic Cubans] were making the connection that this child was like a sign that was sent to us by God, that somehow this was connected to the end of communism in Cuba" (Bikel 2001). How could Elián have become a deific symbol? Sacred language being rooted in symbols and myths, anything secular (a river, stone, star, animal, or human being) can be transformed into something sacred, a marker pointing to something greater than itself (Eliade 1963, 11). Religious people, such as prophets or apostles, or religious objects, such as totems, are not the only or even the supreme representations of Divinity. Anything or anyone can reveal aspects of the Divine (Eliade 1957, 20-65). And Elián, as deific symbol, not only reflected the sacred, but he also came into being in a sacred manner.

Elián's physicians insisted that the child failed to demonstrate any physical evidence of prolonged exposure to the sea, concluding that the boy was in the water for hours, not days. Nevertheless, as the story spread, his few hours in the ocean became two and a half days, in turn raising the question, How can a child survive that long, alone, in the sea? The answer, clearly, was, Only by a miracle from God. As the battle over Elián's immigration status grew fierce, his symbolic worth increased as the Exilic community spoke of him in deeply religious terms. An unconfirmed report, circulated widely within the community, recounted the tale of dolphins circling Elián's inner tube, protecting him from sharks. Dolphins, in the early Christian Church, symbolized salvation: not only was Elián saved, but now he had come to save. Even the Midrash (Jewish rabbinical commentaries) contains stories of how dolphins saved some Israelite children who lagged behind while crossing the parted Red Sea during their flight from Egyptian bondage.

"He's a miracle," said Maria Rodriguez, fifty-five, while attending the annual Three Kings Day Parade, a celebration of the three wise men bringing gifts to the baby Jesus. "The fact that he made it for two days, with dolphins circling around him—that proves he's a miracle." At his great-uncle's modest home, religious candles lined the sidewalk as the Exilic community began to compare Elián to Jesus.2 The day of the parade, January 9, El Nuevo Herald, the Spanish version of The Miami Herald, also linked Elián to the baby Jesus in its headline "The Three Magi Kings at the Feet of Elián."3

The Church was even more open in its comparison of Elián to Christ. During a prayer vigil held on March 29, the clergy assured the crowd that God was on the side of the Exilic Cubans. "In Cuba, some people have made Elián a symbol of the new Che [Guevara], so it is not so unusual that some people in Miami are seeing him as the new Christ," said one of the prayer vigil organizers, the Reverend Gustavo Miyares of Immaculate Conception Church. María Ester Fernández, another organizer of the multiple prayer vigils in front of Elián's house, best summed up the convictions of the Exilic community when she said, "We continue praying that Elián stays, because God wants it. . . . Just as Christ died for us and on the third day was resurrected, so will the Cuban people be resurrected."4

Within a short time, the community began to point out that, like Jesus, Elián arrived just weeks before Christmas, at the end of the millennium, on the day on which thanksgiving is offered to God. Even the year 2000, the sixth millennium since the supposed creation of the earth, turned Elián, like Jesus, into a symbol of hope. Along with likening Elián to Christ, the community also believed him to be protected by the Virgin Mary. As many as forty people attested to seeing the image of the Virgin on the glass door of TotalBank in Little Havana. She appeared, it was believed, to protest Elián's return to Cuba. The bank, on Twenty-seventh Avenue, quickly became a pilgrimage stop for the multitudes that came with flowers. Some rubbed their babies against the windowpane for good luck.5 One woman reported seeing a vision of the Virgin with child surrounded by two giant dolphins.6 These stories are reminiscent of the widespread Cuban tale of drowning fishermen being saved by la Caridad del Cobre (the Virgin of Charity), Cuba's patron saint. Even la Virgen de Guadalupe, believed to have appeared to an indigenous Mexican peasant more than four hundred years ago, made an appearance as a spot on a mirror in the bedroom where the boy slept.7

The Exilic community also created religious rituals to bind the sacred to the secular. On Mother's Day, May 14, 2000, dozens of women and children, vestidos de luto (dressed in mourning black), gathered by the seawall behind the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity to honor Elián's mother. A prayer service was held, culminating in the tossing of roses into a makeshift raft. Ana Rodriguez, thirty-five, a mother of three who participated in the event said, "It's for her and all the mothers that have died for freedom. Not only Cuban mothers."8 Having turned Elián's mother into a martyr, the community continued to honor her memory by naming a street after her (87 Court in Hialeah Gardens) and erecting a shrine to her at the Bay of Pigs memorial on Thirteenth Avenue in Little Havana.

As the sacred and political occupied the same space, the boundaries between the two became blurred in the minds of the supporters who gathered before Elián's house to pray. Jorge Mas Santos, the chairperson of the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF), the most powerful Exilic Cuban political lobbying organization in the United States, helped complete this fusion when he said, "Praying in a religious ceremony is the best way to show our support."9 Despite the fact that the official Catholic Church hierarchy of Miami took a position of neutrality, citing "moral uncertainty," local priests became major players in the unfolding drama.10 The Reverend Francisco Santana, of the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity, literally brought the church into Elián's Miami home. Six nights a week, he celebrated a private mass for Elián's family, and while not specifically praying for Elián to stay—so as not to contradict the Church—he led prayers asking for God to touch Elián's father, Juan Miguel, so that he could love as a father should despite any political pressure received from the Castro regime. 11 Albeit in a roundabout way, those gathered essentially prayed for Elián to stay.

As Miami's miracle child, Elián is credited with forging new ties between Catholic priests and mainline evangelical Protestant pastors, traditional rivals in both Miami and La Habana. Father Santana and fellow Catholic priests, along with Protestant ministers, made ecumenical history when they officially turned the protest for justice in front of Elián's house into a daily vigil. Santana proclaimed, "We are transforming, as of this moment, the cries demanding justice in front of Elián's house into a permanent prayer vigil, so that God can complete the miracle that He himself begun."12 Six Catholic priests and six mainline Protestant pastors (viewed as the twelve disciples of Christ) took turns leading the nightly prayer vigil. On Fridays, they led joint prayer services. Presbyterian pastor Manuel Salabarria said it best: "We have a common ground, a common interest, and a common purpose." To maintain this alliance, the Reverend Santana put aside the devotion to Mary so as not to "offend" the Protestants.13 During one of these massive prayer vigils, tens of thousands of Exilic Cubans marched down Calle Ocho (Eighth Street) in the shape of a cross, as both Catholic priests and Protestant ministers joined forces in proclaiming the miracle child.14 As a sacred symbol, Elián had brought temporary healing to centuries of religious rivalry, surely a task beyond the ability of mere mortals.

Using Elián as a symbol was not limited to Catholics and Protestants. Practitioners of Santería also saw religious symbolism in the boy. One of the side stories that emerged during the Elián saga centered on a note that Lazaro González, the boy's great-uncle, wrote to Elián's grandmothers. He entrusted the note to Sister Jeanne O'Laughlin, host to the boy's grandmothers in late January 2000 during their trip to the United States. Sister O'Laughlin forgot to pass the note on, finding it in her pocket days later. The note warned that Castro wanted the child so he could make a Santería sacrifice of him. This concern was based on the most frequently repeated rumor on the streets of Little Havana: that Castro had been forewarned of a child saved by dolphins in the sea who would overthrow his regime and that he had to acquire the boy to prevent the fulfillment of the prophecy. Elián (Jesus) was being sought by Castro (Herod), who wanted to kill the messiah threatening his rule. Even Miami's auxiliary bishop, Agustin Roman, was quick to make the comparison between Castro and Herod after reading the Scriptures about Herod wanting Jesus killed to preserve his reign.15

According to both Resident and Exilic practitioners of Santería, Castro participates in this Afro-Cuban religion, even traveling to Africa to be initiated into its mysteries. Yet the annual oracles indicate that somehow Castro had offended Elegguá, the first and most powerful orisha (quasi-deity). Elegguá is depicted as a child, and some see Elián as the child whom Elegguá had chosen to overthrow Castro. This, Exilic devotees of Santería believe, is behind Castro's obsession in having Elián returned.16

Some believe Castro's obsession may be rooted in his own experience with his estranged wife, Mirta Diaz-Balart de Núñez, who left for the United States with their five-year-old son, Fidelito, against Castro's wishes. While Castro was imprisoned in the early 1950s for his revolutionary activities, his divorced wife, unbeknown to Castro, brought his son to Miami to be raised in the United States. Castro was incensed that his Miami relatives and political enemies, the Diaz-Balarts, would be raising his son as an Exilic Cuban. He vowed to regain his son and his honor, regardless of the consequences. Eventually, Castro convinced his estranged wife to allow him to see his son while Castro was exiled in Mexico, promising to return the child to his mother within a few weeks. The mother agreed, but fearing Castro would not keep his promise, she had Fidelito kidnapped and returned to Florida. Eventually, Mirta Diaz-Balart and son returned to La Habana, where they lived for five years, but when the Castro government took a more pronounced Marxist turn, Mirta left for Madrid without Fidelito. Some claimed he chose to stay with his father; others insist that Castro would not let his son leave the island. Fidelito would eventually study in the Soviet Union, becoming a geophysicist, marry a Russian (whom he eventually divorced), and serve as the head of Cuba's nuclear power program. Ironically, Miami Congressman Lincoln Diaz-Balart, nephew of Mirta and cousin of Fidelito, was one of the major advocates of keeping Elián in Miami. Could it be that the Elián custody battle was motivated by family events that had occurred some forty years earlier?

Regardless of Castro's true motivations, the fact remains that he wanted Elián returned. "We will move heaven and earth to get the child back!" he exclaimed during a TV interview (Bikel 2001). Yet more than forty years of fighting la lucha against Castro has conditioned Miami Cubans to oppose blindly whatever Castro wants. Because Castro publicly demanded something, the Exilic community felt compelled to take the contrary position: if Castro wants Elián, then he simply cannot have him. Spiting Castro by keeping Elián in Miami became more important than the child's welfare. Father Santana, confidant to Elián's Miami relatives, quoted Lazaro González, the boy's great-uncle, as stating, "to send Elián back to Cuba is to send him to hell. . . . I truly believe . . . that it was even better for the sharks to have eaten Elián in the waters than to go back to a country in which he's going to be manipulated by the system, in which he's going to be—they are going to teach him everything that are really in contradiction with human nature" (Bikel 2001).

Judaism has also been used to show the significance of Elián as the miracle child. Some even claimed that Elián was the linear heir to Moses.17 Roberto Sánchez, sixty-five, an Exilic Cuban Jew, waved Israel's flag in front of Elián's Miami home, saying, "Elián is the Moses of the year 2000. This is a sacred child, so the flag of the Holy Land is appropriate here, because this street is holy land."18 Like Moses, Elián was drawn from the waters, escaping the Pharaoh (Castro). The hopes were that, like Moses, Elián would lead his people to the promised land (Cuba). One Exilic Cuban magazine pictured Elián on its back cover with the caption "A Cuban Moses." Christian Exilic Cubans have even quoted the Talmud to justify the struggle to keep Elián in the States: "To save a human is to save the entire world."19

One of Elián's lawyers, Spencer Eig, an Orthodox Jew who made frequent television appearances, was fond of comparing Elián to "a Jew from communist Russia making it to Israel and then having to be sent back."20 Rabbi Solomon Schiff, vice president of the Rabbinical Association of Greater Miami, compared the Elián saga to that of the St. Louis, a ship that in 1937, while carrying 937 Jewish refugees from Germany, was turned away from Cuba and the United States. To Rabbi Schiff, Elián represents the immense value of human life. Schiff points out that Christians, Jews, and Muslims (and I would add santeros/as) have identified with Elián for different reasons, but with the same idea: "Every human being is like an only book which deserves respect, dignity, and a quality of life."21 The name Elián, a combination of Elizabeth and Juan—the names of his parents—has been misread by the religious faithful as Elías (Elijah). For Jews, Elián is the prophet who fought the false prophets of darkness. For Christians, Elián is the name those present at the Crucifixion thought Jesus called out when he said, "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabactani?" (My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?). For Muslims, Elián is the messenger who comes to warn the people of evil while bringing salvation.

History is simply repeating itself, according to Santiago Aranegui, professor of antiquity and history at Florida International University. Every new age occurs when a "chosen" person sets out on a grand, earth-changing mission. These epochs are usually announced by the appearance of a child, as with Moses and Jesus. For Adventist pastor Charles Vento, an Exilic Cuban, Elián, like the prophets of old, has the divine power to change the destiny of nations and to liberate oppressed people.22 Mirta Rondon, sixty-one, who led a chant in front of Elián's Miami home, believed Elián to be a messiah: "I have a feeling that he will be the one. He will be the one who brings change to the history of Cuba."23 In the streets of Miami, protestors routinely shouted, "Elián is king of the Cubans."24 Exilic Cuban superstars like Gloria Estéfan, Willy Chirino, Arturo Sandoval, and Andy Garcia made pilgrimages to Elián's house. The Fox Family Channel produced the first Elián movie, which aired in September 2000.

Why all the fuss over Elián? Because Exilic Cubans read their story in the story of Elián. Frank Calzón, executive director of the Center for a Free Cuba (CFC) in Washington, D.C., put into words the feelings of the whole community: "Each one of us sees himself in that small child, in the suffering of his tragedy."25 According to Silvia Iriondo, president of Mothers Against Repression, "In that child, we saw all the pain and all the suffering of forty-one years. Elián symbolizes the pain of the Cuban family, the Cuban families that throughout forty-one years of oppression have been divided by one man and one system" (Bikel 2001). Elián represents the ultimate sacrifice of a parent seeking liberty for their child. Many Cubans gathered at Elián's house somehow to prevent what they themselves experienced. The story of Margarita Aguiar, fifty-six, a Miami-Dade Community College counselor who took time off work to stand before Elián's house, is typical of those who came to pray. She recalls her brother being shot when Castro's soldiers took over her parochial school and invaded her church in February 1961. She states that her father placed her on a plane, exchanging being with her for her freedom, the same choice she wants for Elián. "He was a father who loved me enough to say, 'I'll never see her again, but she will live in freedom.'"26

Part of the Exilic Cuban collective memory is the Pedro Pan (Peter Pan) flights, a massive Catholic operation that removed more than fourteen thousand children from Cuba during the early 1960s. Even with the importance of the family unit, since the Revolution, Exilic Cubans have subordinated the parent-child relationship to "saving" the child from communism. Ernesto Betancourt, founding director of Radio Martí, the station responsible for broadcasting U.S. propaganda into Cuba, explains, "We [Exilic Cubans] see that the repression of a regime still pursues the child, the world only sees that he still has a father."27

During the last days of the custody standoff, when it appeared as if the battle to keep Elián in Miami was lost, the community continued to expect God to perform a miracle. When a flock of birds in V formation flew over Elián's Miami home on April 13 at 2:40 a.m., it was immediately taken as a sign from God. This sign notwithstanding, in the predawn hours of April 22, 2000, U.S. federal marshals raided Elián's home, and, in less than three minutes, removed him from the house, eventually reuniting him with his father, who was waiting in Washington, D.C. His forceful removal occurred on Holy Saturday, and the religious symbolism was not lost on the Exilic community. Pastor Humberto Cruz illustrated the connection by stating, "They say in the Scriptures that a shadow fell on Jerusalem when Jesus was crucified. A shadow has once again fallen, this time on our city [of Miami]."28Again, Catholic and Protestant ministers joined forces, believing that unless they came together, the Exilic community would be lost. They denounced the government's sacrilege of violating Holy Week and called the community to prayer and peaceful demonstration.

On Easter morning, the day after the raid, congregations throughout South Florida prayed for Elián, his Miami family, and the community at large. At St. Juan Bosco, the church Elián's Miami relatives usually attend, eleven-year-old Milena Libertad (whose last name means "liberty"), herself a rafter who came to Miami the previous year, belted out a song she composed about Elián: "If you love me, hear me, Dad. I don't want to go back to Cuba." She brought the church to tears. Concepción Pelaez, seventy-six, summed up the importance of worship when she said, "I cry for the child. The Mass did me good because as we cry, we release our pain."29 Later that evening, during the evening mass at Our Lady of Charity shrine, Elián's young cousin, Lazarito Martell, prophesied, to the delight of the three hundred attendants, that Elián would stay in the States. The congregation, carrying prints of Jesus Christ on the cross with his blood dripping down over the island of Cuba, heard the Reverend Santana proclaim, "Elián is staying, and Fidel is leaving." When Elián's Miami family stood before the congregation, the parishioners waved miniature Cuban flags as they burst into the Cuban national anthem.30 These services, and the events that led up to them, epitomize the merging of the Exilic Cuban political agenda with religious fervor. But when and how did this fusion occur?

A Cuban-Based Religious Experience

The animosity expressed during the Elián saga illustrates that politically speaking, there are basically two Cubas, one allá (there) and one aquí (here). On the island are revolutionaries who combat any attempt to subjugate Cuba's spirit to U.S. hegemony. In Miami are pro-U.S. capitalists who look to the United States to be the guiding hope in revitalizing a post-Castro Cuba. Owing to these fundamental political, economic, and ideological differences, the Cuban community has become a people divided against itself. The Cuban individual, Exilic or Resident, who chooses to address her or his community from any perspective other than the official one would be suspect of secretly abetting the opposing camp and might only succeed in uniting both groups in condemning her or his initiative.

The Resident Cuban calls you a traitor, a gusano (worm), for leaving. The Exilic Cuban calls you a traitor, un comunista, for saying anything about the Castro government that falls short of a condemnation. But in Miami worse things than being called a communist happen: for a Miami Exilic Cuban even to suggest any positive accomplishment of the Revolution invites violence. In 1979 Carlos Muñíz was assassinated in Puerto Rico for his leadership role with the Antonio Maceo Brigade, an organization helping to build the Revolution, composed mainly of Exilic Cuban college students who supported the social justice goals of the Revolution, the end of the United States blockade, the normalization of relationships, the independence of Puerto Rico, and the U.S. civil rights movement. Luciano Negrín, also a member of the Antonio Maceo Brigade and a prominent dialogue supporter, was killed in Union City, New Jersey, that same year. Ramón Donestevez, a Hialeah boat builder, was assassinated because of his suspected ties to the Castro government. Exilic leader José de la Torriente was murdered in 1973 on suspicions of embezzling funds from his Cuban liberation organization. José Peruyero, Exilic war hero and president of the Brigade 2506 Veteran Association, was killed in 1976 for condemning Brigade 2506 veterans who participated in terrorist activities. Three months later, Emilio Milián, a radio commentator, had his legs blown off in a car bombing for criticizing Exilic paramilitary politics. From 1973 to 1976, more than one hundred bombs went off in Miami. Because these events occurred in the 1970s, the tendency of those recounting Exilic Cuban history is to insist that such terrorist actions were limited to that era.

Yet in 1989 alone, eighteen bombs exploded in the homes and businesses of Exilic Cubans who called for an approach to Cuba contrary to the official hard line. From May to October 1996, twelve bombs exploded in Miami for the same reasons. These actions led the FBI to name Miami the capital of United States terrorism. Recently, the archdiocese of Miami received numerous bomb threats for collecting and sending emergency relief to Resident Cubans suffering catastrophic damage when hurricane Lili directly hit the island in October 1996. (Ironically, the aid was returned by the Castro administration because the word exilic and the phrase "love conquers all" were written on the cans and boxes.) The Cuban Museum of Art and Culture in Miami received bomb threats for exhibiting the works of Tomas Sánchez, a Resident Cuban, which led Americas Watch, a human rights organization, to title their report on Miami's lack of freedom of expression "Dangerous Dialogue."

Cubans in La Habana are likewise silenced. Resident Cubans who criticize the present regime from within or who become active in human rights movements are accused of being agents of the United States and are subsequently jailed for violating laws that prohibit the right to assemble.31 Four such dissidents, Marta Beatriz Roque, Vladimiro Roca, Felix Bonne, and René Gómez Manzano, were detained for criticizing Cuba's one-party system. On March 15, 1999, Roca, son of the late Cuban Communist Party Leader Blas Roca, was sentenced to five years in prison. He was released months before his sentence expired as a gesture of "goodwill" toward Jimmy Carter, who visited the island in 2002. Both lawyer Manzano and engineer Bonne were sentenced to four years, and economist Roque received a sentence of three and a half years. All defendants had an opportunity to avoid prison terms if they would voluntarily leave the country. They chose to stay.32 Elizardo Sanchez, head of the Cuban Commission on Human Rights, estimates that 381 political prisoners are in Cuban jails. According to Amnesty International, Cuba has the longest-term political prisoners in the world, and, along with Colombia, was listed as the worst human rights offender in 1999. While a critical sociopolitical analysis of the present Cuban regime may be profitable, it remains beyond the scope of this book.33

Relations between these two antagonistic communities notwithstanding, they do share a common religious trajectory that helps to explain the fusing and confusing of religiosity with politics. Unfortunately, in spite of the many excellent Cuban scholarly works currently available, few specifically deal with how the religiosity of Cubans affects, if not determines, the political positions occupied by so many in Miami. Although significant works in the fields of anthropology, sociology, psychology, political science, economics, and history have been written, works on which this book heavily relies, conspicuously missing is a close examination of the Exilic Cuban political dilemma of el exilio as a religious response to the existential space of displacement. By religious response, I do not mean any specific religious or spiritual action Exilic Cubans ought to take to be faithful to some overall sense of dogma or religious ethics; rather, religion is understood here as a binding substance providing moral justifications for the political actions a given group undertakes. In short, the present Exilic Cuban political culture is itself a reflection of a constructed religious system indigenous to Miami.

The religiosity of Exilic Cubans in Miami determines their social, political, and economic reality through morals—ideals—that justify the Exilic Cubans' worldview. Religious faith becomes a special form of consciousness containing specific consequences for political will. Satisfaction of theological questions is not the ultimate goal. Rather, the longing to answer the unanswerable questions of their alienation (from the patria and from compatriots ninety miles away) becomes a religious quest for meaning. The attempt to make sense of an alienation that marks the Exilic Cuban identity creates a sacred space in which Exilic Cubans can grapple with their spiritual need to reconcile with their God and their psychological need to reconcile with their compatriots on the other side of the Florida Straits (De La Torre 2002a, 117-18). Besides the obvious political alienation existing among Cubans, as a people they are also divided along lines of sexism, racism, and classism. Hence, any Cuban religiosity capable of healing the ruptured relationships of Cubans, both Exilic and Resident, must take into account all aspects of their alienation.

To understand better the foundation of this Cuban religiosity, I suggest the term ajiaco Christianity.34 Ajiaco is a Cuban stew consisting of different indigenous root vegetables. A native dish, it symbolizes who Cubans are as a people and how their diverse ethnic backgrounds came to be formed. According to famed Cuban scholar Fernando Ortiz, the Amerindians gave us the maíz (corn), papa (potato), malanga (arum), boniato (sweet potato), yuca (yucca), and ají (pepper). The Spaniards added calabaza (pumpkin) and nabo (turnip), while the Chinese added spices. The Africans contributed ñame (yams). Cubans are, according to Ortiz, "a mestizaje [mixture] of kitchens, a mestizaje of races, a mestizaje of cultures, a dense broth of civilization that bubbles on the stove of the Caribbean."35 In effect, Cubans are nourished by the combination of all their diverse roots.

Ajiaco symbolizes cubanidad's (Cubanness) cultural attempt to find harmony among diverse roots, aspiring to create José Martí's idealized state of a secularized vision of Christian love that is anti-imperialistic, antimilitant, antiracist, moral, and radical.36 Unlike the North American melting pot, in which all newly arrived immigrants are placed into a vessel where they somehow "cook down" into a new culture that nevertheless remains Eurocentric, the Cuban ajiaco retains the unique flavors of its diverse ingredients, which enrich one another. Some ingredients may dissolve completely, while others may remain more distinct. Yet all provide flavor to the simmering stew, which by its very nature is always in a state of flux.

Although the Taíno—the original Amerindians of the Arawakan nation who first inhabited Cuba—left few visible traces of existence after their decimation by the 1600s, they continue to influence Cuban culture, popular memory, and imagination. Runaway slave communities incorporated the cultural influences of the Taínos' dwindling population, reintroducing them to Cuban culture. While all these distinct racial and ethnic groups representing the "ingredients" originated outside the island, they all repopulated the space called Cuba as displaced people. While not belonging, they made a conscious decision to be rooted to that particular land. The decision to belong brought together a mixture, an ajiaco, of different cultures. I propose that the metaphor of the Cuban ajiaco should form the basis for an authentic religious reality, a locus theologicus, from which Cubans approach the world (De La Torre 2002a, 121).37

Most Latina/o theologians, however, use the term mulato Christianity (when referring to Hispanics from the Caribbean) and/or mestizo Christianity (when referring to Hispanics from Mexico and Central and South America) to describe the Hispanic Christian perspective. While the term mestizo is mainly used to describe those of Spanish and Amerindian origins, mulato connotes a mixture of Spanish and African stock. Yet it is a racist term owing to its association with the word mule.38 The negative connotations associated with the word mule carry over to the word mulato, regardless of the efforts made by Exilic Cuban religious scholars to construct a more positive definition. Because of its inability to reproduce itself, the mule is sterile; yet any religious understanding constructed from the Cuban perspective requires fecundity, one reason I consider the metaphor of the ajiaco to be so apt. I still recall from childhood that whenever my mother made an ajiaco, she would comment on its hearty qualities by stating, "Hice un ajiaco que levanta los muertos" (I made an ajiaco to raise the dead). Ajiaco, the collection of Cuba's diverse roots, becomes a life-giving substance, something with the power to give new life. Additionally, the predominately white Cuban population in Miami would find it repulsive to associate their religious sensibilities with the term mulato, insisting that they are pure whites whose religious expression is devoid of African influences. Is the insistence of Exilic Cuban religious scholars on using the term mulato truly a grassroots self-description rising from Christian believers, or is it an academic fabrication imposed on, yet not accepted by, the Miami Exilic community? While Latino/a religious scholars use mulato to indicate the positive mixture of races and cultures, creating what José Vasconcelos termed la nueva raza cósmica (the new cosmic race), the racist connotation of the word and its rejection by most white Exilic Cubans detracts from its ability to define properly the Exilic Cuban experience.39 Furthermore, the term fails to encompass all Cubans. Cuban roots are more than just mulato (black and white) or mestizo (Amerindian and Spaniard). Cubans are also Asian, and because of both U.S. imperialism during the twentieth century and their present exilio in Miami, Cubans are also Eurocentric.40 Cubans are heirs of a Taíno indigenous culture, of a medieval (Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim) Spain, of Africa (primarily Yoruban culture), and of Asia (specifically Cantonese).41 Cubans are truly a multicultural people, belonging to five cultural inheritances yet fully accepted by none of them, making them simultaneously "outsiders" and "insiders." They can claim that the blood of the conquerors and of the conquered converges in their veins. From this existential space, Cubans can create a religious understanding influenced by these multiple traditions.

But why an ajiaco Christianity in particular? Until now, most Exilic Cuban religious scholars have dealt with the Exilic Cuban experience from an overall Hispanic and Christian context. Absent from the discourse has been the application of a self-critical analysis. Although it is important to position the Exilic Cuban within the larger "Latina/o" community, misunderstanding occurs when Cuban religious scholars fail to realize the radically different social space occupied by Exilic Cubans, specifically those residing in Miami. When Exilic Cubans are lumped together with Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, and other Latin Americans under the term Hispanic and/or Latina/o, the power and privilege achieved by the Miami community, largely composed of those with light skins and of upper- and middle-class status, is masked by the religious discourse claiming a Latino/a religious commonality. Also absent from the discourse is the Exilic Cubans' attempt to identify themselves with the Euroamerican dominant culture, and thus against other Hispanic groups. The desire of Latino/a religious scholars to evoke a pan-ethnic unity diminishes the reality of how sexism, racism, and classism are alive and well within the Exilic Cubans' constructed religious and political space. Solely casting Exilic Cubans as victims of Euroamerican oppression obscures the dubious role they play as victimizers. Exilic Cubans find themselves simultaneously the oppressed and the oppressors, a fact that is inconvenient and therefore sometimes ignored by those who would lump together Exilic Cubans with all other Latinos/as, rendering them all the Hispanic Other to U.S. hegemony.

Yet lumping these groups together does not completely work. According to the Census Bureau, Exilic Cubans' 1997 mean family income of $35,616 is closer to the U.S. population's mean income of $49,692 than that of any other Hispanic group. Contrast the Exilic Cuban mean income with the Mexican mean income of $25,347 or the Puerto Rican mean income of $23,646. Sixty-three percent of Exilic Cubans own businesses (the highest rate among Latin Americans), contrasted with 19 percent of Mexicans and 11 percent of Puerto Ricans. Unemployment rates of 4 percent for Cubans are lower then the national average, while Mexicans are at 11 percent and Puerto Ricans are at 8 percent. Only 14 percent of Exilic Cubans find themselves below the poverty line, as opposed to 25 percent of Mexicans and 37 percent of Puerto Ricans. Finally, 22 percent of Exilic Cubans hold managerial or professional positions, much higher than the 9 percent of Mexicans or 12 percent of Puerto Ricans (De La Torre and Aponte 2001, 22).

These figures illustrate the difficulty Exilic Cubans have finding room within an overall Hispanic theological viewpoint that constructs a perspective solely from a position of marginality and poverty. While discrimination against Exilic Cubans is a reality and is reflected in the distribution of income (their mean income is about $14,000 less than that of the general U.S. population), Exilic Cubans, more than any other Hispanic group, earn higher average incomes and more frequently hold professional-level jobs. Yet this ascension of Exilic Cubans to positions of power is a relatively new phenomenon. In the early 1980s, anti-Cuban referendums in the form of antibilingual ordinances passed overwhelmingly in Miami. An attempt to solidify the political hold of the Euroamerican elite was in full swing.

The endeavor to disenfranchise Exilic Cubans created a backlash among the Exilic community, leading to a concerted effort to wrest control from the old Anglo guard. Tactics included the formation of Facts about Cuban Exiles (FACE) to combat anti-Cuban stereotypes, the intensification of activism by the Spanish American League against Discrimination (SALAD), and a political grassroots effort prior to the 1984 presidential election, which culminated in nine thousand Cubans becoming U.S. citizens and for the most part registering as Republicans. These efforts resulted in Miami becoming the only city in the United States where first-generation Latin American immigrants have become dominant in city politics. By the 1990s, the majority of city commissioners were Exilic Cubans, as was the mayor. The superintendent of Dade County public schools, the state chairs of the Florida Democratic Party, and the local chairs of the county's political parties are Exilic Cubans. Further, the president of several banks (about twenty) and of Florida International University, the Dade County AFL-CIO, the Miami Chamber of Commerce, the Miami Herald Publishing Company, and the Greater Miami Board of Realtors (a post I held) are or have been Exilic Cuban. It is common to find Exilic Cubans occupying top administrative posts in City Hall, at the Miami Herald, and in the city's corporate boardrooms (De La Torre 2002b, 21-22).

Listing such middle-class accomplishments on the part of Exilic Cubans is not an attempt to minimize the pain and suffering that came with being uprooted and the discrimination faced during the initial exilic experience, nor does it imply that all Exilic Cubans have achieved economic success. Yet, more than other recently arrived immigrants, as a group Exilic Cubans have generally ceased to be marginalized. By 1990, Exilic Cubans had become an integral part of Miami's political, economic, and social power structure. Indeed, Exilic Cubans have adopted a hypercapitalist ideology, propelling them into an ultraconservative Republicanism.42 Many are more "American" than the Euroamericans and more "Cuban" than those who continue to reside in Cuba.

When economic and political achievements such as these are reviewed, seldom is a connection made between them and the religious sensibilities of Exilic Cubans. As mentioned earlier, few Cuban scholars approach el exilio from a sophisticated religious studies perspective. The religiosity of Exilic Cubans is seldom taken into consideration when scholars attempt to understand the Miami ethos, even when it plays a prominent role, as witnessed during the Elián saga. Rather, religious sensibilities are usually relegated to the area of private faith, inconsequential to scholarly analysis. Yet a culture can never be truly understood without first examining the implicit connection between the religious beliefs constructed by that culture and its practices. Because cultures are born out of religious traditions, any thorough examination thus needs to be embedded in a religious discourse. What modern scholars call the secular space is in fact the product of former religious traditions (Foucault 1978a, 33).

Additionally, few Exilic Cuban religious scholars address Exilic Cuban religious expression in the context of the sociopolitical power achieved in the Miami community. While claiming to do "grassroots theology," they seldom consult the political "grassroots" in Miami. When the Exilic Cuban perspective is discussed among Cuban religious scholars, it is usually done from the pre-1980s rubric of the Cuban immigrant as alien. Why is present-day Miami ignored?

Most Exilic Cuban religious scholars are highly influenced by the liberationist tendency of Latino/a theology.43 Rooted in the theological movement of Latin America known as liberation theology, these scholars are not averse to using Marxist economic analysis to elucidate the religious impetus of those who are most economically oppressed. Because liberation theology has been cast as a communist movement by those in power, and an overall abhorrence exists among Exilic Cubans toward communism, why then should we be surprised that Exilic Cuban religious scholars find little if any reception of it among el exilio? Consequently, Exilic Cuban religious scholars have contributed to the overall Hispanic liberationist discourse by speaking either within a constructed pan-ethnic space or within some other Latino/a tradition. One finds Exilic Cuban religious scholars writing about such subjects as the Mexican Virgen de Guadalupe or the socioeconomic misery of the Puerto Rican barrio in el Bronx.

Along with rejecting anything that might appear communist, Exilic Cuban religious scholars generally ignore present-day Miami because of the obvious difficulty of "doing theology as an oppressed people," when in fact the Exilic Cuban community is, for the most part, economically well-established; has a most effective U.S. lobbying group, the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF); and is the center of the political, economic, and social power in Dade County, Florida. It is difficult to cry "oppression" once a solid middle-class status has been achieved. Yet if religion is understood as a "second act," that is, as a reflection of the actions and ideologies of a particular people, then what form and shape does the religiosity of Exilic Cubans in Miami take? In answering this question, this book does not attempt to create a new body of theology under the rubric of ajiaco Christianity, nor does it reflect any specific religious movement in Miami. Instead, it tries to elucidate how the political culture of the Miami Exilic community arose from a religious expression formed in the Miami diaspora.

The Importance of Ajiaco Christianity

The demonstrations of religious fervor on the streets of Miami over the fate of Elián were not an attempt by the community to manipulate religious sensibilities or beliefs to justify a political position; rather, the religious sentiments of the Exilic Cuban community facilitated their political stance. The Elián saga cannot be fully understood apart from an exploration of the different, and at times conflicting, religious roots that contribute to what I have been calling an ajiaco Christianity. Ajiaco Christianity, as an expression of religiosity, contradicts Durkheim's sociological, Freud's psychological, and Marx's economic functionalism, each of which insists that societal structures powerfully determine religious beliefs and rituals. Ajiaco Christianity resists the trend of reducing religion to a by-product of the so-called underlying social reality. Rather, I claim the reverse: religion shapes society; it is not simply a dependent variable of other forces. Society, psychology, and economics affect religion, but their influences are neither dominant nor determining. Rather than a mere expression of sociological dynamics, religion is a cultural fact in and of itself, needing explanation on its own terms. Religious phenomena, like those surrounding the Elián drama, can only be understood when examined on their own terms. Any attempt to elucidate such phenomena by means of physiology, psychology, sociology, economics, linguistics, art, or any other area will ultimately prove ineffective. Such approaches usually ignore the one unique and irreducible element of religion: the element of the sacred (Eliade 1963, xii). Only those aware of this sacred element can truly grasp ajiaco Christianity's impact on the Exilic Cuban social reality.

Yet Exilic Cubans have interpreted the sacred as a civil religion that supports, gives meaning to, and provides hope for el exilio, a term mainly used by Exilic Cubans to name their collective identity. The term connotes the involuntary nature of displacement and constructs them as sojourners in a foreign land. El exilio is an in-between place, a place to wait and hope for a return to the promised land. It is more than a geographic separation; it encompasses dis-connection and dis-placement. El exilio is a culturally constructed artifact imagined as a landless nation, complete with its own history and values. As travel writer David Rieff observes, "The country of which Miami is the capital is an imaginary one, that of el exilio" (1987, 149). El exilio exists in a reality apart from what Cubans long for, la patria.

In Miami, the longing for Cuba, or the "rhetoric of return," has become the unifying substance of the Exilic Cuban's existential being, yet this aspiration is slowly being replaced by a stronger desire to adapt to and capitalize on residence in this country. Taking their cue from Martí, they render el exilio a sacred space, making morality synonymous with nationalism. Living in exile is a sacrifice constituting a civic duty, representing a grander moral standing (OC III, 303-05; IV, 289; and XX, 397). Religion is understood as a moral mandate to rid the island of its atheist's regime. In like fashion, Resident Cubans also use Christianity to "baptize the revolution."44

Theology of the Diaspora

Ajiaco Christianity can be categorized as a theology of the diaspora. Such a theology is deeply rooted in the theoretical contexts of postmodernism, postcolonialism, and liberation theology. Diaspora theology as a postmodernist theology claims that absolute truths are mere constructions of any given society within a particular time period. Postmodernity, as one of the bases for a diaspora theology, argues for a multitude of matrices and voices, not only outside itself but also within, thoroughly committed to self-analysis and self-criticism. As a postcolonial theology, diaspora theology becomes grounded at the margins of society, engaged in decolonization both from within and from the center of power and privilege. Additionally, as a liberation theology, diaspora theology seeks to "re-view, re-claim, and re-phrase" its own matrix and voice in the midst of a dominant theological perspective. At its core, it becomes a theology of flesh-and-blood exile (Segovia 1996, 201).

As a postmodern theology, ajiaco Christianity encompasses the radical diversity of the Cuban ethos, in contrast to the modernist attempt to emphasize the objective universality of only the European element. Such objective claims to universality are basically understood as an exercise in power, and postmodernity in general is skeptical of these claims.45 An objective, outside voice is replaced by a hermeneutical self-implication situating the discourse within the "reality" of el exilio and the construction of the Cuban ethnicity, a construction that attempts to mask the power and privilege achieved el exilio in Miami. The challenge facing Exilic Cubans is to perceive initiatives that are different from the value imperatives of the dominant Eurocentric culture undergirding how Cubans see themselves.

As a postcolonial theology, ajiaco Christianity becomes a response to the consequences of colonialism. Postcolonialism emerged from the Cuban pain of being domesticated by global imperial powers. Cubans suffered greatly while on the periphery of empire building, first with Spain and then with the United States.46 As a liberation theology, ajiaco Christianity counterbalances the reductionist tendencies of postmodernity and postcolonialism. The creation of a theology of diaspora creates tension between liberation theology and postmodern discourse, two disciplines considered mutually exclusive by many scholars. Specifically, tensions exist between postmodernity's claims of radical plurality and the liberationist insistence of the hermeneutical option of those oppressed, between an arbitrary history and the celebration of the God of history. If postmodernity denies the existence of all metanarratives, then all new metanarritives, like liberation theology, which claims to account for and explain the reasons for oppression and the actions to overcome it, are futile.

Regardless of the good intentions of individuals or religious movements like liberation theology, new metanarratives eventually become an instrument of oppression. For example, the writings of Rousseau, the lover of freedom, were used during the terror of the French Revolution to justify a model of social oppression. Likewise, the writings of Marx led to Stalinism. Postmodernity concludes that people are much freer than they may feel (Foucault 1988, 10). Metanarratives like liberation theology are reduced by the postmodern discourse to movements that are unable effectively to confront or change the status quo. If history is reduced to an asynchronic movement, lacking a universal understanding that goes beyond history, then no metanarrative exists to describe the present and discern the future.

For those living under oppressive structures, postmodernity offers a stoic acceptance of one's social location. This approach fails to challenge present systems of oppression by seducing the disenfranchised into accepting their lot with the logic that it could be worse. Such an approach hampers any attempt to seek concepts like justice. For this reason, ajiaco Christianity as a liberation theology serves as a counterbalances to the postmodern discourse, attempting to deconstruct social frameworks and emphasize the fragmented plurality of experiences and perspectives, while opting for unitary concepts as a way to understand the Exilic Cuban social location. In this way, postmodernity is subversively positioned within the struggle to understand the Miami's Exilic Cuban religious and political fervor.

 

A Mixed Methodology

Here a note about my position as the author of this volume is in order. I approach the task of understanding the development of the Exilic Cuban political positions, via their religious sensibilities, as an indigenous ethnographer, an insider studying my own culture and offering a fresh perspective. Liberation theologians have taught us to reflect on autobiographical elements to avoid creating a lifeless religious understanding. Including one's story powerfully connects theory with reality. Throughout this book, I will set out to challenge the predominant assumption that all interpretations of the Exilic Cuban religious phenomena occur independent of the interpreter's social position or identity. Yet for some scholars, considering the interpreter's identity or social position somewhat adulterates the intended meaning of the religious phenomena. They insist that a person's identity interferes with the job of ascertaining a so-called objective rendering of events (De La Torre 2002b, 3).

Nonetheless, the approach I employ in this book challenges the assumption that the religious fervor expressed by Exilic Cubans, as in the case of the Elián saga, can be understood apart from what the interpreter brings to the analysis. Hence the analysis conducted in this book is at times autobiographical, and though at times academia considers the hermeneutics of the self to be unscholarly, I maintain that Exilic Cubans themselves consistently use such a strategy in the construction of their worldview, since it collapses the dichotomy of the religious and secular spheres. On the streets of Miami, few differences really exist between the religious and secular voice because of the understanding that all interpretations are either directly or indirectly influenced by one's identity and the social position of living and existing in el exilio. While it is not my intention to write my memoir, I find it essential to situate myself within ajiaco Christianity. To situate myself in the geopolitical space of el exilio acknowledges my circumscribed location and particular perspective.

Although my family came to this country during the first wave of immigrants from Cuba (1959-1962), we were among the very small minority who did not belong to the departing elite, even though my father was a batistiano, an active supporter of the military dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, and worked for the Buró de Investigaciones (Bureau of Investigations). My uncle was a famed political broadcaster who dedicated the remainder of his life fighting the Castro regime on the New York and Miami airwaves. My first memories are of a tenement building in the slums of New York City. Like other Exilic Cubans of the Northeast, we migrated to Miami in the early 1970s to take advantage of the warm sun and the economic enclave being developed there. It was a time of economic and political struggle for the sociopolitical control of Miami, so anti-Cuban sentiment was at its peak. By the age of nineteen, I had established a successful real estate firm, eventually employing more than a hundred associates. Prosperity led to community activism and a brief political career as campaign manager (and a candidate for the Florida House in 1988). I had achieved success within Miami's business world and was a respected community leader and right-wing political activist.

When our family moved from Miami to Kentucky, we encountered institutionalized racism (as opposed to individual prejudices) for the first time as adults, both in the workplace and the church. The day we moved, I woke up "white" in Miami, but that night in Louisville I went to sleep as a man of color. This experience illustrated that while in Miami, I benefited from the power and privilege obtained by Exilic Cubans, yet once I left Dade County, I suffered because I was seen as a Latino. As one who came of age in Miami when Exilic Cubans were creating Dade County's structures of power, as a religious scholar I now attempt to understand our unique location, striving to elucidate the religious fervor that affects political positions routinely taken in Miami, as demonstrated so clearly during the Elián saga.

 

Notes

Chapter 1. An Ajiaco Christianity

1. The term Cuban American, which refers to Cubans residing in the United States, is an artificial designation amalgamating "who they are" and "where they live." It is the name given to Cubans in the United States by the dominant culture, not a name they choose. Most simply refer to themselves as Cubans. The term attempts to reconcile two distinct cultures into one, creating within the Cuban a dichotomous existence. As "Cuban Americans" they are too Cuban to be accepted by this country and too Americanized to be accepted by their native compatriots. Because self-naming is a powerful and liberating praxis, in this book Cubans are defined as all individuals who were born in Cuba, regardless of where they live now, or all those who were born on foreign land but choose to identify culturally with being Cuban. Resident Cubans refers to those who inhabit the island of Cuba; Exilic Cubans refers to those in the diaspora who reside mainly within the United States, specifically in Miami, Florida. Because exile spans generations, Exilic Cubans also includes those who were neither born nor raised on the island yet whose identity was forged by their parents' act of (re)membering Cuba from the social location of exile. Although Exilic Cubans are not a monolithic group, they are united, no matter how loosely, by the experience of being separated from the island that defines them.

2. Eunice Ponce and Elaine de Valle, "Mania over Elián Rising," Miami Herald, January 10, 2000.

3. Wilfredo Cancio Isla, "Los Reyes Mago a los pies de Elián," El Nuevo Herald, January 10, 2000.

4. Alejandra Matus, "El fevor religioso aumenta entre los manifestantes frente a la casa de Elián," El Nuevo Herald, April 22, 2000.

5. Joaquim Utset, "Devotos de la Virgen dicen ver una señal contra el regreso del niño," El Nuevo Herald, March 26, 2000.

6. Matus, "El fevor religioso."

7. Meg Laughlin, "Prayer Vigil Lifts Elián Fervor to New High," Miami Herald, March 31, 2000.

8. "Ceremony Set to Honor Elián's Mom," Miami Herald, May 14, 2000.

9. Amy Driscoll and Sandra Marquez-Garcia, "Thousand Join Glowing Prayer Vigil," Miami Herald, March 30, 2000.

10. D. Aileen Dodd, "Catholic Leaders Low-Profile," Miami Herald, April 15, 2000.

11. D. Aileen Dodd, "Elián a Bridge Linking Rival Faiths," Miami Herald, April 10, 2000.

12. Rui Ferreira, "Vigilia permanente en casa de Elián," El Nuevo Herald, April 5, 2000.

13. Dodd, "Elián a Bridge."

14. Joaquin Utset, "Miles de personas participan en virilia en Miami," El Nuevo Herald, April 11, 2000.

15. Laughlin, "Prayer Vigil."

16. Maria Travierso and Charles Cotayo, "Elián, un niño 'milagroso' hecho símbolo," El Nuevo Herald, March 6, 2000.

17. Edward Wasserman, "Elian, the Unifier?" Broward Daily Business Review, April 24, 2000.

18. Paul Brinkley-Rogers, "Protestors from Abroad Flock to Home," Miami Herald, April 19, 2000.

19. Daniel Shoer Roth, "Los cubanos se ven reflejados en el niño balsero," El Nuevo Herald, January 7, 2000.

20. "Elián's Lawyer: Why an Observant Jew Is Fighting to Keep Him Here," Chicago Jewish News, January 28, 2000.

21. Travierso and Cotayo, "Elián, un niño 'milagroso.'"

22. Travierso and Cotayo, "Elián, un niño 'milagroso.'"

23. Ponce and de Valle, "Mania over Elián."

24. J. Utset and R. Ferreira, "De la protesta cívica al júbilo popular," El Nuevo Herald, January 9, 2000.

25. Roth, "Los cubanos."

26. Karen Branch, "Adult Exiles Recall Cuban Childhoods," Miami Herald, April 15, 2000.

27. Roth, "Los cubanos."

28. Daniel A. Grech, "Pastors Join Criticism, but Appeal for Calm," Miami Herald, April 23, 2000.

29. Andrea Robinson, "A Community Looks to Heal," Miami Herald, April 24, 2000.

30. "Little Cousin's Dream Strengthens Exiles' Faith Boy Will Stay in U.S.," Miami Herald, April 24, 2000.

31. Concilio Cubano is an umbrella organization representing numerous dissident factions that present the most significant political challenge to the Castro regime. It is interesting to note that they do not call for the overthrow of the government; rather, they are demanding freedom of expression, which remains a violation of the present penal code, punishable by up to seven years in prison.

32. Cuba has many competing dissident groups. Some advocate a free-market economy; others are socialist and are disenchanted with present conditions; some are religious groups; some are composed of independent journalists; still others are former prisoners of conscience, human right advocates, and unrecognized political party leaders. Probably the most critical challenge to Castro's political power is the Varela Project, spotlighted on the island during former president Jimmy Carter's 2002 visit. The Varela Project gathered 11,020 signatures for a petition requesting that the National Assembly (in accord with Articles 63 and 88 of the Cuban constitution) hold a referendum asking voters if they favor human rights, amnesty for political prisoners, the right to own a business, and electoral reforms.

33. It is important to note that criticizing the Exilic Cuban sociopolitical ethos does not automatically mean defending present Resident Cuban political structures. Existing intra-Cuban hostility rests on the fallacy of this dichotomy. Cubans are forced to choose between two options only: Miami's capitalism and La Habana's Fidelismo. Criticizing one side leads to the risk of being labeled a supporter of the other. Because the focus of this book is on the Miami Exilic community, little will be written about the present Resident Cuban position or any other Cuban position outside of Dade County.

34. I recognize that Christianity is not, nor should it be, the only model through which Cuban spirituality can be understood. As previously mentioned, religions like Santería, Judaism, and Islam are also practiced by many Cubans and are crucial in any understanding of cubanidad. This book concentrates on Christianity because it has remained the "official" religious expression of Exilic Cubans and, as such, has been most prone to influencing political views.

35. Fernando Ortiz was the first to use ajiaco as a metaphor for the Cuban experience. He used this term within the context of a Cuba composed of immigrants who, unlike those of the United States, reached the island on their way to someplace else. His usage of ajiaco did not indicate his belief that Cuban culture achieved complete integration; rather, the ajiaco is still simmering on the Caribbean stove and has not yet become fully blended (1940, 165-69). Rather than accenting the immigrants, I use this term to refer to the distinctive nexus of the Cuban's heredity, specifically their Amerindian, African, Spaniard, Asian, and Euroamerican roots. While I portray the ajiaco metaphor as positive, Ortiz included a racist element in his ethnology. This is evident when he described the negative aspects of the ajiaco. He wrote:

The white race influenced the Cuban underworld through European vices, modified and aggravated under certain aspects by the social factor of the children of the ambient. The black race provided its superstitions, its sensualism, its impulsiveness, in short, its African psyche. The yellow race brought the addiction of opium, its homosexual vices, and other refined corruptions of its secular civilization. (1973, 19)

Furthermore, Ortiz advocated that immigration solely from northern Europe in order to "sow among us the germs of energy, progress, life." To continue accepting other races, according to Ortiz, only increased criminality on the island (1906, 55-57).

36Cubanidad is more than just Cubanness. For Ortiz, cubanidad is a "condition of the soul, a complexity of sentiments, ideas and attitudes" (1939, 3).

José Martí (1853-1895), Cuban journalist, revolutionary philosopher, and patriot, is credited with organizing the physical invasion of Cuba to bring about its independence from Spain. A prolific writer (whose Obras Completas consists of seventy-three volumes) and precursor of modernismo, Martí is regarded as the father of Cuba by both Resident and Exilic Cubans. He was killed a month after landing in Cuba during a skirmish with Spanish troops at Dos Ríos (May 19, 1895). His death made him a martyr and a symbol of Cuban liberation.

37. The ajiaco metaphor is not intended to represent Cubans exclusively. Obviously, cultural mixtures also occurred within other Latin American countries, and Cubans are no more or less a product of cultural blends. Yet the term ajiaco may not be the best word to represent other Hispanic groups; Central Americans might use the term sancocho Christianity to refer to their own perspective, since sancocho is their term for their indigenous stew.

38. Etymologically, mulato is believed to be a derivative from the Arabic mulwállad (pronounced muélled). Muwállad is defined as "one born of an Arab father and a foreign mother," a possible passive participle of the second conjugation of wálada, "he begot." However, mulato, literally "mule, young or without domesticity," was influenced in form by a folk-etymological association with the Spanish word mulo, "mule," from the Latin mulus. Adding the diminutive suffix -at to the word mulo creates a general hybrid comparison. Dozy, in his monumental work on the Arabic language, insists the word mulato is actually a Portuguese word of contempt signifying mule. See Supplément aux dictionnaires Arabes, 3rd ed., s.v. "Begot," by Reinhart Dozy. Fernando Ortiz concurs with this etymological definition of mulato to the nature of a mule (1975a, 40).

39. José Vasconcelos (1882-1959), Mexican philosopher and statesman, is credited with constructing the utopian concept of the cosmic race as a way of combating the prevalent positivism of his time, which advocated the destruction of Mexican culture because it was believed Anglos were evolutionarily superior. Although we can celebrate the defense of Latin American culture against Eurocentrism, we need to recognize that philosophers like Vasconcelos still upheld positivism's hierarchical view of race.

40. Just as a Middle Passage exists in the Atlantic, so does one exist in the Pacific for Cubans. With the abolition of slavery and the sugar industry's need for laborers, Cubans imported Chinese to replace the emancipated blacks. Although these Chinese were not official slaves, their journey to the island and their existence on Cuban soil were similar to those of slaves.

Cuba's European roots are not necessarily in Spain alone but also in the United States. For most central Europeans, Spain is spiritually and ethnically more aligned with Africa than it is with Europe. Even though the Crescent was vanquished from Spain by the Cross, they believe that eight hundred years of Islamic rule have imprinted a Moorish soul upon the Spaniards.

41. To reduce the Amerindian ingredient to just Taínos is problematic. As more laborers were needed on the island, they were imported (kidnapped or brought as prisoners of war) from surrounding territories, including but not limited to the Yucatán Peninsula.

Andalusians, Basques, Castilians, Catalonians, Galicians, isleños (Canary Islanders), and Portuguese are some of the diverse cultures of the Iberian Peninsula who came to Cuba. Hence the term Spaniard cannot be limited to one ethnically homogeneous Iberian population. Also, on the Iberian Peninsula a series of peoples culturally and genetically merged with one another. They include, but are not limited to, Arabs, Berbers, Carthaginians, Celts, Greeks, Gypsies, Jews, Romans, Phoenicians, and Visigoths. Additionally, after Latin American wars for independence, royalists throughout the hemisphere found a haven in Cuba, as did the French before them, who fled the Haitian Revolution. Hence, the word Spaniard reflects an ajiaco in and of itself.

Under the label "African" exists another ajiaco. Ortiz provides a brief ethnological sketch of ninety-nine different African nations represented in Cuba. African has become a homogeneous term signifying the mixture of different peoples, traditions, and cultures (1975b, 40-56). More recent studies by the Cuban Academy of Sciences show more than two thousand African names in Cuba (Barnet 1986, 8). Further complications occurred over the definition of African, as black Haitians, Bahamians, Jamaicans, and other islanders settled in Cuba during the past two centuries, having found employment harvesting sugar.

Like the other elements of the Cuban ajiaco, immigrants from the Pacific regions cannot be simply categorized as Asian. They came from Swatow, Amoy, Canton, Hong Kong, Saigon, and Manila. They came from different districts of China and other countries with differing customs, traditions, languages, and dialects.

42. In 1980 the Dade County legislative delegation to Tallahassee included only one Republican and no Cubans. Additionally, all three Miami congresspersons were Euroamerican Democrats. By the 1988 election, out of the twenty-eight state legislative seats from Dade County, eleven were held by Republicans, ten of them Exilic Cubans. Also, two of the three congressional seats were held by Republican Exilic Cubans. When the Miami Hispanic vote is compared with the rest of the nation's Latino population, it is easy to see the strong loyalty Exilic Cubans have for the Republican Party.

43. For example: Orlando O. Espín, The Faith of the People: Theological Reflections on Popular Catholicism (1997); Miguel H. Díaz, On Being Human: U.S. Hispanic and Rahnerian Perspectives (2001); Alexandro García-Rivera, St. Martín de Porres: The "Little Stories" and the Semiotics of Culture (1995); Roberto S. Goizueta, Caminemos con Jesús: Toward a Hispanic/Latino Theology of Accompaniment (1995); Justo L. González, Mañana: Christian Theology from a Hispanic Perspective (1990); Ada María Isasi-Díaz, En la Lucha: A Hispanic Women's Liberation Theology (1993); Luis G. Pedraja, Jesus Is My Uncle: Christology from a Hispanic Perspective (1999); and Fernando Segovia, Decolonizing Biblical Studies (2001).

44. Liberation theologians like Gustavo Gutiérrez expressed concern that revolution theology has the tendency to "baptize" the revolution by placing it beyond criticism. Castro's well-known phrase, "Everything within the Revolution, nothing outside of the Revolution," fixes limits of acceptability on all discourse, including Christian. Gutiérrez accuses theologies of revolution of "reductionism," in which the gospel is reduced to sociology, economics, or politics. Faith becomes a justification for Christians to participate in achieving the goals of the Revolution (1984, xiii, 44). Similarly, Clodovis Boff states that the overall process of revolution tends to be confused with just one of its moments, the moment of breakage in which the people are dragged by the yoke through "vanguardism." Fulfilling basic needs is not the end but the means to a full realization of humanity (1990, 101). While José Míguez Bonino admits that the Cuban Revolution was an inspiration in providing an example for overcoming the United States imperialist system in this hemisphere, he insists that the Cuban model is not ideal for reproducing elsewhere (1975, 33).

45. Postmodernity is defined by Jean-François Lyotard as an "incredulity toward metanarratives," in which the great heroes, dangers, voyages, and goals of the narrative function are lost (1984, xxiv). I aver that postmodernity, like liberation theology, is a neomodernist movement, an heir of the Eurocentric Enlightenment. To describe postmodernity as a theology or philosophy instead of a theory contradicts Fredric Jameson's assertion that postmodernity "marks the end of philosophy" (1983, 112). Latin American theologians have taught us to speak of theology and philosophy as a "second act," a reflecting praxis that struggles for basic human rights. Thus, metanarratives can be understood as transcendental categories invented by modernity to interpret and normalize reality, a reality comprehended philosophically as postmodernity. My use of the term postmodernity does not indicate a systematic engagement with or exclusive academic reflection of its paradigms. Rather, following Gustavo Gutiérrez's methodological example, I use whatever tools of human thought are available that illuminate the Exilic Cuban social position.

46. It could be argued that from 1962 to the fall of the Soviet Union, Cuba existed on the periphery of the Soviet Union.

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