". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Fidel in North Dakota

     . . . El V called me from Havana last night the moment Fidel's passing was announced to the nation. El V and his Travelers were in La Tropical, dancing to Revé y Su Charangón, when suddenly the band stopped in mid-number.

He wished he had been videoing at that moment.

The announcer came on stage and said (paraphrasing): "fuerza mayor. Tenemos que suspender la actividad. Murió Fidel Castro."

9 days of mourning in Cuba -- all public activities will cease. Fortunately the Travelers feel that being here -- I mean there, I guess-- when this happened is worth more than their last scheduled activities.

It seems events have proceeded at such a pace with Cuba in the last 18 months or that visitors to Cuba get caught in living / dying history. The last tour's Travelers got caught in the vortex of President Obama and his family's visit to Havana.  These Cuban music seminar Travelers are feeling this history profoundly -- feeling privileged from having more context now in which to view this death and understanding it in ways, that, as one Traveler put it, his sister in Miami can't.

Everything in Cuba is very quiet. One sees that Miami is supposedly partying in the streets. The commentary here from everyone starting with the NYT seems pretty clueless, doesn't it.

Publications from Billboard etc, are asking el V to write something. But he can't. He has the Travelers to take care of.  He hasn't the space to even process his own welter of emotions or to analyse in the light of his long experience in Cuba and his deep knowledge of Cuban history what Fidel's death means to him personally, or to the Cubans personally and nationally, or to the world. After the announcement from La Tropical's stage, El V got his Travelers into taxis.  His driver hadn't heard the news.  He broke it to him. The driver said, "no me digas eso.  No me digas eso.  Yo soy fidelista."

Fidel Castro, left; Batista, right. Fulgencio Batista Zaldívar, more commonly known as Fulgencio Batista, was the elected President of Cuba from 1940 to 1944, and dictator from 1952 to 1959, before being overthrown during the Cuban Revolution

   . . . These seminars that tour extensively outside of Havana, during which the Travelers have extensive face-to-face encounters with many, many different Cubans, in the light of the events in our own nation and others, have been leading el V, at least, toward thinking that the Cuban Revolution is more important than ever. The political and economic trends elsewhere are giving the Revolution a new lease on life, when previously it looked likely to topple from its own top-heavy weight. I'm not sure yet what he means by that, as we don't have time to talk it through in such brief phone calls. He doesn't know yet either.

   . . . .Fidel has been in my consciousness all my life, as he's been in el V's and many of yours too. Batista, the Revolution and Fidel were center stage, or so it seems in memory, every week in My Weekly Reader.

This was an odd little publication that every Friday morning, when the bell rang that ordered us be seated at our desks, a copy was waiting for each of us. It included photos, diagrams and maps, with text written for little kids' comprehension. Those Friday mornings we in turns, read, out loud, the stories from the paper that our teacher selected. It wasn't something that the consolidated school's own budget provided.* The pupils in our small school were, with a very few exceptions, children of the district's small family farms. My best partner in crime, Bobby, and I, assumed My Weekly Reader was given to us because our teacher was a sucker for talking current events. Whenever we got bored we would get her going by asking a question about something happening somewhere else in the world.

I realize now the pulp paper weekly provided a heavily propagandized digest of national and world news that the Reader's publishers thought were the best designed to ensure that the up-and-coming boomer generation would think the way they were supposed to think and support the government programs the publisher's backers believed should be supported.**

In my memory Batista, the Revolution and Fidel, Taiwan, Macao, Formosa, Quemoy and the Communist Chinese received column inches and maps every week in My Weekly Reader.

The Cold War, communist threats, both Soviet and Chinese, as I recollect from so many years down the road from then, were primary subjects of the publication.  The communist political threat and nuclear attack was always the subtext.

In my recollection also, every issue had stories about space and Antarctic exploration and stations, jets, missiles and satellites  They were the same thing, we were informed, since Antarctica was the best place to create the protective suits, test the equipment and train for the conditions of being in outer space -- which WE, the United States, had to dominate to prevent THEM the communists from getting there, to keep our country and way of life safe from communist missiles launched from space by commie missile launchers.

There were little quizzes at the back of the Reader that we had to take on those Friday mornings that tested our reading comprehension of the who what when and where of the events.

Ah.  Of course, there's a wikipedia entry for My Weekly Reader.  It was founded in 1928 and suspended publication in -- 2012.

It was through My Weekly Reader I first learned of all those places so far away from the southeastern farmyard corner of North Dakota which I inhabited.  Almost all those places, the space race, the individual figures that were on the world stage, with which the media and the national government was obsessed -- both the U.S. government and the media lost interest in all of them long, long ago. Most of the planet's  people now living have never heard of any of them.

There two exceptions to that, however:  John F. Kennedy and Fidel's Cuban Revolution.



*  Our parents had to drive us into that town of about 300 every morning of the school year and pick us up again at the end of the school day. The town was close but still, even in our hardy community, too far to have the kids walk or bike to, especially in the harsh winters.

**   I have no recollection of any mention whatsoever of the Civil Rights movement which was already underway.  Or that African Americans even existed.

***  The only person who has been able to knock the orange off the top of the front page and in the opening sentence of every talk / news blather has been Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz.

He also did more by far to bring down the old Soviet Union than Reagan did -- while the new so-called USian president is allying himself as fast as he can with the dictator of the new Soviet empire   -- and Cuban - Russian relations are warming again, after the long freeze of the last 20 + years.

Ironies abound, which no one would have appreciated more than Jesuit-trained Fidel.


Foxessa said...

There is going to be a mass gathering in the Plaza de la Revolución tomorrow. El V and the Travelers will be there. I've been there on occasion, when Fidel addressed gatherings for hours. As I wasn't a Cuban I was able to leave, which mostly the Cubans did not, or felt they should not, do.

His funeral will be December 4th, which I mentioned in the previous post minus one, is the Day of Changó. So appropriate.

Foxessa said...

That's also the day el V is scheduled to return home.  Maybe it will be like the day he was trying to return with a different Cuban music seminar group, on the day Obama and family on Air Force One was heading for the José Martí airport.

Foxessa said...

El V just informed me that as of right now,

" ... the sale of alcoholic beverages is suspended. don't know if it will last 9 days or not. except . . . in the tourist hotels, so i'm knocking back a cold bucanero."

That seems unnecessary punishment for the Cuban people. I wonder what the reasoning behind this is.

Listening to the BBC Castro Special that the NPR stations are broadcasting simultaneously.