My America: A Portrait of Exile
by Pedro Blas González (July 2019)
The Raft (La Patera), Armando Mariño, 2002
In the mind of her debunkers, America is reduced to being merely an economic system. This insipid reductionism misses the point altogether—on purpose. Because this criticism is fueled by bad will, this simplistic portrayal of America eventually finds itself frustrated by its own malice. This is a visceral understanding of history, the human condition and man’s nature. According to her detractors, America is chastised for not being a source of universal nanny-ism.
America is more than this for those who seek refuge in her borders. Historical documentation bears this out. America is an idea that resonates with freshness, hope and justice. In the absence of citizens who resemble Rousseau’s mythical enlightened savage, America offers civil and social order to a tiger that is perennially sharpening its claws. This tiger, we need not forget, is the human condition. Most importantly, America delivers the kind of possibility for spiritual and moral transcendence that is rarely achieved in what is essentially a secular world.
People come to America for the dignity of personhood that her traditions and best institutions secure, respect for individual liberty and not having to apologize for articulating a moral imagination.
Human reality is fueled by universal essences that do not change with the ebb and flow of history. This is perhaps the greatest lesson that history teaches us. History is the repository of these universal essences, for human history is the unraveling of the knots inherent in the human condition. Those who negate this fundamental aspect of history pervert and do damage to subsequent generations.
Luckily, for people who are weary of the tiger within us, human nature cannot hide behind the smokescreen of fashionable radical ideological trends. The wars and devastation wrought on the twentieth-century by totalitarian ideologues confirm this.
America is the implementation of noble, timeless wisdom. What America has achieved is unique in man’s history, for she has taken the idea of the noblest and most enlightened portion of human nature and enabled it to shine, knowing that man’s debasement does not take kindly to nobility of spirit. The former is the reason for the creation of her most worthy civil institutions.
America is the practice and culmination of noble ideas. For me, America enables man the cultivation of transcendent values, in a world rife with bad will. This is all that my will demands of the land of Jefferson and Washington. The land of Lincoln tames the tiger.
Albert Camus is right in asserting that what the world lacks most is people of good will. Good will and common sense are not as abundant as some would have us believe. Yet people of good will have made America the seat of differentiated, self-ruling persons who seek nothing more from social-political organization than the ability to entertain their primal and existential freedom.
America offers us the promise to live dignified lives.
Aristotle is equally correct in arguing that politics is the art of governing. America’s greatest institutions, I suggest, originated in a quest for duty and conscientious good will. Their time-proven purpose is to enable self-rule for responsible citizens.
From its onset, America has recognized and respected the nuances inherent in human nature, for America allows free will and the discretion of the moral imagination to guide the lives of thoughtful citizens.
Like Boethius’ love of lady wisdom, America’s wisdom is rooted in her understanding that baseness, like corrosive rust, never sleeps. America permits people of good will to sustain themselves with toil, aspirations and ingenuity.
My America safeguards the sanctity of moral goodness from the ravages of man’s lamentable history—from the claws of the perennial tiger. American constitutional democracy takes into account man’s vile nature and the consequences of bad will.
America is a metaphor for the best that the human condition has to offer. Inspired from John Locke’s profound understanding of the human will and psyche; America was conceived as a place where the Pandora’s Box of primal human barbarity would be kept at bay. America personifies the social-political practice of rare wisdom. She did not come about as the result of Marxist theory, the quest for world domination or the vapid dreams of hapless utopians.
My Arrival in America
We arrived in Miami, Florida at 8:45 a.m. on Friday, December 4, 1970. The temperature was 42°F. This was symbolic of the profound changes that my family was to encounter in America.
After serving five plus years as a political prisoner under Castro’s communist police state in the Escambray concentration camp, my father was very lucky to be claimed by an aunt and uncle who had lived in the U.S. since the early 1950s. His crimes: he was a practicing Catholic, and he and my mother refused to live and raise children in a communist country. At that time, in order to have the opportunity to enter the United States from Cuba legally, one had to be claimed by a relative.
We came to America on one of the Freedom Flights that President Lyndon B. Johnson established in late 1965. Between 1959, the time of the communist take-over of Cuba and 1962, over 200,000 Cubans fled the communist island on small boats and makeshift rafts. This number does not take into account the people who perished trying to cross the Florida Straits. During 1965 alone 149,000 Cubans left the island through what has come to be called the Camarioca boat lift.
This mass exodus of refugees signaled a massive response to the oppression of the communist government that Fidel Castro created. Besides being a major embarrassment for those who forged communism in Cuba, this exodus also meant a long-lasting brain drain and the Cuban work ethic that Cuba, to this day, has never enjoyed again under the rule of the new socialist man.
After taking notice of this steady exodus of Cubans, including many defections, President Johnson took the Dictator Castro to task for saying that no one wanted to leave Cuba.
On October 3, 1965, Johnson embraced the plight of the Cubans who desired to leave: “I declare to the people of Cuba that those who seek refuge here will find it.” This was the beginning of the Freedom Flights. The flights took effect in 1965 and continued to 1973. In eight years, over 250,000 Cubans gained their political freedom via those two-a-week flights.
Between December 1960 and 1962, over 14,000 children ages 6 to 17 were sent to the U.S. by their parents in what was called Operation Pedro Pan. The children were taken in by churches and private schools and placed in homes throughout the U.S. Their parents preferred to send the children to America alone than allow them to become the pawns of communist indoctrination and forced induction into the Cuban armed forces.
At the time, Cubans harbored the illusion that they would soon reunite with their children and other loved ones in the near future. No one in Cuba imagined the strong-arm, long-lived terror-state that they would now have to live under.
No one could have foreseen that 60 years later Cuba would still be in the repressive throes of a communist dictatorship, in a time of mass media and the Internet. Why? Despite the infrahuman life that communist dictatorship has forced upon the Cuban people, Cuba continues to be the darling of Western intellectuals and opportunistic postmodern radical ideologues.
Another decisive mass migration of Cuban refugees to U.S. is the Mariel boatlift of 1980, when 125,000 Cubans arrived on U.S. soil. The history of the many phases of Cuban refugees coming to America is well documented and available for those who want to understand communism in Cuba.
Also, important to the saga of Cuba and the plight of its citizens under communist dictatorship is the steady flow of people who continue to risk their lives on makeshift rafts—the balseros (rafters).
Of the millions of people who reach American shores every year, few can be considered political refugees. People come to America because they recognize that she can provide them with a better life. Yet most immigrants to America are not refugees. That is, they are not fleeing state-sponsored oppression. The circumstances and pathos of political refugees is unique, especially when compared to other forms of immigration to America.
People who do not understand the shattered lives and psyche of political refugees should consider such a reality before making lazy comparisons between political refugees and other immigrants who come to America.
Cubans of the Cold War era are very proud of being called refugees. I refer to my childhood experiences in the United States, in the early 1970s, as the “polyester generation.” Cuban refugees in the US at that time wore second-hand clothes that was donated by well-wishers and Catholic institutions like Saint Vincent DePaul.
Being a representative of this group of people is especially rewarding, considering that people who came to the United States from Cuba on the Freedom Flights brought all of their belongings with them in several suitcases. Property or private items that we left in Cuba was confiscated and given away to communist-party members. This is one way that Cuban communism began to forge the new Soviet socialist man. This is also egalitarianism with a hammer. Envy, resentment and the politics of suspicion—the building-blocks of communism—are rewarded by destroying the lives of others.
People who wanted to leave Cuba and not live under communist oppression were considered personae non gratae. We were called gusanos (worms), parasites that were expendable in every sense of the word. Today, we have had ample time and possess considerable data to verify the sheer evil of the historical reality that is communism. It is estimated that communism is responsible for the death of over 200 million personae non gratae.
Gusanos were imprisoned, tortured and murdered by firing squad because they were considered a threat to state security. Their relatives and children were harassed at work and school. The homes of gusanos were under constant surveillance by state security forces. After Castro took power, neighborhood committee members reported all activities at the home of the gusanos to the state police. This is envy and resentment in practice. These resentful snitches traded dignity for the few morsels that communism promised them for their devotion to mother state.
People of good will realize that envy and resentment are key emotions that serve as the ground of Communism. One natural response to envious and resentful people is to turn a cynical eye toward all forms of individual achievement. Resentment, as the German philosopher, Max Scheler, aptly demonstrated is a supremely destructive motivator of human action.
Members of the Cuban Neighborhood Committee for the Defense of the Revolution are people who refuse to accept their lot in life. These are opportunists who never come to terms with the consequences of their beliefs and actions. The embrace of radical ideology is how they attempt to flee from themselves—from the alleged burden of free will.
Resentment, envy and personal hatred are human emotions that communism exploits and foments in order to consolidate absolute power. These are some of the universal themes, vividly spelled out for the benefit of children in Aesop’s Fables and other wisdom literature.
The universality of resentment and envy makes these profound human emotions ripe for fomenting communist rule. These emotions have served as the culprit of crime and murder since the dawn of man. However, at the level of social-political power, these destructive emotions are legitimized through the mechanism of rationalization. Communists understand this very well. This form of power-legitimization is essential in enabling resentful and envious persons to execute the brute force of these emotions that normally fuel their inter-personal relationships. This new institutionalization of power serves as the great temptation and lure of communism.
Communism offers the cover that resentful and envious people need to act on their resentment and envy. Hate has many faces. During the twentieth century we witnessed how these universal, albeit destructive principles of the human condition, came to acquire the kind of long-lasting legitimacy that only communist abstract theory can supply.
The psychology of those who benefit from establishing and running a communist state is ruled by a form of self-loathing that empowers the totalitarian impulse. Once awarded the role of judge, jury and executioner, envy, hate and resentment become unbound. Communism takes the worst aspects of human beings and rewards them with absolute power.
Communism turns self-loathing into a form of criminal arrogance that sees no limits. While resentment and envy have always consumed their host at a personal level, this degenerative vice is turned into institutionalized alleged public virtue through communism’s dialectical materialism. Communist opportunism operates on the principle that “what is yours is also rightfully mine.” What is so tragic about this system of terror is that resentment and envy are turned into instruments of the state.
People who have lived under communism realize that the rationalization of resentment and envy through political power is the greatest evil. Communism is the pragmatic use of hate that poses as a social-political system. Once this mechanism of state-terror has been placed into motion, part of its rhetoric is to guarantee the security and well-being of party members in exchange for their loyalty. This is the reason why the state demands that allegiance to the communist party be confirmed in public.
Once that people of good will strip communism of its mouth-foaming rhetoric about working for “the people” and “for the good of the state,” it quickly becomes undone as an intellectually ingenious mechanism of thug-rule. It is tragic that the greatest crimes of the twentieth century were perpetrated by resentful criminals and backed by their intellectual cadre.
This is one reason why people who applied for visas to leave Cuba were seen as committing the greatest crime of all; these people were admitting publicly that they were not willing to be the plaything of resentment and envy. It is not difficult to understand why the desire to come to America is so pronounced in people from communist countries.
In spite of its shortcomings and imperfections, America enables resentment and envy to consume itself, without permitting this powerful emotion to become institutionalized. Left to its own devices, like a terminal disease, resentment and envy eventually destroy its host.
However, when offered the power to rule over others that communism supplies, these destructive passions grow and propagate without limit. People who left Cuba under such adverse conditions embrace a form of stoicism that recognizes that more than property and the love of homeland would be lost if they remained.
People who come to America as political refugees enjoy a form of self-worth and dignity they cannot attain in their place of birth. In order to comprehend the facts and nuances of Cuban history under Communism, one must come to realize that Cuban history, from 1959 to the present, owes its criminal pathology to the Soviet Union. Cuban history from 1959 to the present is the result of a criminal ideology that originated in Russia at the start of the twentieth century.
While Cuban communism imprisoned and expelled us for being gusanos, parasites who did not want to share in the glory and afterglow of communism, America welcomed us with open arms.
What Cubans seek from the land of Jefferson, Washington and Lincoln is to exist as dignified persons. This is a simple desire, given the intrusion into personal liberty and the destruction of family life in Cuba under Castro. America returns hope and primal freedom to those who have been disenfranchised by criminal ideology and violence against the human person under communism.
Upon arrival in America on that December morning in 1970, my father, as many Cubans before and after, kneeled and kissed American soil. This simple act of appreciation went deeper than most people can truly understand. This was a response to the hope and stability that America offered. It is also a profound statement about the totalitarian-state that we left behind.
Father was arrested as a political prisoner, after he declared that he wanted to leave the communist island. Soldiers came to our house in the middle of the night and arrested him for seeking an American exist visa. The presumption of communist governments is that anyone who wants to leave a communist country is an enemy of the state.
Being Catholic, my family held allegiance to a transcendent being other than mother state. This is anathema to communist rule. My father was incarcerated. On two occasions, the murderous and well to do, Che Guevara, personally told him to his face, “You are going to rot here in this prison for your Catholic convictions.” The Argentine good doctor told my father that there was no room for God in the life of the new Soviet man.
My family’s road to freedom was far from easy. We were not wealthy, as were many of the people responsible for placing Castro in power and who fled the island first, when they were squeezed by the talons of communism. One day my parent’s dream was spelled out in a State Department letter:
Department of State
Washington, District of Columbia
November 21, 1962
Reference is made to your inquiry requesting that a waiver of the Nonimmigrant visitor visa requirement be granted to the above-named Person (s).
The Department, jointly with the Immigration and Naturalization Service has granted the necessary waiver. If transportation is to be obtained Through the Havana office of either Pan American Airlines or KLM Royal Dutch Airlines this letter should be presented there. Therefore, you may wish to send this letter to the person(s) concerned for this purpose.
While the letter is dated November 21, 1962, we would not leave Cuba until December 4, 1970. What ensued from this request was my father’s arrest, endless harassment and humiliations from the government for not wanting to live under a communist dictatorship.
That cold December morning in 1970 we finally found ourselves in America. For my parents, the ordeal of having to leave their homeland was bittersweet. Father left his parents, sisters and a brother. Mother also left her parents, a brother and two sisters behind.
Before we were allowed to walk onto the tarmac to board the Pan American Airways DC-7—after three days of waiting at the airport—we were warned not to wave goodbye to relatives who were standing outside the fence. One final humiliation.
I vividly recall father crying. Stopping for a moment to look back at his family, a soldier instructed him to continue walking. Father took out a handkerchief from his coat pocket and pretended to sneeze, quickly waving it in the air as a gesture of goodbye.
In Miami, we were given temporary housing in a building called La Casa de la Libertad (Freedom House), which was located on the grounds of Miami International Airport, but not in the terminal.
My parents tried to contact some people they knew in Miami. As luck would have it, father found a dime on the ground with which he was able to make his first telephone call in the United States.
That same Friday some friends, also recent arrivals, came by. Some loaned my parents five dollars, others ten.
Monday was our first day in a small rented apartment in America.
Tuesday morning father went off to work at a construction site. He started working at the O’Keefe cement factory. My sister and I were enrolled in school.
Pedro Blas González is Professor of Philosophy at Barry University, Miami Shores, Florida. He earned his doctoral degree in Philosophy at DePaul University in 1995. Dr. González has published extensively on leading Spanish philosophers, such as Ortega y Gasset and Unamuno. His books have included Unamuno: A Lyrical Essay, Ortega’s ‘Revolt of the Masses’ and the Triumph of the New Man, Fragments: Essays in Subjectivity, Individuality and Autonomy and Human Existence as Radical Reality: Ortega’s Philosophy of Subjectivity. He also published a translation and introduction of José Ortega y Gasset’s last work to appear in English, “Medio siglo de Filosofia” (1951) in Philosophy Today Vol. 42 Issue 2 (Summer 1998).
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