Written by Tom Hayden, based on conversations with Ricardo Alarcon
Reflections by David E. Nelson
I have a friend who teaches American History at a local university. Unlike most of her professors in the past who told the story of the United States from the perspective of the Europeans coming across the Atlantic and moving west in Manifest Destiny, she tells the narrative from the eyes and minds of the Native Americans who watched them come and conquer. It is the same story, but is totally different.
I grew up with the nation of Cuba on my mind. In High School Debate we talked often about the rise of Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. We were very tuned into the “Cuban Missile Crisis”, The Weather Underground, and President Eisenhower. My freshman year in college was shattered by the assassination of JFK. This tiny island 90 miles off the shore of Florida was clearly in my radar, but always from the perspective of looking south across the waters. I didn’t even know a Cuban until the mid 1970s when I became friends with a man who had left Cuba as a youth with his parents “because Communism was making life difficult.” I believed the story my country was telling. I thought of Cuba as an enemy nation that was a threat to our democratic way of life. I was interested in history, but had somehow accepted one side of this story without exploring other possibilities.
That all changed in early 2014 when a good friend and his Cuban born partner announced he was taking a trip to visit Cuba and asked if Ann and I would be interested in joining him. I jumped on the opportunity and in late January, early February 2015 we visited Cuba. What a great experience. I have organized some of my thoughts in “Ten Observations - Reflections About Cuba”. Since that visit I have enjoyed and been influenced by many articles and reflections. As President Obama and Raul Castro are seeking more normal relations between our two nations, it is excellent timing to look through another set of eyes at these all too familiar yet remaining unclear events.
Tom Hayden, one of the best known voices of political and social activism since the 1960’s, has spend many hours visiting Cuba and listening to leaders and common folks on this island which has been isolated from U.S. Citizens. What appears on these 250 pages is a different viewpoint than the ones I had been exposed to in the past. I have enjoyed reading this book and look forward to discussing it with others.
It is interesting to me that certain words elicit such strong emotional reactions. The mere mention of the word “socialism” bring fear to some people even though most of these same people cash their “social security checks” each month. “Communism” is another code word for the greatest fear many of my generation were raised under. I am hoping in the upcoming dialogues about better relationships and communications with Cuba and Cubans we might listen and learn even as we speak and share our stories.
Along with Tom Hayden, Ricardo Alarcon de Quesada speaks in this book. He is a Cuban statesman and revolutionary. Ricardo was a member of the 26th of July movement who joined the Cuban Revolution as a student organizer. He later served as president of Cuba’s National Assembly and, for nearly thirty years as Cuba’s permanent representative to the United Nations. The book traces the interaction of our two nations through most of my lifetime. Our strained relationship with Cuba has been an issue with our entire foreign policy, including our war in Vietnam and the Cold War Nuclear Weapon escalation. We will certainly have different opinions about political and military history, but as we practice skills of civility I am convinced that we can all advance our understanding and increase our wisdom. I know I can grow in the process.