Illustration Copyright © 2003 University of California Press Ltd. All Rights Acknowledged.
I was drawn to this book by its cover: a protester clutching a Cuban flag, a sash of cordon tape across his chest, being restrained by three concerned blue-clad police officers. It looked familiar somehow, and it turns out that it was an exilic Cuban protesting at the Los Van Van concert at the Miami Arena. I remembered watching the DVD of the concert which opened with scenes of the protest, and wondering why salsa - a phenomenon which sometimes sells itself on the basis of Latin American unity - inspired such fervent anger.
There was another reason; research into augmenting the History of Salsa on my website, with sections on Colombian, Venezuelan and Miami salsa.
The author, Miguel A. De La Torre, writes about Miami exilic Cubans' power geometry in the contexts of Dade County, the United States, and against Castro's Cuba. The work unmasks the structures of oppression deployed by exilic Cubans to maintain their position of power; it is piercingly insightful, utterly convincing and written with relentless candour. He is a brave man. I can only imagine what he risked as an insider, in the publication of 'La Lucha'. Laura Pérez, Associate Professor of Ethnic Studies in University of California Berkley, regarded it as an "... extremely important, courageous and long overdue project about cubanidad...".
It is heavyweight, erudite, and yet personal. It is not light reading. But difficult endeavours, and their accounts shouldn't be. His writing is compact, succinct, heavily laden with meaning. I think the value of his commitment is best be revealed through some of his own words (In order to avoid misunderstandings due to my purely personal choice of excerpts, I strongly urge you to obtain a copy of the book to read them in the context as the author intended):
In his preface he observes, "My hatred for Fidel Castro has been ingrained in me since childhood."
And of the institutionalized racism he and his family encountered when they moved from Miami to Kentucky he says, "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 when I left Dade County, I suffered because I was seen as a Latino."
And for me, most importantly,
"The Cuban clergy was predominantly from Spain... trained during the Franco dictatorship and highly influenced by the bitter Spanish Civil War victory over communism."
"These priests transplanted the atmosphere of a religious crusade against communism from Spain to Cuba."
"The Cuban Revolution occurred before the churches in Latin America became radicalized by the Vatican II (1962-65)... which articulated the basic tenets of liberation theology." [page 27]
This was the 'a-ha' moment - all of a sudden, things made sense. It was worth the cost of the book for the value of page 27 alone.
'La Lucha for Cuba' has brought me to a cross-roads. Should I augment the history with a deeper analysis which would necessitate consideration of political (and hence polarising) influences? Or should I maintain the history's accessibility to all by side-stepping the controversies which lie at the very heart of salsa?
Perhaps there is a middle path, should Elegguá be kind enough to show me the way. Otherwise, my instinct tells me I should follow De La Torre's example, and trust my readers to know the price of the difference.
Yeo Loo Yen