I once asked my dad why we had left Cuba in 1960, when I was 8 years old. His answer, as that of many Cuban dads of his generation, was: “Because of you and your (two years’ younger) brother,” followed by a very rare expletive (he never minced words but he always avoided expletives).
As luck would have it, I escaped indoctrination by Cuba’s revolutionary crew only to fall into the hands of the true masters of indoctrination, the Brits, at a private school in Buenos Aires. Six years later, when I first visited London and felt as if I had finally found my spot under the sun, I realized how thorough a job they had done on my young mind and soul.
I have always wondered what those Cuban kids who grew up chanting, “We will be like Ché!” made of that goal. Would they see themselves as the ice-cold killing machine Ché bragged a revolutionary like him should be — or as the hyper-empathetic dreamer of a better world some people make of him?
It was in London that I first heard a joke about an American couple back home after a trip to Europe, who were not quite sure if they had visited Brussels. The wife says: “We did, honey; that’s where I bought the little scissors shaped like a stork.”
And these last few days the theme of indoctrination or “brainwashing” has been on my mind. What with the usual lines formed through the night at the doors of stores selling the “new” iPhone, and the cowardly massacre at a luxury shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, where, had this been “safari season,” there would have been a significant number of tourists making an almost obligatory stop at the upscale mall on their way to the wildlife parks. Tourists who, back home, spend a lot of time in similar malls, packed with the very same stores and the same superfluous stuff, but who are conditioned not to miss the chance of leaving a mark of their presence in Nairobi by purchasing their own little scissors.
And now comes the pope with his barrage on the evils of a globalized financial system, one he sees as built around a throw-away mentality that has gone from throwing away “things” — shades of Wall-E, an animated movie hit not too long ago, but long forgotten by now — to discarding people.
I think what Pope Francis is trying to tell us is that you do not need to live under an authoritarian political regime, chanting slogans, to be indoctrinated or brainwashed; nor to stick your head into a brainwashing machine. The best among the brainwashing products are subliminal in nature.
A friend of mine is a true believer in the superior nature of a species of human being he calls ‘the rational, self-interested, “homo economicus” He even defines human rights simply by their ability to fulfill the expectations of that kind of man’s rational interests, what some call “the pursuit of happiness.”
I bet the pope would disagree with my friend in some important ways — their views on mankind seem to be far apart. Of course, the pope (and his Boss) look more into the hearts and souls of men — things you seldom find in shopping malls — than into their rationality, as manifested in their interests and buying habits.
By the way, if there is one thing all of us Cubans sorely need is to have friends who think differently than we do, whose worldview is different from ours, and who we can still call friends and interact with.
I, for one, need to find an answer to what “ seremos como el Ché” means. . . . And if I were to start my conversation with the pioneritos (pioneers) from my own age group by calling them “ comunistas de m----- . . . .” that would be a serious non-starter, don’t you think?