Fabiola Santiago

Never mind Emma González’s olive green jacket. Listen to her and her generation.

Emma Gonzalez, a survivor of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., closes her eyes and cries as she stands silently at the podium and times the amount of time it took the Parkland shooter to go on his killing spree during the "March for Our Lives" rally in support of gun control in Washington, Saturday, March 24, 2018.
Emma Gonzalez, a survivor of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., closes her eyes and cries as she stands silently at the podium and times the amount of time it took the Parkland shooter to go on his killing spree during the "March for Our Lives" rally in support of gun control in Washington, Saturday, March 24, 2018. AP

As soon as she walked on the March for Our Lives stage clad in an olive green jacket, a Cuban flag patch on her right arm — the words of another student "Welcome to the Revolution" still ringing in our ears — I knew that the optics wouldn’t favor Emma González.

Ugh, good thing she didn’t go for the Che Guevara beret, too.

I’m a gun control advocate, but I am also a Cuban-American marked and wounded by a revolution turned into one of the world’s longest-lasting dictatorships. The men who seized power and repressed — who burst into homes to search without warrants and confiscated businesses, homes, lands, and guns – wore olive green fatigues.

I get the optics. But I’m here to defend Emma against all who are shamelessly vilifying a brave 18-year-old who has lost friends and teachers to bullets, just because she hasn’t asked for our permission to be whoever she wants to be — and to speak her truth.

Not ours, but hers and her generation’s truth.

In this country, Emma has the right to wear whatever she wants and to speak her mind without fear. Our disdain for the color olive green is our burden, not our children’s. What she and the other Parkland students are doing is as far from communism at it gets. Speaking truth to power is what defines freedom in America.

Although minds are changing as mass shootings hit closer to home, gun control is hard sell in Miami, as it is in the rest of the nation. We don’t need confusing messages in the mix. This generation’s resounding call — that we need common sense legislative change so that children don’t have to sit in a classroom or a movie theater or a church wondering if they will become the next mass shooting statistic — shouldn’t be lost on an outfit.

I’ve been writing about America’s gun-worshipping culture for years and not a week goes by that I don’t get hate mail, tweets, or messages from Cuban-Americans who call me a Communist for arguing in favor of a ban on assault weapons like the one the Parkland killer used. They remind me that Fidel Castro famously said in a speech, "¿Armas para qué?" Guns, for what? And, with those words, Castro proceeded to disarm the Cuban people and solidify his regime.

As for what Castro did in the 1960s, disarming people wasn’t all that kept him in power. He also silenced the critical press, sent journalists fleeing, and confiscated all the media so that only the state had a voice and he and his cohorts could indoctrinate at whim. A free media, a government of checks and balances, and due process are what keeps the United States safe from tyranny, not gun ownership. With its military might and technology, the U.S. government could quash a rebellion in days.

Ironically, some of those who helped Castro silence the opposition are still trying to do the same in Miami. Only now their targets are voices like Emma’s or mine. They know that calling someone a Communist in this town ends the conversation — and that’s the goal.

But these kids who’ve survived the unthinkable are making a difference, and they’re not into our nonsense.

This fiercely outspoken cubanita from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School defies all the stereotypes of what it means to be a Cuban-American. Or an American of Cuban descent, or however you want to label the South Florida-born daughter of a Cuban refugee father who came to this country in 1968.

Hurray, I say.

"My name is Emma Gónzalez. I’m 18 years old, Cuban, and bisexual," Emma defines herself in the first line of an essay published in Harper’s Bazaar two weeks after the Valentine’s Day killing of 17 classmates and educators at her high school by a former student wielding an AR-15.

Homophobia also makes her a favorite target of the right-wing, for whom all the Parkland teens begging for gun control are villains. To discredit her, they’re circulating a fake photo of Emma ripping the U.S. Constitution. But in the real photo, a Teen Vogue cover, Emma is ripping a shooting target.

The backlash comes not from what she wears but what she represents: female, a minority as American as the flag — and free and open about her sexuality. They fear her searing words and her powerful silence, evoking the six minutes, 20 seconds it took the gunman to end lives. And yes, her proud Cuban vibe, too. She uses the accent in her name, even on Twitter. How’s that for optics?

Emma has enough enemies without adding to the lot her own people.

Congressman Steve King, an Iowa Republican, posted this villainous and ignorant attack on a shooting survivor on his Facebook re-election campaign page along with a photo of Emma from the march:

"This is how you look when you claim Cuban heritage yet don’t speak Spanish and ignore the fact that your ancestors fled the island when the dictatorship turned Cuba into a prison camp, after removing all weapons from its citizens; hence their right to self defense."

Why judge our children now for not speaking Spanish when all the likes of you have ever demanded is our assimilation, Mr. King?

As for the Cuban flag, it doesn’t stand for the Cuban government. It stands for a beloved island and its people, including all of us in the diaspora. The flag belongs to us all. By wearing it, Emma was honoring her heritage.

Emma — standing on that stage arm in arm with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s heirs and youth from all races and backgrounds across America – are the right optics.

They speak of inclusion. They speak of humanity. They speak of bravery against the odds.

Why should our children carry our burdens?

We’ve had our turn. The future is theirs to define.

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