She meant to insult me, but with her vitriolic note, Gloria Garrido took me back to a character-building memory of childhood and early exile.
“You came from Cuba recently, didn’t you?” Garrido began her short note in response to my column, “From the GOP, the unconscionable coronation of a clown.”
I’ve been asked the question before by a certain kind of fellow Cuban who is trying to not only stuff me into whatever box his or her own limited existence allows, but also to evaluate my worthiness to enter a social circle. I’ve also been asked with the best of intentions, as a point of reference from which to share the common experience of exile and the unbreakable bond of roots and heritage.
Garrido’s question was of the first kind, the classist sort — and it threw me back to 1969 Miami and my new school, Melrose Elementary.
The Cuban kids asked me the same question, well aware that in their homes, newcomers had to pass the litmus test of whether one had ever been a Fidel Castro supporter. My parents never were, but my late arrival date was suspicious. It was only because of a four-year wait for a visa, my parents’ belief that Castro wouldn’t last, and their affection for family and homeland. But my arrival date, a whole 10 years after Castro rose to power, marked me as different and thus unworthy of the Cuban kids’ inner circle, as did the regionalisms of the Spanish spoken by a girl, not from their Havana, but from the homey city of Matanzas.
Their rejection turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to me. It opened my eyes — but most of all my heart — to others. Another group of newcomers to Melrose Elementary rescued this lonely, homesick Cuban girl: The African American kids new to the integrated school in northwest Miami. They reached out to me. I’ll never forget a girl named Karen who every morning traded storylines from her favorite television shows, and asked what I liked so she could learn Spanish, too. She turned me on to the vampire show Dark Shadows. Every afternoon after school, the show’s shenanigans unleashed my imagination and desire to know what the characters were saying. In three months, I was speaking English better than most of the other Cuban kids — and language, free expression and storytelling became my life’s passion.
For remembering all of this personal history at such a crucial moment for America, I have an angry Trump supporter to thank.
“You came from Cuba recently, didn’t you?” Garrido said. “That’s why you express yourself the way you do.”
She hurled the quintessential question as a rhetorical insult to me — and by association, to fellow Cuban Americans who don’t pass her litmus time test, and certainly, who didn’t grow up to become the right-wing robots some might have liked.
She also let her disdain for the first black president known, using the same language, the same lies white supremacists use to express their hatred of Cuban Americans and Latin Americans in their letters to me.
“I prefer Donald Trump as president than a Muslim who has created division in our country for two consecutive terms to which he was elected by stupid people like you,” Garrido said.
Spoken like a true Trumpian. Letting the inner racist out — pushing back against the gains of a diverse society where every human being is valued — is what this presidential race is all about.
Donald Trump’s Cuban-American followers suffer from Cuban supremacy syndrome. It’s an old national ailment of the soul that the Machiavellian Castro brothers, snubbed by Havana society as the bastard children of peasants, tapped into, using rhetoric to divide and chart their way to a lifelong, hateful dictatorship.
Cuban Americans who support Trump feel no shame in admitting that they don’t care if Trump is a classist, racist, narcissist —or, as I said in the column that equally upset Garrido and white supremacist supporters, a would-be vulgar chusma-in-chief.
He’s their kind of dictator.