EDITOR’S NOTE: This column was published on Friday, Nov. 25, 2016, several hours before news spread of the death of Fidel Castro.
The August evening the nation first noticed Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem at an NFL game, the San Francisco 49ers quarterback held a postgame news conference, as is typical league policy. At that news conference Kaepernick wore a T-shirt emblazoned with photos from a 1960 meeting between Malcolm X and Fidel Castro.
So after his first notable protest against what last week he called the “systematic oppression” of minorities in the United States, and saying he wants “freedom for all people,” Colin Kaepernick put on a T-shirt that featured a supportive image of one of the 20th century’s most enduring oppressors.
This absurd contradiction between what Kaepernick said and does was only a distant annoyance to me because, although I was born into Cuba’s imprisonment, I don’t often write about Kaepernick or his team. This wasn’t my fight.
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But this week Colin Kaepernick is on a teleconference call with me and other South Florida reporters who cover the Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins are playing Kaepernick’s team Sunday. And Kaepernick is saying if anyone is “OK with people being treated unfairly, being harassed, being terrorized, then the problem is more what they’re doing in their lives …”
And because Kaepernick apparently doesn’t understand his words apply to him before he can apply them to others, I ask the man who protests oppression why he wore the Castro shirt when the tyrant is demonstrably a star on the world’s All Oppressor team?
Cuba for more than five decades under the Castros has stifled practically any and all dissent. According to Human Rights Watch, “Cuban citizens have been systematically deprived of their fundamental rights to free expression, privacy, association, assembly, movement, and due process of law. Tactics for enforcing political conformity have included police warnings, surveillance, short-term detentions, house arrests, travel restrictions, criminal prosecutions, and politically motivated dismissals from employment.”
Now go to Google images of the Ladies In White protesting on Cuba’s streets. Kaepernick, the poster child for protest among NFL players, should do this. He would see images of women — white, black, mothers, daughters, sisters — systematically violated in one form or another by Castro’s thugs.
They are harassed, spat upon, pushed and even bloodied simply because they are fighting to do in Cuba what Kaepernick does on an NFL sideline without fear or physical repercussion — just before he wears that Castro shirt to his postgame presser.
So I ask Kaepernick how he can protest oppression then ignorantly don a T-shirt featuring an oppressor?
And Kaepernick immediately said:
“I wore a Malcolm X shirt,” he said.
Now, Kaepernick is bright even though he seems to be playing dumb. He carried a 4.0 grade point average at John H. Pitman High School in Turlock, California, around the same time my aunt, lacking medicine and care in Cuba, was dying — the last of my family members the Castros refused to allow to escape to freedom in the United States.
So I remind Kaepernick that Castro was indeed on his shirt.
“I am a believer in Malcolm X and his ideology and what he talked about and what he believed in as far as fighting oppression,” Kaepernick said.
That, by the way, does not answer the question. Kaepernick is evading as if my question is an NFL linebacker on a blitz. So I interrupt. ...
Are you a believer in Fidel Castro, who is also on that shirt?
“If you let me finish, please,” Kaepernick requested. “The fact he [Malcolm X] met with Fidel to me speaks to his open mind to be willing to hear different aspects of people’s views and ultimately being able to create his own views as far as the best way to approach different situations, different cultures.”
So it’s good to have an open mind about Fidel Castro and his oppression, I ask?
“I’m not talking about Fidel Castro and his oppression,” Kaepernick said. “I’m talking about Malcolm X and what he’s done for people.”
At this point I hope Kaepernick is starting to realize how untenable his position is relative to the Castros. Even Malcolm X, who met with Castro in New York, for years afterward declined invitations to visit him in Cuba. I’m hoping Kaepernick understands one should not make broad statements about standing up for people’s rights, then slip into a Fidel Castro shirt, suggesting approval for a man who has spent his days on the planet stifling people’s rights.
And that’s exactly the moment Kaepernick shows how lost he truly is. Because in the next breath, Kaepernick, born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, explains to me, the guy born in Havana, how great Castro really is.
“One thing Fidel Castro did do is they have the highest literacy rate because they invest more in their education system than they do in their prison system, which we do not do here even though we’re fully capable of doing that,” Kaepernick said.
Is this real life?
First, Cuba does not have the highest literacy rate. Second, don’t be surprised if the same people who report Cuba’s admittedly high literacy rate are related to those who report its election results — the ones in which the Castros get 100 percent of the votes.
Third, could it be Cuba doesn’t have to invest a lot in its prison system because, you know, dungeons and firing squads (El Paredon) are not too expensive to maintain?
Finally, it’s bizarre that Kaepernick is extolling the education system of a country where people believe launching out into shark-infested seas to flee is a better idea than staying there.
So I make the point to Kaepernick that aside from that awesome school system the Castro devils established, there was also that communist revolution we should consider, and the lack of free elections and justice. And after teaching folks the alphabet, to Kaepernick’s apparent delight, the Castros break up families, including mine, because some folks get out and others cannot.
A true story: My parents decided when I was born that living in chains could not be my fate. And because there wasn’t going to be a successful Salguero family counter-revolution, my folks did what they could to get me out. And all three of us — papi, mami and me — got visas to leave. It took five years to get those visas and my folks were immediately fired from their jobs when they applied.
On that July 1967 day when we were scheduled to go, the three of us made it to the boarding ladder of the Eastern Airlines Freedom Flight bound for America. But a Castro soldier stopped us before we boarded and demanded to see the family’s papers. I remember this as if it was yesterday. That bearded guerrilla in green and carrying a rifle confirmed all three of us were cleared to leave Cuba.
But, he added, that only two of us could leave because that’s what he personally was deciding. He then told my father to pick who goes and who stays. What ensued next is hazy to me. I know there were tears. I know there was drama. But suffice to say only my mother and I got on that plane.
My dad stayed behind, and for three years he was unable to reunite with us. Other family members never were able to reunite with us.
That life experience in my head, I tell Kaepernick that the United States may not invest as much as he wants on education (actually, the investment is staggering) but we also don’t break up families here.
“We do break up families here,” Kaepernick responded. “That’s what mass incarceration is. That was the foundation of slavery. So our country has been based on that as well as the genocide of native Americans.”
Based on that?
I ask Kaepernick if he’s equating the breaking up of Cuban exile families by a dictator with people being sentenced to prison in the United States.
“I’m equating the breaking up of families with the breaking up of families,” Kaepernick responded.
Look, I understand Kaepernick’s complaint that some people are falsely imprisoned and others go away for long stretches for committing multiple minor crimes. But what is it about nuance he doesn’t get? There’s no way the blanket statement he just made is correct.
My family breaking up because my parents wanted me to be free is not the same as, for example, a father of two in the United States committing a crime and being away from his kids because he was convicted and is serving time.
So breaking up families cannot always be equated with breaking up families. To believe so is not thinking the issue through. And not thinking issues through is a bad look for so-called protest leaders such as Kaepernick.
My exchange with Kaepernick ended there, after about three minutes, because I was stunned how someone so outspoken about his beliefs could be so ignorant to facts not up for debate. I suppose he thinks he made salient points in our back and forth.
All he did was expose himself as a fraud.
So wear your Malcolm X shirt that features Fidel Castro, Colin Kaepernick. Wear it around a town where hundreds of thousands of Cuban exiles live with memories similar to mine. Wear it on the field Sunday during pregame if you’re so proud of it.
Show everyone what an unrepentant hypocrite you are.
Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero