Lack of outrage, bombing over Guillen’s Castro love signals new Miami

By | April 17th, 2012 | 1 Comment

After serving a five-game suspension for protesting his love for Fidel Castro, Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen will return to the dugout Tuesday night for the team’s home opener against the Chicago Cubs. Though the suspension came amid calls for Guillen’s ouster by some affronted anti-Castroites, the lack of widespread outrage to the notoriously big-mouthed manager’s comments — not to mention the lack of terrorist bombings — signals a profound change in attitude among Cubans in Miami, according to a piece by ESPN writer Wright Thompson. “This is a very, very faint echo of what used to be,” Thompson quotes a Cuban-American friend as saying. “Back in the ’70s, they would have blown up Marlins Park. If you understand that the Watergate burglars were trying to overthrow Fidel, and that people used to blow each other up in the ’70s and ’80s, then the Guillen thing gets more interesting, both because of what he said — and because of what didn’t happen.”

Thompson’s piece is a poignant and fascinating portrait of Miami and the dying Bay of Pigs generation. To read it in full, visit Here’s the video that accompanies the article.

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Miamians: Alberto Milian, Son of Miami Terrorism Victim

By | October 18th, 2010 | 3 Comments

On April 30, 1976, prominent Miami radio host Emilio Milian left the WQBA station in Little Havana, got into his station wagon, and turned on the ignition, detonating a bomb under the hood. Standing ten feet away, Rosa Delgado witnessed the explosion.

“There was dark smoke and flames,” she told the Miami Herald. “I tried to open the door but it was too hot. I told him to help me help him. His eyes were full of pain.”

Later, at Jackson Memorial Hospital, doctors amputated both of Milian’s legs below the knees. He would undergo many operations after the bombing and ultimately survive.

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The Glamorous Illusion of La Habana Moderna

By | October 14th, 2010 | No Comments
Carteles Magazine Cover

This 1957 cover of Carteles magazine illustrates a very different era of Cuba-U.S. relations.

Of the four exhibitions that opened last night at the Frost Art Museum, on FIU’s south campus, “La Habana Moderna” offers the most to a Miami audience. Through magazine covers, movie broadsides, architectural photography, and restaurant menus, the small collection (on loan from The Wolfsonian) presents a view of Cuba between 1902, the year it won its independence, and 1959, the year Castro took power.

In the United States, and especially in Miami, several generations have grown up with a vision of Cuba as a squalid place, a land of damp laundry lines and buildings whose vibrant exteriors look muted beneath rainy skies and a stormy dictatorship. The people on the island (whom we are shown) look lean and oppressed, stoic and resigned. To whatever extent this vision is accurate, it is also propaganda. Only 90 miles away, most of us do not know what Cuba really looks like. We know it only as the smoldering cohort of anti-Castroism portrays it. (And, I suppose, we also know Cuba through Michael Moore’s lens, but that’s another illusion.)

It is from this perspective that I found “La Habana Moderna” — yet another illusory vision of Cuba, this one propagated by the island’s tourism and film industries — fascinating. From the “Holiday in Havana” poster featuring Desi Arnaz in ruffled rumba sleeves, to the New Yorker-esque covers of Social and Carteles magazines, to the photographs of Havana’s capitol building, lit up as if to host a movie premier, perusing “La Habana Moderna” is like encountering a usually bedraggled woman in evening wear. It is a jarring experience, one that underscores the truth that all the world is indeed a stage, and whether the scene is bright and glamorous, or squalid and grim, depends on who’s behind the camera.

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Castro, Gastro, and Styrofoam: Photos of October Art Walk

By | October 10th, 2010 | 1 Comment

Second Saturdays Art Walk combines several good things: art, walking, and women dressed to compete for your attention with the all-white canvas hung on the all-white wall. With the sweater of humidity tucked away for the season, these things came together especially well at last night’s AW, which featured the opening of the Wynwood Market on NW 2nd Avenue in the lower 20s.

Gal Smoking Painting

"Women 2010" by Rafael Espitia at Area 23 Art Gallery.

Sporting two food trucks (Gastropod and Sakaya Kitchen’s Dim Ssam à Gogo, both of which sold out most of their menu items), a DJ, and various food and merch booths, the market is a positive addition to the monthly event. A few vendors told me they got free spots this month but that they will have to give up a percentage of their revenue (to?) in the future for a chance to hawk to Miami’s culturati. As last night’s crop of vendors included a few duds, perhaps the tax will result in a filtered and ultimately more impressive market.

Funny thing about art walks in general is that, with so many musical, edible, and long-legged distractions, the art on the gallery walls often goes unappreciated. That said, here are a few pieces that caught my eye.

Ideobox Styrofoam Sculpture
This laser-cut sculpture in “The Every Other Day” exhibit at Ideobox Artspace is, I’m guessing, one of the most expensive pieces of Styrofoam on the planet.

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A review of Nilo Cruz’s The Color Of Desire

By | October 7th, 2010 | 4 Comments

The Color of Desire, a two-act play by Cuban-born, Miami-raised Nilo Cruz, premiered last night at the Miracle Theatre in Coral Gables. Cruz, who won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Anna in the Tropics, sat unassumingly in the audience in a dark ivy hat as his play unfolded before a packed house comprised mainly of geriatrics.

The Color of Desire is set in Havana, in 1960, a year after Castro took power. With the revolutionaries already confiscating property and businesses, and putting their ill-wishers before firing squads, cool-lit Havana invites its bemused inhabitants to indulge in fantasy, if only to escape the frightening reality of Castro’s boots and beard for a spell.

The play opens on Leandra and Albertina, out-to-pasture actresses and probably widows. Relegated to costume mending, the women discuss how time has stolen their femininity.

“Old age is ruthless,” Leandra says. “It doesn’t give a damn what sex we are.”

Enter Belén, the women’s nubile niece, who is distraught about not getting the lead in her company’s upcoming production. But unlike her aunts, Belén has youth – perhaps the one asset even Castro cannot confiscate – and the prospect of her date this evening with a wealthy American shipper soon lifts her spirits. Her aunts share her excitement, but only because they hope the man will rescue Belén from Cuba’s shadowy fate.

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Didion’s Miami Part II: Francisco ‘Pepe’ Hernandez Interview

By | September 27th, 2010 | 1 Comment

Francisco “Pepe” Hernandez, president of the Cuban American National Foundation (CANF), is one of those figures who inspire intense reactions. Some call him a terrorist, or at least a benefactor of terrorists. Others call him a hero of the Cuban exile community. On his way to the White House, Senator Barack Obama called him host.

Francisco "Pepe" Hernandez, CANF President

What no one can dispute is that Hernandez, who left Cuba in his 20s after Castro took power, has been on the front lines of the Miami-based anti-Castro movement for 50 years, first as a participant in the Bay of Pigs Invasion (La Batalla de Playa Girón), then as a CIA operative running actions against Cuba, and then as a founding member of CANF, an uberpowerful voice for Cuban-American interests since its 1981 founding. (This 1993 article in The Progressive describes the sway CANF and its late founder, Jorge Mas Canosa, held in both Miami and Washington.)

As I wrote in an earlier post, I am working on a retrospective essay on Joan Didion’s 1987 book Miami, which chronicles the city during the roughly 25 years between the Cuban Revolution and the end of the first generation of Cuban exile. My essay will explore how Miami and its Cuban community have evolved since the end of this intense and violent period in the mid-80s.

On Friday I spoke to Hernandez on the phone for about 90 minutes to get his perspective. Here are several excerpts from the interview. I’ve lightly edited them for length and clarity.

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Does Joan Didion’s Miami still exist?

By | September 15th, 2010 | 6 Comments

Joan Didion’s 1987 book Miami chronicles the city during the roughly 25 years between the Cuban Revolution and the end of the first generation of Cuban exile. Didion portrays Miami as a sweltering locus of violence and vengeance where assassination plots and covert CIA actions constitute dinner table conversation in the exile community. In the words of a New York Times review, “Didion has turned so much sunny light into a murky underwater darkness full of sharks and evil shadows.”

As a Miami native born in the mid-’80s, I found Didion’s narrative astounding. From the violent reprisals – bombings, stabbings, shootings – hard-line exiles visited upon dissenters within their own community, to Miami’s status as the second-largest CIA installation in the world (with “the third largest navy in the western hemisphere”), to “guerilla discounts” offered at the Howard Johnson near the Miami airport, the incidents and details piled up until my hometown began to seem foreign to me. I had a similar experience watching Cocaine Cowboys, the surpassingly gruesome documentary about Miami’s drug wars, but somehow Didion’s lens proved more unsettling.

When I finished Miami, which, a few leaps in time aside, covers the period between 1960 and 1985, I found myself wondering how much the city has changed. Having spent most of my life here, I instinctively felt that Didion’s portrayal no longer held in its entirety, but I wanted to know to what degree Castro and the Cuban Revolution still cast a shadow over Miami. How much has it evolved from the seething city Didion described, having “the feel … of a Latin capital, a year or two away from a new government”? To what extent does the legacy of a vengeance never realized define Miami today?

These are the questions I am pursuing in a retrospective essay on the book. In the hopes of getting some answers, last week I contacted Dario Moreno, former director of FIU’s Metropolitan Center and an expert on Cuban-American history. A 52-year-old who left Cuba at age 3, Moreno is involved in Marco Rubio’s senate campaign. While I assume his political leanings influence his understanding of Cuban-American history, I never felt that our conversation got stuck in an ideological box. Moreno was generous with his time and insights, and I believe the interview illuminates a Miami very different from the dark city depicted in Didion’s book.

You can see an edited transcript below. Make sure to stay tuned for more posts on this topic as I continue researching for the essay.

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