The Miami Book Fair is always great, and this year’s fair (Nov. 11 – 18) promises to raise the bar even higher. The list of already confirmed authors includes Bonfire of the Vanities author Tom Wolfe, whose fourth novel, Back To Blood, focuses on immigration in Miami (see trailer below); Joan Didion, who wrote one of the best books ever written about our frightening city (“Havana vanities come to dust in Miami”); Robert Caro, a master biographer whose obsession with Lyndon Baines Johnson has resulted in four tomes and counting (I just read all 1,100+ pages of Master Of The Senate — highly recommended); novelist Sandra Cisneros (The House On Mango Street); and New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik.
If the book fair boasted only these authors it would be hugely exciting, but of course many more will be announced in the coming months. We’ll keep you posted, of course, and you should also bookmark (get it?) the official fair website.
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.
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.
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.
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.