Leaving Domestic Spheres of Thought

September 4, 2014


“Personally, I think the Cuban revolution did a lot of good. I really like Castro,” my host mom says in Spanish on one of my first nights studying abroad in Buenos Aires. Caught off guard, I wasn’t really sure how to respond. “Well, I guess the literacy rate is higher now and there are good doctors,” I stuttered. My rusty Spanish alone couldn’t account for my hesitant reply: I was shocked. Not because of her political views or her willingness to be so direct, as most Argentines are, but because I had never in my entire life heard anyone say anything even remotely positive about Fidel Castro or about the Cuban Revolution.

Being from Miami, where Cuban expatriates and their children comprise a majority of the population, it’s generally agreed that Castro is, at the very least, a bad leader and, at the worst, pure evil. Ché Guevara, the Argentine revolutionary, is considered a war criminal by the majority of  Cubans in Miami due to his involvement in the Cuban Revolution. I had never even considered that any good could have come out of the Cuban Revolution. Expatriate Cubans believe that this revolution was detrimental with the same righteous conviction with which they believe the world is round and that Nicolas Cage is the worst actor in all of history. It’s not something I ever thought to question because the topic wasn’t ever up for debate. It was only discussed when people spoke about reclaiming their lost homes and property after Castro’s imminent death. 

By the end of the conversation with my host mom, I wasn’t sure what I thought about the revolution. I sure didn’t approve of it, and how could I? My family was forced to flee because of it, but I also knew that Cuba was pretty horrible even before the revolution. It was incredibly racially segregated and the wealth was concentrated among the white, upper classes, not to mention that Fulgencio Batista, the American-backed dictator that Castro overthrew, was corrupt, to say the least. 

I finally came to the conclusion that, although there are plenty of aspects of the revolution that I disagree with, some aspects of the Cuban Revolution benefitted many—a point of view I had never considered before. It took a flight not only out of Miami, or Florida, but out of the United States to realize that there could be another side to the narrative Miamian Cubans have been painting since 1959. 

Studying abroad in a country where American Democrats would be considered conservative hasn’t changed many of my political views, but it has made me reconsider what I had thought I knew to be the absolute truth. 

I began to ask myself why the Cuban revolution is viewed so negatively in the U.S., while the rest of the world applauds it. While some might say it can be boiled down to a fear of communism handed down from the 1950s and 60s, it’s not as simple as that.

I am enrolled in a class on Caribbean revolutions at the University of Buenos Aires. While we haven’t gotten to the 1959 Cuban Revolution in class yet, by just speaking with most Argentines I know they see the issue from a vastly different perspective. I even met my first self-described communist. In Argentina, it’s essentially a fact that the revolution was good, while in the United States, even outside of Miami, the revolution is looked down upon by Democrats and Republicans alike. When discussing the Cuban revolution against Spain in the 19th century, we read a source that contained the Cuban government’s stamp of approval, but not necessarily the same story we would have gotten back at Georgetown. 

What we see as legitimate or reputable sources of information varies based on our perspective—our shared culture, history, and government—and so, history is told according to the political memory of whichever community we are born into.

Why the approach of two different countries and two different schools on teaching a single subject could be so vastly different is important to recognize. The United States may have a right and left and host a variety of political ideologies, but think back: when was the last time you heard an American politician challenge the idea that the Cuban Revolution is bad? It’s easy to forget that what we hold to be true may only be so because we collectively agreed to see them that way. History might be written by the victors, but societies have to decide who the victors are first.


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