Diary of an American Girl’s Journeys to the Forbidden Land (Excerpt 26)

lynching-of-blacksOur racist policies didn’t work in Cuba.

At least not in the way it worked back home.

Because while Americans were all for hanging Blacks out to dry, Cubans were fervently against it.

Cubans — Black & White — rose up in unified, adamant protest against our racist policies on their island.

But a lot of good it did them; we reluctantly responded by allowing a minimal number of Blacks back into the sectors of society we had originally ousted them from — but we reinstated those Blacks in a segregated format.

Brown cops had to be separated from White cops, Brown soldiers could not share barracks with White soldiers, etc. Wherever we gave in to Cuban outcry against the banning of Blacks, our reinstatement condition was always that Blacks be separated from Whites.

racist-sign-no-negroes

Circa 1920. The Texas Restaurant Association posted these signs at the entrances and exits to all restaurants in the state.

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Hence, the U.S. was responsible for the re-introduction of segregation onto the island of Cuba. Victor said the effects of our systemic racism still exist here today – just as it does back home.

Which, of course, we’re all in denial of.

Well, all except minorities.

But Victor said we did good things in Cuba, too. And I noticed that where the Browns in our group had been riveted by Victor’s history lesson from word one, it wasn’t until this part of the lesson that the Whites in our group began listening intently.  

american-indiansOf course we did good things here,” someone (White) piped up righteously. “We always help other countries.

That’s true,” someone else added. “And that’s the real America. That’s what we do. It’s what we’re known for.”

The silence that followed was eerie.

And loaded.

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america-in-cuba

“Made in the USA. Terrorism. Embargoes. Aggression. Manipulation.”
Many versions of this “Terrorism. Made in the USA.” slogan can be found across Latin America.

Waves of God-only-knows-what-emotions came slamming silently but powerfully into our group from the hovering group of Cubans. Even Victor seemed to be struggling with something.

Finally, he took a deep breath and said softly, “That is not what America is known for.

Karli & I exchanged looks. This moment was painful to be a part of. We both felt it. I think we all felt it.

Strangely, I had an urge to run away. I didn’t want to hear any more.

I didn’t want to see the deep emotion etched on the faces of that Cuban group. I didn’t want to see the opposing emotions on the faces of our own Brown & White group members.

I didn’t want to think about what it all exposed about America…about our legacy of violently racist imperialism revamped today as a righteous war on terrorism…about how deeply divided we are still, by color, even as we protest this fact with patriotic claims of equality.

And what about what Victor said, about America not being known for our benevolence? I’ve heard this before in other countries, from other foreigners. But that only started happening when I began venturing far outside the confines of tourist areas where foreigners aren’t so compelled by profit to make nice with Americans.

After the coddling of tourist towns, it’s a lot easier to dismiss less loving foreign views about America.

Unless the topic of 9/11 comes up.

Standing there in that loaded silence in the museo, where even the background noise seemed to recede, I had a sudden flashback to a conversation with a group of Israeli backpackers I met on layover in Heathrow airport last year.

I wrote about it, but remember? That journal is laying on the bottom of Blood River. God, I still can’t think about it without launching into shoulda-coulda syndrome. I should have dived in. I could have saved it. All those stories & mementos…washed away in the red rivers of outlying Africa. My heart & precious memories were in that fat book…

Stop! Can’t go there again. Feeling all tight & teary inside. What’s gone is gone. The end. Get over it. Just let it go, already. Okay. Anyway. Heathrow. En route to Madagascar. Me, a few Brits, 2 other Americans, a couple from Norway, and a group of Israelis.

We were all sitting/leaning/laying on our packs on the crowded airport floor, waiting for flights to resume following a horrendous storm. We got hungry, took turns watching each other’s stuff while we went to buy food, then sat around eating & talking.

Somehow the topic of 9/11 came up. The conversation went something like this:

Terrible,” said the Brits.

So awful,” said the Norwegian couple.

They didn’t meet our American eyes when saying this. I remember having the distinct impression that their expressions of sympathy rang false. If felt like when you have spinach in your teeth and everyone can see it, but they’re all telling you you look great.

israeli-soldiers-take-cover-from-rocket-fire

Israeli soldiers take cover during rocket fire from Gaza.

We’ll be next,” one of the Israelis said.

It was a surprising comment to me, since I wasn’t really familiar with the goings-on of Israeli.

Why?” I asked.

Everyone guffawed.

Everyone except me & the other Americans. Our facial expressions must have prompted the next question.

You have no idea why you were attacked, do you?” the Israeli asked us.

Those people did not deserve to die,” I answered rather prickly.

I don’t know why I answered this way. I’d traveled around enough to learn that most foreigners are much more direct than Americans. But the way he had posed his question made me feel suddenly defensive about my country.

One of the other Americans backed me up. “It doesn’t matter ‘whywe were attacked. It shouldn’t have happened.

The Israeli stared at us strangely for a minute before asking, “You think it doesn’t matter why?

Whatever the reason, no one deserves to be attacked that way,” I answered firmly.

Unless your country is doing it?” he asked.

It felt like a slap in the face. But when I looked at him, I saw genuine curiosity instead of malice. His question wasn’t a slight. He really wanted to know.

9-11_Statue_of_Liberty_and_WTCYou call it an ‘attack.’” another of the Israelis said.

Because that’s what it was,” I responded.

It was a retaliation,” he countered.

Retaliation for what?” I shot back.

The looks I got from nearly every foreigner within earshot made me want to reach up to feel my head for antennae.

We are familiar with retaliation,” the Israeli said. “You are not. I understand. It was your first big one. So, maybe that’s why you don’t recognize it for what it wasLike your country, ours does not name it ‘retaliation.’ Like you, we name it ‘attack.’ End of story. We don’t talk about ‘why.But we all know. We just don’t say it. And we hang people who do.

One of the Americans was a guy. He stood up suddenly, and said, “Hey man, why don’t you back the f*ck off this topic?

He was pissed. His face darkened, his body language was confrontational, and I’m pretty sure his aura was a deadly shade of black & blue…

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24 thoughts on “Diary of an American Girl’s Journeys to the Forbidden Land (Excerpt 26)

  1. Pingback: Diary of an American Girl’s Journeys to the Forbidden Land (Excerpt 29) | Sylver Blaque

  2. Pingback: Diary of an American Girl’s Journeys to the Forbidden Land (Excerpt 28) | Sylver Blaque

  3. Pingback: Diary of an American Girl’s Journeys to the Forbidden Land (Excerpt 27) | Sylver Blaque

  4. I so admire your courage and honesty in writing this piece. Beautifully written, too. I am not American, but I’ve always loved American history, and American idealism…but the present is different.

    An English nurse called Edith Cavell was shot, by Germans, in Belgium during World War One for sheltering and nursing soldiers of all nationalities – including Germans. Her last words before her execution were ‘ Patriotism is not enough.’ These words are carved on her beautiful memorial in London.

    On a lighter note, Dr Samuel Johnson, the great writer of the first dictionary, said that: ” Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel!”

    I’m looking forward to following more of your honest, enlightening and powerful posts.

    • Thank you, Valerie, for your kind words. And thank you for sharing Edith Cavell’s story & Dr. Johnson’s quote. I had not heard of either of these, but will now look into both their lives, as it sounds very interesting to me. I love new discoveries like this. I’m happy to have you aboard my blog! 🙂

  5. I loved this post. I realize my comments may be criticized but… Many Americans choose not to see what is done in other countries by America. It’s always been that way. Even when our actions are brought into question by Americans themselves, they’re called un-American by other Americans who choose not to see the facts. There are many reasons why so many people in other countries hate America. – – America pushes its will onto other countries, it has repeatedly interfered with them in many ways for decades now (or longer) and we haven’t even gotten things right in our own country yet. “Liberty and justice for all” still does not exist here. – – I don’t understand how so many Americans can, on one hand, continue to shout that America’s the best, America’s this or that, and on the other hand, look down upon and criticize other nations. Are they ignoring U.S. murder rates, education standings, poverty, health, mortality rates and so on, many areas in which many other nations are much better? What do they think America is best at? Perhaps its dreams, its system of government, its people, its ingenuity. Maybe we’re best at what we perceive ourselves to be. – – I am not anti-America, it’s just that in order for love and understanding to be shared between people and between countries around the globe, all people must take an honest look at themselves in the mirror first. And right now, what many would find reflecting back at them, is ugly. – – I look forward to the day when we see ourselves as citizens of the world, when we realize that all people are our brothers and sisters, and we end the divisiveness that patriotism brings.

    • What an honest, heartfelt comment. You’ve touched on many things which remain taboo topics in our culture – which, I feel, explains why we remain so uninformed about so many aspects of our historical & current actions in other countries. No matter where I go, I am consistently dumbfounded by the things I learn about our governmental actions overseas – things never mentioned by our schools, our media, nor any other mainstream information channels. These are things we have a right to know as citizens, because the actions of our government reflect upon us all. And, as difficult as it is to face certain truths, “…in order for love and understanding to be shared between people and between countries around the globe, all people must take an honest look at themselves in the mirror first.” I couldn’t have said it better than this. Thank you for sharing a very important view here.

  6. Another outstanding post, Sylver! I love the way you point out—in nearly all of your posts—the parallels between the past and present. And being a person who seldom travels farther than the end of his own block, I love how you take the time to detail the viewpoints of folks frrm other parts of the world—even when it only involves passing travelers. There’s something to be learned from everyone, eh? Again, great job!

    • Thank you, George. It was tough to swallow but the parallels were hard to miss. Of course, when you’re in the situation, it feels like, wtf? Are these people crazy? Then later, alone, it’s like, wtf? How did I miss that?? Over time, I’ve learned that passing travelers share the most enlightening viewpoints…

  7. I read this yesterday and just read through the rest of the story up til here. I’m so glad you’re writing this because I personally know very little about Cuba’s history. You’re point of view is completely refreshing.

    • Thank you, I’m glad you’re enjoying the read. I, too, knew only what our news reported about Cuba. My visits there opened up a whole new knowledge base about Cuba, and my own country to boot. I’m happy you’re traveling with me! 🙂

  8. I admit I’ve enjoyed an adult beverage this evening (nothing for Gracie) but I have to tell you that this series is one of the most interesting pieces I’ve read in the last twenty years. I look forward to the next episode.

  9. Thanks for the interesting post. Someday I will post about my September 11 experiences, and also about an interesting mix of students I had in a class shortly thereafter.

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