In light of this week’s election returns, and the reality of a still-divided America that I, myself, had been largely ignorant of, it’s been a little bit surreal to process the election results in Cuba (of all places!).
One of the things I asked our group to do in preparation for our journey was watch the deeply moving 18 minute TED Talk. The talk is delivered by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the noted Nigerian novelist and MacArthur Genius grant recipient. She speaks about human nature, and our all-too-quick assumption that any one person, place, or thing can be boiled to a one dimensional stereotype or assessment. We unwittingly create narratives that constitute a “single story,” even though we surely must realize that the reality of the thing is far more complicated.
We know this to be true about Cuba. Cuba is:
- a Communist island, where many live in abject poverty
- a (recovering?) totalitarian dictatorship where critics of the government can be jailed for
- home to the largest city in the Caribbean (Havana), and host to a thriving culture celebrating
Cuba’s arts, music, and culinary traditions
- known for its efficient and advanced health care system and extraordinarily high literacy rates
- the site of a fascinating and inspiring sub-chapter of North American Jewish History
My last comment about the election is this: to what degree do the election results remind us that there is more than one story of America today? Regardless of who we voted for in the election, the tenor of this national moment (and the election’s results) should give us pause to do a better job of listening, and reflecting on the fact that half the country really did see this moment differently. My story and worldview is not the only American one. There are lots of others out there. And if we are committed to the ongoing project of building up this nation, we’ll have to re-invest in building those bridges, and honoring the one who thinks differently. This shouldn’t stop us from standing up for what we believe in. All Americans will have the next four years to engage politically to do that. This is about using this moment in our presidential transition to try to hear, and learn, the stories of our fellow Americans - even when (especially when) they are different from our own.
Speaking of telling stories: after our arrival here yesterday, we went straight to Finca Vigia (“Lookout Farm” for its spectacular view of Havana in the distance 15 miles away), the Ernest Hemingway estate and archive just outside of Havana. It was Hemingway’s primary home in the 1940s and 1950s, where he wrote part of For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea (among others) there.
Drawing on my recollections of my previous visit to Cuba (in the spring of 2010), Finca Vigia has always functioned as something of a pilgrimage site for Americans. One of our own lived here.
I’m glad we went on the first day...mostly so that we could get a little of our “American-ness” out of our systems. In the days ahead, I’m looking forward to encountering the other pieces of Cuba - the other stories if you will - that have less (at least seemingly on the surface) to do with who I am, and the country that I call home.