[freedomtowernight_edited.jpg] 26th Parallel: Elian - Looking Back Five Years Ago

Friday, April 22, 2005

Elian - Looking Back Five Years Ago

My wife and I got up later than usual, around 9:30, the morning of Saturday April 22, 2000. We calmly ate breakfast, then turned on the TV. What we saw on the TV screen the moment we turned it on made a huge impact that can still be felt today. We watched as President Clinton approached the podium at the White House and announced that Elian Gonzalez had been taken out of his relatives' home in Miami and "reunited" with his father in Washington. There were grumblings all week that something might happen, but the initial shock was devastating.

My wife began to cry. I initially felt incredible sadness, which quickly turned to anger and a huge sense of being betrayed. Betrayed by my country for taking little Elian by force and delivering him to the waiting arms of fidel castro. We continued to watch as attention turned to the developing situation in Little Havana where hundreds of people, outraged by what had transpired that pre-dawn morning, had taken to the streets. News reporters were interviewing angry citizens, and police were spraying pepper spray at some of the protesters. My worst fears appeared to be coming true. Miami was in a state of chaos and the Cubans were to blame. The previous days and weeks in Miami were like a slowly boiling pot of water which was ready to spill over at any time. Ethnic tensions which had always existed just below the surface were primed to burst out. It all happened that April 22nd. Non-Hispanic journalists on TV appeared to be gloating over their "victory" over the "crazy Cubans", and were warning of days of riots and violence in Miami by Cubans. Cuban-Americans journalists and TV reporters were shocked and outraged.

My wife and I called relatives who were equally as stunned. I walked over to my computer and e-mailed a letter to the editor of the Miami Herald denouncing Elian's capture (it was never published). The rest of the day was spent slumped in front of the TV. It felt like a death in the family.

The days to follow were just as difficult. Although the massive riots and violence which had been predicted by many failed to materialize, except for isolated incidents, Cuban-Americans were being grilled by non-Cubans in Miami and the rest of the nation. How could we dare to defy the government? How could we dare to keep a child from his father? All the while, a scary thing began to occur: I was starting to feel a deep resentment towards the United States. My country of birth, my country, the only one I've ever known and loved. I cringed every time I saw a house with an American flag proudly displayed in the front porch. This was pre-9/11, therefore people, myself included, only flew flags during holidays. Since Memorial Day was still a month away, the only reason most of those flags were out was to show the Cubans who ran the show in this country. It was like a slap in the face. Several days after the incident, we left for a 2-week vacation in Spain. Then I thought of something even scarier: I caught myself a couple of times daydreaming of moving to Spain to get away from the hostility back home. After all, most Spaniards we spoke to seemed to be sympathetic to our feelings of hurt. We heard about the counter-protests by non-Hispanics in Miami. Good thing I wasn't in town for that!

We got back to Miami and proceeded to move on with life as usual. Still, we could feel the resentment. At the time I lived in Cutler Ridge which is an ethnically mixed area where Cuban-Americans are a small minority. It was hard to go to the supermarket or the shopping center without hearing someone make a snide remark against Cubans. Meetings with Mayor Alex Penelas were held at the neighborhood elementary school which were attended by people waving US and Confederate flags, as well as plenty of Metro-Dade police officers. I felt like I was living in a different city, a different country.

To be continued...


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