Focus 580; Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of A Cuban Boy
Good morning welcome to focus 580 our morning talk show My name is David Enge. Glad to have you with us in the first hour today we will go to the focus archives for a program from March. It's a conversation with Carlos Eyre on talking about his memoir Waiting for Snow in Havana. It's about his growing up in Cuba. As you listen to remember the program is recorded will not take calls in this hour. We will however be back live as usual in hour number two. This program originally broadcast on March 26 in the first hour of the show today will be talking with Carlos Eyre and we'll be talking about his memoir of growing up in Cuba in the 1950s. The book is titled Waiting for Snow in Havana Confessions of a Cuban boy won the National Book Award in 2000 and is now out in a paperback edition published by the Free Press. It's gotten a lot of well-deserved praise. And we're very pleased that he could be with us to talk this morning. Just a little bit more about him he is professor of history and religious studies at Yale University and he says this book waiting for Snow in Havana was his first without footnotes. He's joining us by a high
quality here connection and ISDN connection from Yale and we're really pleased. Professor Ayre thanks very much for giving us some of your time. Oh thanks for inviting me on the show. One of the pleasure one of things I read about the book is that you said you wrote it as a novel and in fact that you wanted it published as a novel but your publishers said no if it's substantially true you can't do that we have to call it what it is. Why did you why did you approach it that way and why even did you want it. Did you want it listed as fiction when in fact it is. As I think in one article I read you said it's 98 percent true. Well that's that's that's right. I did say that. There are various reasons I wrote it as a novel and wanted it to appear as a novel. The most important reason was my own mis understanding of the impact that a memoir can have. Being a historian having
written three other books that were read by maybe 500 people on earth. I don't always thought that the literary market was much greener on the fiction side of the hill. And I had a story to tell. I want to tell it as fiction because I thought it would have a greater impact that was my own misunderstanding. I also knew as a historian that narrative can grip people at a much deeper level than any kind of reasoned analysis and saw rather than sitting down and writing an essay or even an autobiography. What I did was to write a novel that is 98 percent true. Now the funny thing is that in Germany they have no trouble at all with the concept of a nonfiction novel. And in Germany my book is being marketed as a novel because the Germans accept the concept that one can create a narrative
that reads like a novel yet. It is all true. I also didn't want to air. You know I didn't I didn't want to become the focus of attention either I it's much easier to hide behind a mask especially when you're confessing to doing things as a child that you would rather no one knew. The thing that I think is true is that each chapter is is a beautiful little essay that has a way of standing on its own and then becomes part of something bigger. But it does have the flavor of someone sitting down and saying to you let me tell you a story about my childhood. So in that sense it does have a feeling a flavor of storytelling as if one person to another not really so much as it does certainly doesn't feel like a piece of journalism. Right. And it also was constructed in such a way because every night I read to
my children what I had written the previous night. I wrote this book in a four month period. I wrote every night in the summer of 2000 except for one day when I had surgery and the pain killers put me in another world. Every night I set my three children down before they went to bed and read them what I had written the previous night. So in in a way this is a lot like the tales of the Arabian Nights where I kept going just so I could have something else to tell my kids the following day. One of the things that I always wonder about memoirs is who it is the writer thinks will read this. That is who it is who they're writing it for and one can imagine a variety of intended audiences. Was this in your mind mostly a story your story of your childhood for your own children. It was to a large extent but not entirely. I didn't have a specific audience in mind but the greatest surprise for me since the book came out
is how well-received it has been among the Cuban exile community and they thank me for it when in fact when I was writing it I had been isolated from the Cuban community for so long that the Cuban community could not even enter my mind. I wrote it primarily for an American audience or a non-Cuban audience. But yeah my children figure prominently in the audience precisely because they were there listening to it every night and my wife to read it every night. So I had my family audience and then some broader audience and I narrate as if I'm speaking to another person. That was my that was my intention. You were born in 1950. Yep that's right 50. Your father was a judge.
Yes he was he was a municipal judge. Yeah. So was this was would you say that your Yours was a privileged upbringing. By American standards it was middle class in some respects even lower middle class. For instance we didn't have a hot water heater. We didn't have air conditioning in the tropics either. My father was an eccentric man who spent much of his income buying art objects. So therefore we live much more simply than someone with his income normally would have. Our house is probably the smallest house in the neighborhood. By American standards it was a middle class upbringing with definite perks that are hard to come by in the middle class in the United States such as attending a very good private school that didn't cost very much but nonetheless was a very fine private school and rich neighbors being in contact with kids at school whose parents were wealthy. Put me in a different category and one of our
neighbors was kind enough to offer us rides to school every day in his chauffeur driven Cadillac. So even though it wasn't our Cadillac or our chauffeur I was living a very privileged life and in that respect. Yeah I think there was at one point in the book where one of your schoolmates someone makes a derisive reference to or two people riding in limousines and you thought to yourself Well we don't have a limousine my dad he has his own car and he takes the bus to work and then you thought for a moment longer thought well wait a minute I do have this this chauffeur. We know that. That takes me and some of my buddies to school home to have lunch back to school again and home so then you realized well in a sense maybe yes you do have that privilege. Yeah. And it was a wake up moment even as a child. I had always thought well that's not ours. But then I realized well what makes me any different from a person who owns it. I ride it every day to school. So that put me in a different category
once the revolution triumphed. And anyone who enjoyed those privileges was a marked person. Did you think or how did you think as you were growing up about the difference between you and how it is you lived and those people who and those children particularly who were much much poorer than you. I think like any child I asked my parents why this was so I knew there was a difference. But I have an A I had a very very large middle class Cuba in 1058 had the largest middle class in all of Latin America and the highest per capita income in all of Latin America. So I was. Living in a neighborhood where physically just geographically I was quite distant from those that were really really poor. Every now and then though you couldn't help but run into poor people the way that you do here where I live now in New Haven which
is the seventh poorest city in the United States and you can't help but run into poverty constantly. It did happen in Cuba and as a child I wondered why this was so and I felt lucky. I felt very lucky. Even as a 7 year old or an 8 year old. And then when things began to change then I realized that maybe I hadn't been so lucky after all. Having been born in a place where things could change so quickly let me just very quickly introduce Again our guest for anyone who might have tuned in we're talking with Carlos Eyre. He's professor of history and religious studies at Yale and is the author of the book waiting for Snow in Havana about his growing up in Cuba. It won the National Book Award and non fiction for 2003 and is now out in paperback published by the Free Press. If you'd like to read it you can head out to the bookstore and find it there. Questions certainly as always are welcome. 3 3 3 9 4 5 5 toll free 800
to 2 2 9 4 5 5. Your father was an eccentric man. To say the least and in the book you write about his is the fact that he believed it and that in a past life he was. He talked about being in a past life. Louis the Sixteenth and said you were his wife your mom was in a past life was Marie Antoinette. And I guess reading this story I've never quite sure whether he thought that was a joke. Or whether he actually believed that. Do you know now if he actually did believe that he was dead serious about it. He was dead serious. And I have to laugh every time that a review praises me for. Writing in the vein of magical realism. Because there's nothing nothing magical about it. It was the way it was here. He was just like Shirley MacLaine you know who claims to remember her past lives he didn't only remember Louis the Sixteenth he claimed to remember other previous lives but a curious twist in his belief system is that he claimed he could
identify other people from previous lives too in his Cosmos. Everyone seems to have been reborn together in different places at different times but sort of going through life together. Hence you know almost my entire family was the French royal family. It irritated me as a child that to have him say that because it didn't make sense to me. Even as a kid and then at school we were we were not taught reincarnation. I knew that there was something quite odd about it and I didn't hear it in my friend's parents claiming past lives either. So it sort of put my dad in a category all his own. Did he talk about this outside of the family or was this just something that was discussed above a family member. Well he had he had friends who had similar beliefs. Ironically enough these beliefs were brought to Cuba by American
missionaries from the American Theosophical Society who established a mission in Cuba just shortly after the Spanish-American War and made many converts among the middle class. And I find it somewhat ironic that this is the work of American missionaries. And now most Americans when they read my book think I'm making all this up. How old were you when the revolution happened. Well Fidel's revolution that yeah 1950 it began in one thousand fifty six. So I was five when it began and he triumphed. He took over and eliminated all the other revolutionaries because there were many many different groups fighting against the Teesta he just happened to eliminate all the others. Once the Teesta had fled this happened on New Year's Day 1959. I had just turned 8 a month before. At the end of November. So. I was eight
when the the real change took place but between 56 and 59 there was always some kind of violence on the streets in Havana sometimes quite close to us every night. I remember going to sleep to the sound of gunfire and bombs going off in the distance I'm sure it wasn't every night but that's how I remember it it was sort of a lullaby off in the distance. I'm sure I'm sure you got from your parents the sense that this was a very dangerous time and your father because of his position because the fact that he was a judge would have certainly been a target. We did what was your sense of what it was that was happening. My sense of what happening was that what was happening was at first one of relief because even as a child I didn't like it but Tista and his government and the way that he ruled
especially when I learned that sometimes the people who were imprisoned were tortured. That disturbed me immensely as a child and I wanted to leave so at first I was really happy and relieved that it was over. It was only a matter of months though until I realized that the new government that had come into power was even more cruel and more vicious in its attempt to control everybody. I thought changes were necessary but I didn't like the changes that took place even as a child. But of course from a very childish perspective. Some some movies started to be rated and children were not allowed to come in and see the movies even movies as innocent as 20000 Leagues Under the sea. That was my first experience with censorship. I was told I couldn't go in because I was a minor and my first brush with censorship and someone trying to tell me what I could or could not do.
And it left a deep imprint on me from from that day. It was a long series of events one after the other that convinced me that what was happening was not good not good at all. And then people started leaving and people started being arrested and before long my own my own family members began to be arrested imprisoned and tortured. So. By nineteen sixty one hated what was going on and was desperate for it to change or for me to leave. So when my parents said you know we're going to send you to the United States it didn't come as a great shock to me and in many ways it came as a relief. This was the the event that I don't know how many people will remember this. It was called Operation Pedro Pan and
fourteen thousand children and that up being airlifted out of Cuba and taken to the United States and you and your older brother were among them. You lived in the United States just the two of you before your mother can manage to get out I think it was three years and your father never did leave. He he stayed in Cuba apparently because he thought in part that that the revolution would blow over and that the family could be reunited again. Tell me about that and about the experience of being put on the plane and flown out of Cuba. The airlift in many ways was a panic but it was a very well organized panic. And anyone who did this. Anyone who put their kids on the on the KLM flights to Florida did it thinking that they'd be reunited in a matter of months. The reason the children got out so quickly because this is an air lift that lasted only from one thousand sixty one thousand nine hundred sixty two
children didn't need security clearances from the State Department so children could get visa waivers and parents thought their children were about to be taken away from them because in fact children were being taken away from parents to set the teenagers especially sent out to the countryside to perform slave labor. And the Cuban constitution had been changed to read. The state was the ultimate guardian of all children on the island not the parents. So parents panicked once the kids arrived in the U.S. The parents then applied for visas and it would usually take anywhere from three to five months sometimes longer for the parents to get visas and join their children in the United States. But what went wrong was the October Missile Crisis of 1962. A result of the missile crisis was that Cuba slammed the door shut and wouldn't let anyone leave the island including the parents of over ten thousand of the children
including my parents and they left the door firmly sealed for quite a long time. A great shock to those of us that expected to be reunited in just a matter of months. But there were camps in South Florida that took us in and the camps where processing centers basically. We would stay in the camps until they found some other place for us to go a foster home an orphanage and in many cases sadly reformatories any place they could put us. They'd send us there and we were scattered throughout. The 50 states. Well I haven't yet met anyone from it went to Alaska or Hawaii but at least at least the continental United States there were some that ended up in Idaho and Montana and Colorado all sorts of places. I ended up eventually in Bloomington Illinois so I lived there for two years with my uncle an uncle of
mine. Eventually came to the US just before the door slammed shut and was relocated to Bloomington and my brother and I. After bouncing around a number of foster homes for a year and a half ended up living with him in Bloomington for two years until my mom arrived and we joined her in Chicago. She was sent to Chicago because she had no English and no job skills. She had just been a housewife foller life. And at that time it was fairly easy to get a job as an assembler in Chicago because there were so many factories so they sent her there and we met up with her there three and a half years after we had left Cuba. The title I think refers in part to your childhood desire to have snow at Christmas time but it also has to suggest I think at least in my mind the idea of someone hoping for something
that they should know in their heart of hearts just isn't going to happen. And I wonder if if you could talk about that and what. And what waiting for Snow in Havana means. Sure it's various levels as every time I talk about it I don't cover some other level but that the main reason that I chose the title is that in the book I speak about how it was that as a child I felt we Cubans were being cheated out of something because we didn't have snow. All of our Christmas cards Christmas cards Cubans sent to one another had snow scenes on them. And I began to associate as a very very small child snow with Santa Claus presents goodness. And then when I was about eight o'clock eight years old I was looking at a map of the world and I realized that all the countries that made things
all the countries that made TVs and the cars and the bicycles and everything else had snow. But we didn't and that was my awakening to the fact that I lived in a place that was second place second rank perhaps lower than second rank from other places in the world. And in my mind I began to associate snow with goodness purity. And as an eight year old I imagine that in countries where it snowed everyone was happy all the time and there were very few problems. At another level as I as I'm assured up to the time that I left I began to realize that there were many things that were not going to change in my lifetime. Not only was it not going to snow but I was convinced by the time I left Cuba that it was a place that I would never have good government a
place where people would always be tortured where human rights would be violated. And well it's proven true in my lifetime anyway up to now it didn't have to be that way. But having lived in a place where a revolution was a constant thing since the time I was a small boy I came to think that my country was be doubled by all these problems because it was in the tropics and that somehow warm weather made you be this way. Of course now I know differently. Especially after two years of living in Minnesota. People in Minnesota aren't happy in January. Well not all of them. Many of them are. Many of them are but not necessarily because of the snow. I'm interested in how some of the people who have reviewed the book make it sound a bit like Caribbean travel
writing. And while I think it's a beautiful book it's also it seems to me a sad book. There's a there's a fundamental note of sadness that I think pervades the whole thing. And I guess I I wonder how you think about that particularly that the balancing the what are what seem to be pleasant childhood memories of a really kind of a glowing. Sun drenched childhood you know I think about you're right in the beginning of the book talking about what sunsets are like. You know it's about having having that kind of image balancing that all the good stuff against. Thought against the unhappiness and the sadness and this sort of this fundamental sense that that something is missing that's never quite going to be. Never quite going to be restored.
Yeah well the book is about loss basically and how to cope with loss and learning and how it is that at least I learned that every loss has gains that come along with it that nothing is undiluted loss even the loss of a loved one. The past remains of a world of its own. And as long as you have your memory and as long as these memories are crisp and clear you never really lose the past but you. You have this longing for it especially in my case and the case of almost all Cubans my age who left as children we cannot revisit physically our childhood. We can't go back to the houses where we grew up and we can't walk the streets in the neighborhoods where we lived in. And the past becomes sort of encased as very much as an object inside a paperweight that you see
floating inside the glass it's there but you can't get to it. And of course everyone loses their childhood. Absolutely everyone on earth loses their childhood and they can't go back to it. But in the case of all the kids who left Cuba under the same circumstances as my brother and myself it was a very abrupt end. Literally overnight we we lost our child. So there is that sense of longing but there's also a sense of hope. I would say that something like two thirds or three quarters of the mail that I receive and I receive a lot of mail. People say I read your book and it made me laugh and it made me cry. It's gotten to the point now where my wife says that you get another one of those. I laughed and I cried. Letters said yes that's OK.
I say exactly what exactly the reaction I wanted to elicit from readers this is how life is. It doesn't matter if you live through a revolution or not. Everyone's life has some sadness in it and a lot of loss. And they're all human beings on earth have to learn how to cope with this. A revolution makes it more intense. But I don't care where anyone lives or how rich they are everyone has to face up to the fact that life is a series of pluses and minuses and one has to somehow. Go with the pluses rather than the minuses. You haven't been back not since you left. Now I always thought it was too dangerous to go back there they could sort of drum up charges against you. If I were to go to Cuba they would not accept my American citizenship. As a matter of fact the minute you land there if you're an American citizen born who was born in Cuba they take away your American passport and hold it hostage until the day that you leave. And instead they make you
pay some exorbitant amount like $200 for a Cuban passport. I have met people my age who went back in the 80s and got in trouble. One man in particular I met just two months ago went with his mother and sister in the late 80s. The minute he stepped off the plane they threw him in prison and accused him of espionage. They had photos of him standing outside the United Nations in New York protesting against the Castro regime. They had the photos and they knew who he was. And the minute they step that he stepped off the plane they arrested him. Now I can't go back because my book is on the index of forbidden books and they're actually searching luggage and confiscating any copies that they can find. Our guest in this hour focus 580 is Carlos Eyre. He's professor of history and religious studies at Yale University where he got his Ph.D. and is the
author of a memoir Waiting for Snow in Havana. And it's out in paperback now it's published by Free Press won the National Book Award in 2003 for nonfiction writing. And you might want to take a look at it questions of course do want to welcome 3 3 3 9 4 5 5 and toll free 800 to 2 2 9 4 5. Well actually this program is from the focus 580 archives it means we're not taking calls this morning will resume in just a moment. First we need to pause for this as it's the first Tuesday of the month. This is a test of the Emergency Alert System. This message was instituted by the Illinois Emergency Management Agency. This station is participating in a required monthly path of the Illinois Emergency Alert System. This system was developed to provide
information to the public during emergencies so that wasn't bad. Now go back to this morning's archive edition of focus 580 again remember no calls in this first hour conversation with Carlos air waiting for Snow in Havana his memoir The show first broadcast March 26. Why do you think your father decided to this day. I'm assuming that there would have been a point where he could have left. Yeah it was too late. But one thing that I always keep in mind is I never ever got to speak to my father as an adult. The last real conversation I had with him was the day I left when I was 11. He died in 1986 up to that time. Calls to Cuba were limited to three minutes and there was always someone listening at the other end. Once For instance when my mom said to my dad I miss you so much. Someone at the other end
started laughing. So you had to be very careful what you said and you only had three minutes. So I never got to ask my dad point blank you know what are you doing why are you standing there why don't you come and join us. I got hints in letters. He always kept saying this is going to change you'll see. We'll be together soon this can't last this is can't last too long. But then he developed heart disease and started to make arrangements to leave. But he died of a heart attack before he could leave suddenly and that was that. That was the end of his effort to join us. Your father's name which is not air that's your mother's family's name why did you. That's right. What did you take in your mother's family's name and not your father's. Well again there are many reasons for that. And it's a very thick cultural context. As you probably know most Hispanics use both family surnames. I grew up having two surnames. The minute I landed in the United States I was very
very miffed. I was told no. Per customer you can only have one last name. So I say I went from being Carlos Nieto a day to being Carlos Nieto. And it annoyed me greatly. I also in the 1970s after my father died came to the realization that it was my mother who had shouldered most of the burden of trying to join us. Being here for us even though there was not much she could do for my brother or and me when she arrived she tried and my father had not. So I decided to. Use her name. I never got rid of neckties they'll have it as a middle initial and as a matter of fact in all my scholarly writing people know me as Carlos am and they're the free press didn't want me to use middle initials so I said fine.
But there's also a very very very old Spanish custom which fell into disuse up through the 18th century in Hispanic cultures. Individuals chose which of the two surnames to pass on to their children and in the case of my father's family in the 17th century the name Nieto surname was passed on through someone's mother. Otherwise our name would have been Sanchez. So putting all these things together and also not being able to abide anyone calling me neato. I thought Can I. Maybe it's even more respectful of the name neonatologist to leave it as an initial than have to have someone call you neato all the time and Bloomington everyone knew me as Charlie Nudo or Chuck Nieto. Something
neato. Yep quite a quite a different site soon as I got to Chicago. I went back to being Carlos rather than Charlie or Chuck I guess the reason I ask is I was wondering or want to make sure that if people somehow get this idea that he was right it was a it was a it was a disavowing of your dad that it wasn't that it wasn't anything like that right. No it wasn't. Although I guess in part it's very easy for people to make that assumption and I know I live with that constantly because people ask you know what. What's the deal here. And I just got a letter an email this morning from someone who asked Aren't you being disrespectful to your dad for changing your name. So I have to write to him and say I don't think so. We have color and would welcome others we do have about 20 minutes left in this part of the show. The number here in Champaign Urbana 3 3 3 9 4 5 5. We also have
toll free line that's good anywhere that you can hear us 800 to 2 2 9 4 5 5. The color is in urban on line 1 0 0 0. Thank you for being on the show and I really look forward to reading your book. I also I'm a Cuban American too and I came in the mid sixties and we had the same thing. He was the name that I really relate there. And for me the middle initial. You know my mother's maiden name is very important if it's left out it's like you know we had to switch the names around with the father's keeping. Being that the main name and we put it in my mother's name as a middle initial and whenever people leave it out it's like it's like a piece of identity you can strip out but I just want to ask a question about it you know about the Cuban situation is very complex and I think you kind of touched. On in that you know a change was needed and a room resolution in the beginning and and because the hope was different than what culminated in the end and that's what a lot of people you know the majority of Cubans did support
the revolution but wanted to change and you know the relations with the Soviet Union accts really change the flavor of the revolution and was no longer just one of the Cuban people. But beyond that I'm just wondering. There are a lot of questions I want to ask you but I was just wondering how you deal with those kinds of complexities of human history and also within your own family just the pain that I hear the feelings of loss not knowing you know you remember certain things and you may not remember the things that obviously your own child was very painful leaving your parents at such a young age with your father. And I'm just wondering. How you deal with those kinds of this. Well in the. In the book I deal with it through a narrative I don't I don't try to analyze things. I just simply state what I lived through. And my my view of things several reviewers have remarked that it's like almost like saying it's too bad he came from that family it
would have been such a much better story if he had been poor as if I don't have a right to complain because you know we had more than some other Cubans. I try I try to focus on the complexity of things through narrative I try to focus through the the disappointment or what in the book I point out. It's one of the most beautiful Spanish words dissing gun you know. And guns that everyone went through because almost every time that I'd make a public appearance now I have I get a question where I have to clarify. No Fidel was not the only answer to Battista. Many of the men who landed at the Bay of Pigs invasion had fought against Battista. Many of them had actually fought side by side with Fidel and were betrayed and were trying to reclaim the revolution. But those complexities are often lost on anyone who doesn't understand the intricacies of Cuban history in the 20th century. There's sometimes
lost on me because as a professional historian who doesn't deal with Cuba I deal with Europe in the years fourteen hundred seventeen hundred. I I know as a professional historian there are many things that I should find out details before I speak about them. That's another reason in the book I did the only fact I checked in writing this book was how many men landed at the Bay of Pigs. I wanted to have that number. But it's the only fact I looked up everything else I say and there was my impression and a couple of writers a couple of readers have written in to correct some of my facts but they're all minor points very minor points. Thank you. All right well thank you thanks. Other people who are listening may have questions you can call 3 3 3 9 4 5 5. Toll free 800 2 2 2 9 4 5. I think some people would look at you and your experience and say Here is a man who is the embodiment of
one of our cherished most cherished beliefs. They might actually use the term mess that a person can come here to this country with little or nothing and can and can become a great success can go on to get a Ph.D. at Yale and become a college professor and win the National Book Award. Do you I guess I wonder how you think about that. I think this is a marvelous country and a unique place on earth. And it is true you can end up as I did but many don't. It's not a guarantee for everyone who comes to this country that they might end up successful. In my case Luck had a lot to do with it. Just share luck. When we moved to Chicago if we had moved into a neighborhood that was 10 blocks south of us of where we ended up I would have gone to a terrible high school instead of going to a good high school. And what might have happened to me if I had gone to the
awful high school. I don't want to know. But we almost moved there. And also the generosity of the American people the generosity with which which I witness all the time now from this end and higher education. The fact that there are so many scholarships. The fact that an education in this country is really never denied to anyone. Sure you have to work hard and you have to make sacrifices but no one is denied an education if they want it. In this country and quite often the neediest. Have even a better opportunity than those who are not so needy because there are so many fellowships and scholarships. I didn't have to pay any college tuition I didn't have to pay any graduate school tuition. I had to take out a lot of loans which I paid until three years ago. But no one no one stopped me no one said you can't do this.
I picked one of the most impractical professions on earth and I managed to luck out to to get a job and then get another good job and end up here. It took hard work but it also has a certain amount of luck involved. You are paying college loans until you were 50. Yes yes I got into a particularly bad loan I'd rather not discuss. If I could start to give you the details everyone will think I'm probably the stupidest person on earth for having signed on the dotted line. Yeah I paid a percentage of my income and I ended up paying something like 3000 percent interest on when all was said and done. Well it's paid off maybe that's. Yeah it is it is just behind me now yeah let's talk oh we have somebody here calling on a mobile phone. Cell Phone Line 1 Hello. Yes hi I hope you can hear me yeah. In the middle of the monsoon season here in central L.A. I live in a car but very interesting story. As an 18 I'm 48 years old and actually grew up on the South Side of
Chicago. I think pretty close to the time you were down there so it was interesting to hear you talk. My question this morning to you talk about Castro and the revolution. I can remember going through the late 60s in the 70s and the young people kind of putting their arms around Che at that point making him a hero. And the posters of him and so on and so forth the kind of the counterculture from your perspective was he quite the hero now that we made him out to be or was he in fact part parcel of the whole. But no regime there is this. This annoys me to no end every time I see Cheney's face on a T-shirt because Che was a cold blooded killer a ruthless ruthless man who put his ideology before any other human being and he went got in his way. That was it.
He was competition for Fidel though Fidel has never liked having a number two person. And it's one of the reasons that she ended up in Bolivia was that fee dollars very glad to get rid of him. But he was not a good person by any definition of the term. Most of the people who wear his face on t shirt would probably if they lived under Chinese rule be in prison. That's the great irony. Well that's it's very refreshing to hear you talk about that and and I'm just wondering up from your point of view how do you think all of that. I mean it was quite prevalent. I mean if you remember in the 70s and you just think he was something that was kind of plucked out of the sky. Counterculture kind of put their arms around it Art Art I mean was there any how do you think that all came to be like that. Well it came to be because especially in the 60s and early 70s. The ideology which was at the heart of the Cuban revolution was the ideology that most of the young people especially the well better educated
people in the United States embraced which was you know total equality sharing of the goods trying to wipe out poverty trying to help the underprivileged trying to sort of level out society so that everyone would be on the same level. That was the aim of the revolution. But it was never achieved. That's the sad part and the little that was achieved was achieved through such cruelty that that's what most Americans and Europeans and even Latin Americans still don't understand. I was very very happy to see in a catalog that my teenage son received they were selling T-shirts and the Che Guevara T-shirt was right in between one for Homer Simpson and another one for Megadeth. And I think it also is the this is the ultimate. This is the all this where Che belongs next to Homer Simpson to have basic come. Everything comes around full circle. He was the star but can you tell me the story behind is how he died. He went to Bolivia to incite revolution and Bolivia and ended up
being getting caught by the Bolivian army with help from the CIA and he was killed. And actually the most famous photo of Che the one you see on T-shirts and mugs and so on this is when he was in Bolivia. Not not from Cuba. I see. All right well thank you very much. All right thank you thank you. To another caller here someone in southeastern Illinois on our toll free line line for Hello. Yes I was curious you said that most of your fathers and Cam and I went to art I believe. I just wondered. But it happened but. They are peaks. I don't know. When you left Cuba you had to leave absolutely everything behind. I left with two changes of clothing. That's all you were allowed to take out. They actually strip searched you to make sure you weren't taking out any valuables. When my father died he was in the process of actually trying to establish a museum. But I don't know what happened after he died. I have no idea. All
of it is gone. And in Cuba you can't have any private you don't have any property everything belongs to quote unquote the people. So they left them with him and you know if they have then I mean I didn't know. Now usually they wouldn't come in and confiscate what you had inside the house that you were living they could come and take your house away and give you another one if they thought that your house was too big for you. But no they generally didn't come and take things away from you right under your feet. But when you when you left you had to leave absolutely everything behind. Thank you and they inventoried everything to to make sure that everything was there on the day that you left. We have about seven eight minutes left. In this part of focus 580 talking with Carlos Eyre about his book waiting for Snow in Havana Confessions of a Cuban boy about his growing up in Cuba in the 50s about how he came to the United States won the National Book Award last year. It's now available in paperback published by Free Press.
I wonder how you you would react to what I'm sure would be the position of the Cuban government and perhaps some of its supporters that if if Cubans now are worse off than they were before Castro. It is not his fault it's not fault of socialism. It's basically because it is a state of war exists between it's not official but a state of war exists between Cuba and the United States and and it's because of persecution. Essentially by the United States that that Cubans are poor today. I had to laugh when I went to speak at the University of Wisconsin I was supposed to be sponsored by some Latin American Council or something but they they pulled away the sponsorship and said that they couldn't sponsor me because I was coming to represent represent the oppression of the Cuban people by the exile community. And I laughed and laughed at that one. The the claim being made by Castro and people who don't know any better that the embargo has caused this is is a bold
faced lie and it's a stupid lie too which is very easy to uncover. Cuba can trade with the rest of the world. Cuba can get whatever goods it wants from the rest of the world and United States is only one of several countries in the world that produces goods. The problem is that the economy in Cuba is totally centralized and totally under the control of the government. There is no room for private enterprise whatsoever and this is what has caused the country to decline as precipitously as it has. This is why there is no paint for the buildings whether there are no timbers why there are no steel rods This is why all the buildings are falling down and why people are starving to death very slowly is that everything is very tightly controlled in Cuba. So therefore the economy has collapsed and they can't trade with the rest of the world because they have crashed their own economy not because of the
embargo. And you don't have to take an economics course to figure this one out. Canada has been trading with Cuba nonstop since 1959. Cuba had access to all the same goods that Canadians have. But the government there chose to sort of stifle and strangle any initiative that is not part of the central planning and that creates chaos it creates instability and when something goes wrong it goes wrong and on a very large scale because most of the programs focus on creating one type of income like for instance for many many years Fidel was hell bent on having these massive amounts of sugar produced and that this was going to get the economy going but of course failure after failure just drove the sugar economy of Cuba further down the tubes and without help from the Soviet Union after nineteen ninety one
forget it. There's no way that they could pick up the pieces. Did you ever. I know I've read it and you've talked about the fact that you lived in Bloomington Illinois and you lived in Chicago and then and once you got into your academic career you were in Minnesota and now you're in New Haven where New Haven Yeah. Yeah. And that a lot of those places there weren't a lot of other Cubans so maybe you didn't have an opportunity to really get into any sort of local Cuban community I guess. I wonder did you ever. And we're coming down here I don't have a lot of time but did you ever think about involving yourself in in politics on that issue that is that the relationship between Cuba and the United States. No not really. What happened to me is very common among people my age who were scattered who were taken out of the South Florida Cuban community. I thought what had happened to me was more or less like a bad accident. I had to accept it and move on to something else.
The sweetest irony of all is that of course I buried all this I thought I had put it behind me. But I had it came bubbling up when I wrote this book.
- Focus 580
- Producing Organization
- WILL Illinois Public Media
- Contributing Organization
- WILL Illinois Public Media (Urbana, Illinois)
- AAPB ID
- With Carlos Eire (professor of history and religious studies at Yale University and the 2003 National Book Award Winner)
- Broadcast Date
- Talk Show
- Media type
Producer: Brighton, Jack
Producing Organization: WILL Illinois Public Media
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
Illinois Public Media (WILL)
Identifier: cpb-aacip-bbebc5250d6 (unknown)
Illinois Public Media (WILL)
Identifier: cpb-aacip-39da21966fd (unknown)
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
- Chicago: “Focus 580; Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of A Cuban Boy,” 2004-05-04, WILL Illinois Public Media, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed September 30, 2023, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-16-2v2c824p0s.
- MLA: “Focus 580; Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of A Cuban Boy.” 2004-05-04. WILL Illinois Public Media, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. September 30, 2023. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-16-2v2c824p0s>.
- APA: Focus 580; Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of A Cuban Boy. Boston, MA: WILL Illinois Public Media, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-16-2v2c824p0s