Cubans in Obama’s Inauguration
Cubans have left and continue to leave an indelible mark in this country with their extraordinary talent. In show biz, the first name that comes to mind is Desi Arnaz, who won the hearts of the American public with his portrayal of Ricky Ricardo in the weekly TV comedy show I love Lucy. In music, all one has to say is azúcar and the name Celia Cruz will be shouted back. Another important musician of Cuban extraction is Gloria Stefan. To read more about these and other names in the same and other fields, I recommend the book The Cubans: Our Legacy in the United States by Fernando Hernandez, available on Amazon (www.amazon.com).
Cubans have shined not only in the fields of entertainment, music, and sports, but also in politics. Three Cuban-Americans have been elected to the U.S. House of Representatives (two Republicans from South Florida and one Democrat from New Jersey). The involvement of Cubans in politics, however, is not a recent phenomenon. During Richard Nixon’s administration, Cuban Charles (Bebe) Rebozo, although not active in public office, was known as the President’s close friend and advisor.
Recently, two Cubans have grabbed the spotlight because of an invitation by President Obama to participate in his inauguration program. Rev. Luís León, Episcopal Priest, has been asked to say the closing prayer and Richard Blanco to serve as the official poet, an honor bestowed upon African American poet, Maya Angelou, at Obama’s first inauguration. Blanco is the only Hispanic and the youngest to serve in the role of “official poet” at a presidential inauguration.
The reaction among Cubans to Obama’s invitation has been mixed. Those with strong Republican leanings find it distasteful, particularly in the case of Rev. Luís León, who fled Cuba at the age of 11 and participated in the Pedro Pan program*, an effort in which the Catholic Church played a leading role with support from the US government to offer refuge to Cuban children arriving in this country without their parents. These Cubans believe Obama’s presidency shows evidence of socialism; some even call it a dictatorship not unlike the regime we left behind and feel strongly that we as Cubans should not support this American President in any way.
Cubans who see themselves as liberal Democrats, on the other hand, view Obama’s choice as the President’s desire to ease relations between this country and Cuba, and as reflection of his views in favor of marriage equality and women’s rights. The Episcopal Church, unlike the Catholic Church, accepts gays and women into the priesthood, ergo the invitation extended to Rev. Luís León, Episcopal priest, and to poet Richard Blanco who is openly gay. These liberal Democrats view their compatriots’ participation in the inauguration as something of great pride and believe that the president is saying thanks to a group that rallied behind him during his re-election campaign.
Both sides of the Cuban equation offer strong arguments. Neither will change its views. The purpose of this blog is not to pit one side against the other, but to point out an important fact. When I arrived in Miami in 1962, the town was a sleepy retirement community and Cubans were viewed as intruders and regarded with contempt. In a few years, however, Cubans were responsible for turning Miami into a thriving metropolis, and today Cubans are everywhere, leaving their legacy in every facet of American life, even when our participation causes discord among ourselves.
How do you feel about Rev. Luís León and poet Richard Blanco participating in Obama’s inauguration?
*My own experience with the Pedro Pan program is the subject of my recent memoir.