ast summer, I introduced Impromptus-ites to Youqin Wang, an amazing woman at the University of Chicago. She has dedicated her life to memorializing the victims of Maos Cultural Revolution: telling their stories, merely recording their names struggling against forgetting and oblivion. Her website is www.chinese-memorial.org. It bears the legend, We Will Never Forget You. Youqin is simply one of the most enterprising, bravest, and most admirable people Ive ever encountered.
After my original NRO item, I wrote a piece about Youqin for The Weekly Standard, published in their August 20/August 27, 2001, issue. When she was young, she got a hold of a copy of The Diary of Anne Frank. This is the book that inspired her to take notes on what was happening around her (and it was ghastly). She even addressed her diary as Kitty, just like Anne. But, unlike Anne Frank, she destroyed her jottings shortly after making them you could have been killed for what you said in your diary. A lot of people were.
Later, at Beijing University, she discovered Solzhenitsyn: read Cancer Ward, read one of the few copies of The Gulag Archipelago existing in China. That set her lifes course. She wanted to speak for the Chinese imprisoned, tortured, ruined, and dead, as Solzhenitsyn had for the Russian. She told me, I had the idea that I shouldnt waste my life. I had to make it useful. Youqin pressed forward with Anne Frank and Solzhenitsyn at her back and these are the two greatest chroniclers of the 20th century.
Why do I bring up all this now? The Chinese government has just blocked Youqins web memorial (as she calls it), in China. The PRC has a web police, which does its job effectively. You can get in trouble for even looking at a disapproved website.
This is a cruel blow to Youqin, for she has received many important and heartfelt e-mails from China from people telling her how her site had let them overcome fear and indifference; from people offering to help. One day, she hopes to write about the people who have helped her, as Solzhenitsyn did in his Invisible Allies, once it was safe.
Youqin wonders, Why does the government feel the need to ban a website having to do with the past? But then she remembers her Orwell: that those who control the past, control the future; and that those who control the present, control the past. She says that this is a perfect description of her predicament.
We will perhaps know that great change has come to China when the truth about mass murder is told and acknowledged.
Most of my readers know that Cuban propaganda is widespread that it has seeped into our media and into our culture. But even I can be amazed now and then.
So here I am, at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York, watching the American Ballet Theater. Theyre doing a Tchaikovsky Spectacular. Comes halftime, and I flip through the program and theres an article on the dancer Carlos Acosta. He is an Afro-Cuban.
Needless to say, the writer of the article is very interested in race and ethnicity, and she writes, Though Hispanic dancers are no longer rare in ballet . . . no one black and Hispanic has ever enjoyed Acostas acclaim, and none has starred in classics like Swan Lake and The Sleeping Beauty. If he hadnt grown up in Cubas racially mixed society, [Acosta] may never have had the opportunity . . .
There are a million things to say about this, after the initial retching, but let me continue with the ladys article.
She says, warmly, Cuba enjoys a great ballet tradition, which Fidel Castro fully supports. Consequently, any Cuban child can attend the state-supported ballet schools and receive good instruction.
One final quotation, before getting to some commentary: Cubans, who follow ballet like Americans follow baseball, began regarding [Acosta] as a national hero.
Actually, as a Cuban-American friend of mine pointed out, Cubans follow baseball like Americans follow baseball! They always have, too long before Communism. A small minority follows ballet, just as in any country, including Russia, the greatest home of the ballet.
But the womans last comment was her most innocuous just wishful thinking.
The lie that Castros dictatorship has been good for blacks is one of the great lies of the entire operation its been around since earliest days. It gained steam in the U.S. when Castro, on a famous visit to the U.N., decamped from a Midtown Manhattan hotel to the Hotel Theresa, in Harlem. Like Bill Clinton, Castro claims to feel at home in Harlem, and he is greeted tumultuously there always on the arms of local politicians, such as Congressman Charles Rangel, who never think that theres anything strange about democratic representatives providing cover for an absolute dictator.
I explored this business of Castroite racial propaganda in a March 6, 2000, article for NR, entitled In Castros Corner: A Story of Black and Red.
When our program-article writer says, If [Carlos Acosta] hadnt grown up in Cubas racially mixed society, he may never have had the opportunity to become a big dancer, she implies that Acosta would have been worse off in the United States. Im not sure I know a more striking example of the success of Castros propaganda in this country.
The dictator is, in fact, no friend to black Cubans. There are next to no blacks in his nomenklatura. There are a few tokens, but nothing serious. And, this being a Communist, anti-democratic country, the dictator and his coterie decide everything. Even Charlie Rangel has complained about the paucity of black Cubans among Castros elite. Rangel doesnt care much about the imprisonment, the torture, and the general oppression but affirmative action is something to get his heart stirring.
American liberals like to complain about a disproportionate number of blacks in U.S. prisons; they should see them in Cubas! And, of course, Cubans from the eastern provinces are prohibited from moving to the capital, Havana. Surprise, surprise: People in those provinces are largely black or mulatto. Dark-skinned Cubans are discouraged from taking jobs around tourists, too, lest the European visitors feel uncomfortable. Testimony from black Cubans is ample, for those willing to listen to it (which excludes most of the American media, and certainly article-writers for the American Ballet Theater).
This same Cuban-American friend of mine tells me, Your writers implication is that only through Communist dictatorship can full integration be achieved. But if you look at some of the multiracial democracies in the Americas (Brazil or Costa Rica, for instance), youll find that blacks have been able to excel in the arts just as much as in Cuba more, even, because they enjoy full artistic freedom. Its funny how Castros apologists always seem to forget about the rest of Latin America when extolling the virtues of Communist culture policy in Cuba. You would think Costa Ricans or Brazilians would take offense!
You may know of the Afro-Cuban singer Celia Cruz, much honored in this country. She entered Cubas National Music Conservatory in 1949 ten years before Castros seizure of power. She escaped to the U.S. shortly after that seizure, in 1960. Her favorite award? Her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. She says, [People from] President Ronald Reagan to hundreds of illegal aliens wrote letters requesting [that she receive a star]! And her dream? To return to Cuba.
There are a lot who feel that way.
So, is Castro proud of his National Ballet and does he use it for propagandistic purposes? Of course. Dictators always do. Hitler had his booming arts; so did Stalin. Hitler was addicted to Bayreuth, returning to it again and again, honoring its greatest stars. Bayreuth and German opera were for him almost a religion. The critic Manuela Hoelterhoff is writing about all this in a book to be titled Hitlers Summer Seasons. And Stalin! He, too, was a great patron of the arts, showing up in concert halls and other artistic venues repeatedly. Lets go back to our program-article writer and alter a few words: Russia enjoys a great ballet tradition, which Joseph Stalin fully supports. Consequently, any Russian child can attend the state-supported ballet schools and receive good instruction.
Folks, there tend not to be any schools in Communist countries that arent state-supported. Thats the whole point of Communism. Private dance academies in Cuba which were flourishing, and extremely important were abolished by the Communists.
Dictators are friends to some artists, and enemies to others it all depends (on the willingness or ability of the artist to resist, for one thing). There have always been official artists Leni Riefenstahl was a prominent one. If youre interested in the subject of Cuba and artists generally, I would direct you to an article by Agustín Blazquez, found here . He wrote it in the wake of the immense popularity of The Buena Vista Social Club. It is extraordinarily eye-opening. It is also written with some bitterness a bitterness not in the least unjustified.
Blazquez notes, During the apartheid and Pinochet eras, people-to-people cultural exchanges were not fashionable. Many South African artists were not allowed to perform in the U.S. and a South African musical had to close after its premiere on Broadway due to protests. American performers abstained from performing in South Africa and Chile during those years for political reasons, because of their opposition to dictatorship. (Remember, I Aint Gonna Play Sun City?)
It is a source of endless agony to Cubans and Cuban-Americans that our culture despises all dictatorships except Castros. Sometimes they ask me why. I have a hard time answering.
One further note from Blazquez: Cuban-American actor Andy Garcia made a documentary in 1994 titled Cachao [about a legendary musician known by that name (real name, Israel Lopez)]. While there is a proliferation in the U.S. of films made in Cuba and documentaries about Castros official artists, have we ever seen Garcias documentary in a major film festival or on PBS?
Good point: Lets see it, yall.
The story of the persecution of pro-democracy, pro-human-rights Cuban artists is little known. I think of the trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, who received asylum here in 1990. He is what our media and surely our program-article writer would call a Miami right-winger, or an anti-Castro extremist, or a zealot. Translation: He thinks people ought to live in freedom. Sandovals official biography says, His struggles while in Cuba and since his defection have given him . . . energy and strength, urging him to accomplish and surpass his childhood dreams.
So, our program-article writer: the one obviously smitten with a dictators love of the ballet; the one who could write, Cuba enjoys a great ballet tradition, which Fidel Castro fully supports. One wonders what Carlos Acosta, the dancer, thinks. Of course, Cubans here, with family there, are decidedly not free to speak their minds and hearts: The dictator has hostages. Its easy to brush off propaganda, such as that disseminated by the program-article writer but its not easy for me, as you know. Castros lies are so thick in the air of this country that they can hit you even when youre trying to enjoy the ballet.
Hang on, Im not done theres no escaping it. Yesterday, I was leaving the Metropolitan Museum, having seen the Renaissance Tapestries exhibit (one of the greatest shows ever staged in New York say those who should know). As I was making my way to the exit, I passed a huge photograph of Castro, taken sometime in the 1970s, by the look of it, by a Japanese photographer (whose name I did not bother memorizing). It was a grossly hagiographical photo, a worshipful one and there it was, hanging in this free countrys finest museum.
I tried to think of a Cuban passing it. Of the son or niece or cousin of a political prisoner passing it. We dont have glowing, loving photos of other merciless dictators hanging in our museums. Castro is the sole exception. As Ive quoted Jeane Kirkpatrick as saying, indifference, or outright hostility, to Castros victims is both a puzzling and a profoundly painful phenomenon of our times. And as I cant stop quoting Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart as saying, For the life of me, I just dont know how Castro can seem cute after forty years of torturing people.
Would you like to see a perfect expression of the American left-wing mindset regarding U.S. Cuba policy? Pat Oliphants cartoon couldnt say it better: The U.S. president is but a puppet of thuggish Miami right-wingers. George W. Bush is not motivated in the least by principle. He would be in Castros bed, along with everyone else, if not for the political importance of Dade County.
First, this is obscene, immoral, and all that. But second, as I have written before, there is no great risk in being, or in being perceived as being, anti-Cuban in Florida. I suspect that the anti-Cubans among them black Floridians and other Hispanics outnumber the Cubans.
Oh, and, by the way, Oliphant was the cartoonist in my hometown newspaper, the Ann Arbor News, as I was growing up. For all I know, still is.
Liberals are always saying what a wonderful job the Communists have done with health care and literacy. Its false, of course but when liberals say, Mussolini made the trains run on time, they say so with a sneer. Castro is a dictator who definitely cannot make the trains run on time Cuba is a backwater. And yet, the liberals never sneer except at the exiles.
You have heard what George W. Bush said about Cuba (for a refresher, go here). Among other things, he said, Today, and every day for the past 43 years, [the] legacy of [Cuban] courage has been insulted by a tyrant who uses brutal methods to enforce a bankrupt vision. That legacy has been debased by a relic from another era, who has turned a beautiful island into a prison. Bush continued, [Castro] is a dictator who jails and tortures and exiles his political opponents. . . . [But] through all their pains and deprivation, the Cuban peoples aspirations for freedom are undiminished. Etc.
Okay, you heard that. And you heard what President Jimmy Carter said about Cuba.
Now hear this. This is Carter in an interview last year: I dont think that George W. Bush has any particular commitment to preservation of the principles of human rights.
What I think is that Bush has a surer sense of human rights than Carter, who thinks he invented them.
It may be too much to hope for, but Ive always hoped that Tiger Woods will be able to hold the line on race that he will stick to his guns in presenting himself as an American, and stay out of the racial morass. I wrote about this last year in Tiger Time and quoted Woodss big Media Statement, designed to explain my heritage. Tiger vowed that the Statement would be the final and only comment I will make regarding the issue. He said:
Oh, but they wont let him. No, they wont. The pressure is always on to be more racial, more ethnic. We can see this in a piece on ESPN.com, titled, Will Tiger Ever Show the Color of His Stripes? The title says it all. They cant stand for him to be an American, a golfer, a human being: He has to be a race man, or a multi-race man, or a race spokesman. They they the racial agitators will never, ever, ever, leave him alone, till the day he dies. Can he resist them? It would be a miracle.
I must end this grim Impromptus with something nice. Wanna hear a touching story? It is to me. I heard it from a music-critic friend of mine, this very night. His uncle introduced him to music, long ago. When my friend was five, the uncle took him to the Metropolitan Opera the old Met to hear Wagners Flying Dutchman. After the overture that great, stirring orchestral piece, which everyone loves the uncle leaned over to the five-year-old and said, Its all downhill from here.
Says my friend, I became a critic that night.