ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
the world I was brought up in was quite primitive
Books on Cuba
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By Michael Smith
Fidel Castro: My Early Years by Fidel Castro, with an introductory essay by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Edited by Deborah Shnookal and Pedro Alvarez Tabio. Ocean Press, Hoboken, N.J., 1998. $14.95
This book is a compilation of interviews and speeches by Fidel concerning his early childhood and youth. Although most of the selections have been published previously in other books and periodicals, they have never before been brought together in one volume.
An interview with Fidel by Colombian journalist Arturo Alape is published here in English for the first time. The book also contains excerpts from a discussion with a Brazilian priest, Frei Netto, which was previously published by Ocean Press under the title “Fidel and Religion.”
The time period explored in the book ranges from Fidel’s childhood to 1952, when Gen. Batista took over the Cuban government in a coup and Castro launched the July 26 Movement, with plans to spark a popular uprising against the dictator. Along the way, it deals with Fidel’s university years, his training in the liberation movement for the Dominican Republic, his political activities in Colombia, and his first study of Marxism.
Fidel’s father, Angel, the son of a very poor farmer from Galicia, Spain, was drafted to fight in Cuba in 1895 during its last war of independence. He then emigrated to the island at the turn of the century. Penniless, he got himself a job at a sugar mill; illiterate, he taught himself to read and write.
Later, he got a group of workers together in a small enterprise that worked for a U.S. firm to clear land in order to plant sugar cane and to fell trees to supply sugar mills with firewood. He built an all-wooden house in the Galician style, on stilts, in the north-central part of what used to be Oriente Province on the eastern end of the island.
Fidel remembers his father as “a extremely kind man” who “never said no to anyone who asked for help.” Fidel’s mother, Lina, was Angel’s cook. Her parents had come to Oriente Province by oxcart, 600 miles from the other side of Cuba. She became Angel’s second wife; he had had three children by his first wife and seven more with Lina. Fidel was the third oldest of their union.
Lina, too, was illiterate and also taught herself to read and write. She lived until three years after the 1959 revolution. Angel died in 1956 while Fidel was in Mexico organizing the expedition that traveled to Cuba on the motor yacht Granma and successfully took on the U.S.-armed Batista dictatorship.
Raised in rural poverty
The Castro family lived in the country on a farm in an area with no cars, muddy roads, and no electricity. The farm animals lived under the house-turkeys, geese, ducks, pigs, guinea fowl, chickens, and 20 or 30 cows, which were tied to the stilts.
A small slaughterhouse and a small smithy were close to the house, as was a bakery. A small public elementary school was 60 meters from the house, as was a general store, telegraph office, and a post office. This was the set-up in 1926 when Fidel Castro was born.
Fidel remembers summer vacation “when we went swimming in the rivers, running through the woods, hunting with slingshots, and riding horses. We lived in direct contact with nature and were quite free during these times. That’s what my childhood was like.”
The farm area where Fidel grew up was not exactly a town; there was no church in the small population center, and 15-20 children went to the tiny school, Fidel’s nursery school. He played indiscriminately with the children of the rural farm workers, white and Black, Cuban and Haitian, mostly poor. “They were my friends.”
Because he was smart and had a talent for learning, Fidel was sent to live with a family in Santiago de Cuba when he was 4 1/2 years old. He had yet to receive any religious training or to be baptized, a omission which caused him to be called “the Jew.”
His mother was a fervent believer who prayed every day. Fidel’s grandmother was also deeply religious, believing fervently in Our Lady of Charity, Cuba’s patron saint. His mother and grandmother also believed “in several saints who were not in the liturgy, including St. Lazarus, the Leper.”
Fidel remembers that “the world I was brought up in was quite primitive, with all kinds of beliefs and superstitions, spirits, ghosts, and animals that were harbingers of doom … for example, if a rooster crowed three times without getting an answer, that meant some tragedy might occur.”
After the triumph of the revolution in 1959, Fidel went to visit his family in Havana: “The room was full of saints and prayer cards … both my mother and grandmother made all kinds of vows on behalf of our lives and safety. The fact that we came out of the struggle alive must have greatly increased their faith. … I never argued with them about these things because I could see the strength, courage, and comfort they got from their religious feelings and beliefs.”
Fidel remembers that he was never religious. He rejected the dogmas that were imposed on him, believing instead that religion should be the product of thought and feeling.
He spent two years with the family in Santiago, “just wasting my time.” The family took the money paid to them by Fidel’s parents but little trickled down to the young student. He went hungry and “was spanked every so often.”
Fidel found his experience of hardship “useful” in the sense that he used it to “launch” his “first act of rebellion” and successfully argued with his parents to get himself sent to a boarding school, where “I began to be happy.”
The food improved and he got out on Thursdays and Sundays for breaks. But some of the teachers sometimes hit the students. A monitor in charge “hit me with a fair amount of violence. He slapped both sides of my face. It was a degrading and abusive thing.” This was in the third grade.
In the fifth grade, a teacher hit Fidel in the head twice. “A violent confrontation” ensued. Fidel decided not to go back to that school and instead convinced his parents to let him go to Dolores College, a Jesuit school, as a day student.
He reflected that while he was not against discipline, “children have a sense of personal dignity” and hitting them “is monstrous and unacceptable.”
Fidel was then tutored by a Black woman, who was the first person to ever encourage him. She set goals for him and got him interested in studying.
He was 10 years old and credits her as the person in his life who came closest to being his mentor. He began to get excellent grades.
Training with the Jesuits
The Jesuits were Spaniards, politically reactionary supporters of the dictator Franco. “I think that the traditions of the Jesuits and their military spirit and organization go with the Spanish personality. They were rigorous, demanding people, who were interested in their students, their character and behavior,” Fidel remembers.
Although he rejected the Jesuits’ religious teaching, he said that “later on I formed a belief and faith in the political arena.”
Fidel developed into an outstanding athlete, particularly in basketball, soccer, and baseball. The Jesuits encouraged hikes and mountain climbing, risky and difficult activities, which they thought developed an enterprising, tenacious spirit. They never dreamed they were training a guerrilla.
The school was an upper-class institution, attended by children of professionals as well as those of the very rich bourgeoisie, who had an aristocratic spirit. Fidel’s family, who lived in the country amongst poor people and who worked every day, gave him a lesser social status.
Fidel thinks that this prevented “the misfortune of acquiring that class culture, mentality, and consciousness” that would have made it difficult for a person to have “escaped bourgeois ideology. “
“Humans,” Fidel concluded, “are the product of struggles and difficulties. … Problems gradually mold a person in the same way that a lathe shapes a piece of material-in this case, the matter and spirit of a human being.”
Castro developed a sense of justice-what is fair and unfair-and as sense of personal dignity. The Jesuits, he said, “valued character, rectitude , honesty, courage, and the ability to make sacrifices.”
First readings about socialism
Castro went to Belen College, the most prestigious high school in Cuba. He studied capitalist political economy and drew socialist conclusions, “imagining a economy that would operate more nationally.”
He was a supporter of Jose Marti’s ideas in high school and “always wholeheartedly identified with our people’s heroic struggle for independence in the past century.”
Then, in his junior year, he read “The Communist Manifesto.” It “had a particularly significant impact on me” because of the “simplicity, clarity, and direct manner in which our world and society are explained.”
After all, Fidel noted, “you don’t need a microscope or a telescope to see class divisions that mean that the poor go hungry while others have more than they need.”
“Who could know this better than I, who had experienced both realities and who had even been, in part, a victim of the two? How could I fail to understand my experiences, the situation of the landowner and of the landless, barefoot farmer?”
Fidel became a popular student leader both in college and in law school, where he was elected student body president. In law school he read Lenin’s “Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism” and “State and Revolution,” and “had a full revolutionary outlook, not just in terms of ideas, but in terms of how to implement them.”
His main contribution to Cuba, he believes, was figuring out how to combine Marx and Marti.
Before he organized the failed attack on the Moncada barracks in 1953, Fidel had participated in two other actions. He joined an expeditionary force in Cuba that was to sail to the Dominican Republic to mount an offensive against the dictatorship there. The plan failed but Castro was the only soldier not captured. He opted to get away by undergoing a long ocean swim.
Next, at age 22, in 1948, he organized on the international scene. He traveled to Panama, Venezuela, and finally to Colombia, the site of the founding conference of the Association of American States, in order to expose the OAS as an instrument of American domination.
While he was in Colombia, the popular leader and probable next president, Gaitan, was assassinated. Fidel managed to get arms and to join the popular upsurge.
The masses were defeated, being leaderless and without political education. He says that 11 years later, in Cuba, things happened differently.
The U.S. government opposed Castro even before the revolution. From the beginning and to date, they have tried to assassinate him, physically and morally. According to common wisdom, he is a cruel dictator, even worse than Qadaffi, or the current demon, Saddam Hussein.
Others believe Fidel Castro to be a great leader of humanity and a great humanitarian-an extraordinary person, the likes of whom is rarely seen over the centuries.
It is thus of interest to read about Fidel’s early years, for surely, as the poet Milton understood, “Childhood shows the man as morning shows the day.”
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My Early Years opens with a brief biography and a “personal portrait” by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Editors Shnookal and Alvarez Tabio draw their first selection, “Childhood and Youth,” and fourth piece, “Preparing for Moncada” (Castro’s unsuccessful 1953 attack on the Moncada army garrison in Santiago de Cuba), from Castro’s May 1985 discussion with Brazilian priest Frei Betto. In “University Days,” Castro’s September 1995 speech at the University of Havana recollects the period when he attended that law school and first became involved in politics. Castro explained his experience in the April 1948 popular uprising in Bogota, Colombia, in a September 1981 interview with Colombian journalist Arturo Alape. Includes photographs of Castro as a child and young man.
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Talk by Dagoberto Rodriguez,
Chief of the Cuban Interests Section.
Wednesday, March 26 at 6:30pm
Documentary film at
The Charles Theater in Baltimore
Friday, March 28,
Medgar Evers College Film & Culture Series presentsChallenging Imperialism!
Film Short Documentary – ‘LEST WE FORGET’
Film Screening ‘FIDEL’ Directed by: Estela Bravo
community discussion lead by Scholar Activists:Dalani Aamon – Author, Lecturer Rosa Alicia Clemente – Organizer, JournalistLouis Reyes Rivera – Poet, Essayist
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Wednesday, March 26 at 6:30pm, CUBA TODAY talk by Dagoberto Rodriguez, Chief of the Cuban Interests Section. He will address our community at the Hodson Hall 10 on the Johns Hopkins University Homewood Campus.
Mr. Rodriguez is the highest-ranking Cuban official in the United States. The Institute for Global Studies in Culture, Power and History is co-sponsoring this event with the Baltimore-Matanzas Sister City Association, the Maryland-Cuba Friendship Coalition and other organizations. The event is free and open to the public. For more information, call 410-516-7794 or 410-381-4899.
OPENING FRIDAY MARCH 28TH premier showing of the documentary “FIDEL” at The Charles Theater in Baltimore. For more information check: www.thecharles.com
2002 USA Dir. Estela Bravo. 91m In English. Unrated.
As Fidel Castro nears 44 years as the leader of Cuba, there are many who see him as a champion of the poor and powerless and others who say he is a ruthless dictator. Dismissed as a relic or revered as a savior, all agree that Fidel Castro is one of the most influential and controversial figures of our time. Rarely are Americans given a chance to see inside the world of this socialist leader. The new documentary film by Estela Bravo, FIDEL, offers a unique opportunity to view the man through exclusive interviews with Castro himself, historians, public figures and close friends, with footage from the Cuban State archives.
Alice Walker, Harry Belafonte, and Sydney Pollack discuss the personality of the man. Former and current US government figures including Arthur Schlesinger, Ramsey Clark, Wayne Smith, Congressman Charles Rangel and a former CIA agent offer political and historical perspectives on Castro and the long-standing US embargo against Cuba. Family members and close friends, including Nobel Prize-winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, offer a window into the personal life of Fidel. Bravo’s camera captures him swimming with bodyguards, visiting his childhood home and school, joking with Nelson Mandela, Ted Turner and Muhammad Ali, meeting Elian Gonzalez, and celebrating his birthday with members of the Buena Vista Social Club. Juxtaposing the personal anecdotal with the history of the Cuban revolution and the fight to survive the post-Soviet period, FIDEL tells a previously untold story and presents a new view of this powerful and compelling figure.
Leslie P. Salgado, Chair Howard County Friends of Latin America P.O. Box 94 Columbia, MD 21045 Voice: 410-381-4899
‘FIDEL’ Directed by: Estela BravoA documentary focusing on the political impact Cuban leader Fidel Castro has on the world, going into his relationship with Che Guavara and others struggling for independence, such as Ho Chi Minh and Nelson Mandela. Starring: Fidel Castro, Harry Belafonte, Angela Davis, Muhammad Ali, Alice Walker. Followed by a community discussion lead by Scholar Activists:Dalani Aamon – Author, Lecturer Rosa Alicia Clemente – Organizer, Journalist Louis Reyes Rivera – Poet, EssayistThursday, March 27, 2003
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Cuba An African Odyssey is the previously untold story of Cuba’s support for African revolutions.
Cuba: An African Odyssey is the story of the Cold War told through the prism of its least known arena: Africa. It is the untold story of Cubas support for African revolutions. It is the story of men like Patrice Lumumba, Amilcar Cabral, Agosthino Neto and of course Che Guevara who have become icons, mythical figures whose names are now synonymous with the word revolution. This is the story of how these men, caught between capitalism and communism, strove to create a third bloc that would assert the simple principle of national independence. It is the story of a whole dimension of world politics during the last half of the 20th century, which has been hidden behind the facade of a simplistic understanding of superpower conflict.
Cuba: An African Odyssey will tell the inside story of only three of these Cuban escapades. We will start with the Congo where Che Guevara personally spent seven months fighting with the Pro-Lumumbist rebellion in the jungle of Eastern Congo. Then to Guinea Bissau where Amilcar Cabral used the technical support of Cuban advisors to bleed the Portuguese colonial war machine thus toppling the regime in Europe. Finally, Angola where in total 380,000 Cuban soldiers fought during the 27 years of civil war. The Cuban withdrawal from Angola was finally bartered against Namibias independence. With Namibias independence came the fall of Apartheid the last vestige of colonialism on the African continent.
Cuba: An African Odyssey unravels episodes of the Cold War long believed to be nothing but proxy wars. From the tragicomic epic of Che Guevara in Congo to the triumph at the battle of Cuito Carnavale in Angola, this film attempts to understand the world today through the saga of these internationalists who won every battle but finally lost the war.
Credits: Written, directed and narrated by Jihan El-Tahri / Edited by Gilles Bovon / Photography by Frank-Peter Lehmann
Sound Recordists: James Baker, Graciela Barrault / Produced by Tancrède Ramonet, Benoît Juster, Jihan El-Tahri
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By Michael Casey
Illustrated. 388 pages. Vintage Books. $15.95
Casey, Buenos Aires bureau chief for Dow Jones Newswires, tap dances across history and the globe to examine intellectual property and iconography through the lens of the famous image of Che Guevara captured by fashion photographer Alberto Korda. Some say that only the famous photograph of Marilyn Monroe, her skirt rising as she stands over a subway grate, has been more reproduced, writes Casey. The author does not neglect the relevant biographical details or history, but his focus is Che as a brand. He wants to understand why the Korda image remains so compelling to such a wide variety of people and how it continues to represent so many different (and differing) causes; he suggests that the power of Che, the brand, is in its ability to be anything to anyone. The book can feel like a disorderly amalgam of travelogue, visual criticism, biography and reportagefragments befitting a study of globalized culture. Readers interested in the impact of visual culture or in better understanding the elusiveness of intellectual property rights, particularly in a global marketplace, will find much food for thought. Publishers Weekly Reminiscences of the Cuban Revolutionary War
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For July 1st through August 31st 2011
#1 – Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark #2 – Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree #3 – Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane #4 – Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper #5 – Stackin’ Paper 2 Genesis’ Payback by Joy King #6 – Thug Lovin’ (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark #7 – When I Get Where I’m Going by Cheryl Robinson #8 – Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby #9 – The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane
#10 – Covenant: A Thriller by Brandon Massey
#11 – Diary Of A Street Diva by Ashley and JaQuavis
#12 – Don’t Ever Tell by Brandon Massey
#13 – For colored girls who have considered suicide by Ntozake Shange
#14 – For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree
#15 – Homemade Loves by J. California Cooper
#16 – The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper
#17 – Player Haters by Carl Weber
#18 – Purple Panties: An Eroticanoir.com Anthology by Sidney Molare
#19 – Stackin’ Paper by Joy King
#20 – Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey
#21 – The Upper Room by Mary Monroe
#22 Thug Matrimony by Wahida Clark
#23 – Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark
#24 – Married Men by Carl Weber
#25 – I Dreamt I Was in Heaven – The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter
#1 – Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable #2 – Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans #3 – Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane #4 – Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper #5 – Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You’re Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant #6 – Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey #7 – The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight #8 – The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing #9 – The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson
#10 – John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History by Ahati N. N. Toure
#11 – Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley
#12 –The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
#13 – The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell
#14 – The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore
#15 – Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can’t Commit by RM Johnson
#16 – Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins
#17 – Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell
#18 – A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle
#19 – John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard
#20 – Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris
#21 – Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice
#22 – 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino #23 – Chicken Soup for the Prisoner’s Soul by Tom Lagana #24 – 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields
#25 – Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class by Lisa B. Thompson
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Edited by Miriam DeCosta-Willis
Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a collection of fourteen essays by scholars and creative writers from Africa and the Americas. Called one of two significant critical works on Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late 1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of Carter G. Woodson and Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an historical context for understanding 20th-century creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone writers, such as Cuban Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist, and scholar Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the significance of Negritude in Latin America. This collaborative text set the tone for later conferences in which writers and scholars worked together to promote, disseminate, and critique the literature of Spanish-speaking people of African descent. . . . Cited by a literary critic in 2004 as “the seminal study in the field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which most scholars in the field ‘cut their teeth’.”
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By Melissa V. Harris-Perry
According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel. The selfless Mammys behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own familys needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.
Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.
As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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update 8 November 2008