A version of Mercedes Soler's column, which first appeared in El Nuevo Herald, answering Ana Menendez' attacks on the exile community, has now been published in The Miami Herald. Perhaps this was done to put Ms. Menendez on notice that her screeds will no longer go unanswered, that there will at least be an attempt to balance the opinions expressed in The Miami Herald. Perhaps. We'll be watching.
CUBAN AMERICANSH/T to 26th Parallel and Babalu
The exile debate: Add and multiply, never divide
BY MERCEDES SOLER
I do not consider myself a reactionary person. Nor do I allow myself to be carried away by what society considers politically correct. I try to analyze beyond frivolities before I take a position. I am not interested in attacking persons or groups. I prefer to adhere to the motto of José López-Neira, a 90-year-old reader who writes to me daily and signs off saying: ``Add and multiply; never divide.''
I consider that my 20 years in journalism give me the authority to speak about the responsibility required by the right to free expression. I defend the free press, a fundamental pillar of democracy. Opposing, controversial and dissenting opinions must have a place in any open society. But cannibalism long ago ceased to be tolerated in a civil state.
In a recent column, my colleague Ana Menendez offends the Cuban-exile community. She trivializes the suffering, sacrifice and struggle represented by our 48 years in exile; she stains the memory of the 41,700 people who, according to The Cuba Archive, lost their lives because of the Castro government, plus the other thousands of men and women who have served and continue to serve prison sentences for demanding the freedom of expression she so frivolously squanders. She also embraces the communist rhetoric when she addresses us as the Cuban Mafia.
She orders us to swallow our pain. All this she does in English. Because if her parents hadn't been exiles, she probably would not have been born in the United States and would better understand her forefathers' history.
It is not my place to reply in the name of the exile community, the community of my parents and hers. Instead, I do so in the name of our own generation, the one in which she obligatorily was born or reared, kept away from her ancestral land because those old people -- the ones she today calls tired, dispossessed and reduced to pathetic acts of self-parody -- once were brave enough to leap into the void, abandon their loved ones and start a new life without money or knowledge of a new language.
Those same old-timers, in the most tragic of cases, even sent their children to Miami by themselves, in Operation Pedro Pan, just so their children could have -- like she now has -- the opportunity of thinking freely.
For those who prefer not to delve deeply into the meaning of the word exile, which not even remotely approaches the word immigrant, we Cubans here are an easy target of ridicule. Not a day goes by that I don't hear another Hispanic fake a Cuban accent and mockingly spout an ''oye, chico, qué volá,'' [''Hey, man, what's happening''] to conceal rivalry behind solidarity. Everybody wants to unseat a winner.
The fact is that the Cuban community, most of it, has come to the United States to integrate into its educational, labor and political processes. According to U.S. Census Bureau statistics, we Cuban-Americans represent almost 4 percent of the 45 million Hispanics in this country. Yet, our average annual income is higher than that of Anglos, and more than 50 percent of the wealthy Hispanics in this great nation are Cubans.
Our influence is palpable in the media, science, the arts, finance, Congress, the Senate, the country. And all this was forged in fewer than 50 years, under adverse conditions. We could have achieved more in a democratic Cuba.
Throughout the years, I have read with admiration, even devotion, the writings of many English-language columnists. Anna Quindlen of Newsweek speaks to my condition as a woman. Ana Veciana-Suarez touches my heart as a mother. Dave Barry puts me in touch with the girl inside me.
Leonard Pitts is my conscience in the face of racial injustice. And when Pitts, a Pulitzer Prize winner, deals with the negative aspects of the African-American community, he does not engage in mockery or vituperation. He broaches it with brotherly concern.
To criticize the nostalgia of the generation of Agustín Tamargo, Guillermo Cabrera Infante and so many others who live or died clinging to the idea of a democratic and sovereign Cuba is an act of cruelty. It is not a question of agreeing or disagreeing with those who want to boycott something that offends them, but to acknowledge that they have a right to do so here, knowing that in Cuba that act would land them in jail. To criticize those who are not brave enough to face off multinational corporations is simplistic. The exile community has defied Benetton, CNN, the Melia hotel chain and many others.
For someone named Menendez and someone named Soler to come to blows over this is fratricidal. A bitter postscript to another May 20 -- Cuban Independence Day -- in exile.
This column was published originally in El Nuevo Herald.