Saturday, August 27, 2011

Pablo Milanes concert: Confused, conflicted, exhausted

Posted on Friday, 08.26.11

Pablo Milanes concert: Confused, conflicted, exhausted

Lately it seems that the summer months in Miami are accompanied by
suffocating humidity, erratic hurricanes that conjure up nightmares of
Andrew and political maelstroms provoked by concerts by musicians from
the forbidden island — Cuba.

This year being no different, you can fill in the blank with your
favorite expletive to describe the heat, we were just missed by Irene
and tonight, one of post-Castro Cuba's most identifiable troubadours,
Pablo Milanés is set to take the stage at a packed American Airlines Arena.

If you are as confused, conflicted and exhausted with the media
circus surrounding these "cultural exchanges" as I am, then you can drop
a few spicy curse words here, too — preferably in Spanish, as I find
cursing in Spanish relieves more stress.

Far be it for me, the eternal contrarian, to channel popular sentiment,
but today I feel that I am writing for the hundreds of thousands of
Cuban Americans — the silent majority that the media, including this
newspaper, seems to consistently leave out of the equation. Perhaps the
reason our views are not depicted is because our thoughts are
contradictory and far from homogeneous.

While objectivity and fairness are not completely absent from my
reasoning on this issue, I concede that my thoughts are influenced by
the blinding residue of Cuban exiles' legitimate plea for justice.

In cases such as this Saturday's performance, the latter half of my
hyphenated identity becomes burdensome. My nation's Constitution
guarantees freedoms for those whose views are diametrically opposed to
my own, and thus I defend Milanés' right to freely sing his songs — yet
my Cuban heart aches for I fear that the pain endured by the victims of
Cuba's totalitarian regime (which Milanés has hailed) are slowly being

And it is precisely there, between Milanés' melodies and the echoes of
the protesters' just supplications that my allegiances and those of
thousands of other Cuban Americans are divided.

For me, Pablo Milanés, Silvio Rodríguez, Irakere, and Los Van Van were
part of my post-revolution Cuban discovery. The part my grandparents
and parents did not teach me.

I, like thousands of other children of exiles, rebelliously sought this
music. I remember purchasing records from Cuba in a store in Hialeah
that stashed its Cuba collection in a nondescript section that was in
the back. Whenever I would walk out with a few albums, it felt like I
had just scored some illicit narcotic.

It was a forbidden fruit in Miami of the '80s.

The music of Cuban artists from the island served as a catalyst for
family discussion. On a predictably muggy summer afternoon sometime
during my early 20s, I remember my Mom coming into my car and listening
to a Pablo Milanés song titled Son Para Despertar una Negrita (Song to
Awaken a Little Black Girl). It is a song Milanés wrote about the
naming of his daughter Haydee after Cuban revolutionary pillar, Haydee

The song is poetic and poignant, and it produced an hours-long family
conversation that yielded tears of frustration and forgiveness. After
the earnest, yet painful, exchange, I understood better my mother's
hurt, and she comprehended my need to discover.

With time, I have learned to separate the music from the politics. This
is by no means an easy feat. I am  blessed to live in a country that has
afforded me the right and the space to appreciate art for art's sake.

I will not be at the American Airlines Arena tonight as Pablo Milanés
serenades a Miami audience for the first time. The burden of my mother's
tears still weigh heavily on my conscience, yet I recognize it is an
important event for this city and for Cuba.

Not today's despotic Cuba, but the Cuba my parents dreamed of. A place
where rights are respected, and the provocative lyrics of a good song
can lead to an enlightening conversation like the one my Mom and I had
so many years ago.

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