In Praise of Exile | The Americano
It appears that in our lamentable state of historical amnesia and cultural dissolution, the simple act of remembering the past has become a heroic act.
Today there is much idle talk about undocumented immigrants coming to America and Europe. Unfortunately, most of the theatrical noise and dust that is being raised by this topic comes from politically correct opportunists who could care less about America, respect for the law of the land or the illegal immigrants that they claim to care about.
None of these fashionable and timely humanists dare to cite the official number of people that are legally allowed to enter the United States annually. Unfortunately, this hot-botton topic can no longer be confronted and discussed by citing facts and the abundant data that we possess today. That is, the exercise of reason has been made impotent by the aforementioned ideologues.
Consider that during 2011 1,042,625 people became permanent residents of the United States. A large percentage of these people were in the U.S. illegally.
During 2011 only 73,293 people were granted refugee status in the United States. The three leading countries that made up the bulk of those seeking refugee status in the U.S. for that year were: Iraq, Burma and Bhutan. 4,818 of these refugees were from Communist Cuba.
My family arrived in Miami in December 1970. The temperature on that memorable day was 39˚ F. This was symbolic of the great changes that we were to encounter in America.
After serving five and a half years as a political prisoner under Castro’s Communist police state, my father was very lucky to be claimed by an aunt and uncle who had lived in the U.S. since the mid 1950s. His crimes: He was a practicing Catholic, and he and my mother refused to live and raise children in a Communist country. Because he filled out an application to be granted U.S. residency, this immediately made him a persona non grata; an enemy of Cuba’s Communist government. You see, In order to have the opportunity to enter the United States from Cuba legally in those days, one had to be claimed by a relative.
We came to America on one of the Freedom Flights that Lyndon B. Johnson established in late 1965. Between 1959, the time of Communist take-over of Cuba, and 1962, over 200,000 Cubans fled the Communist island on small boats and makeshift rafts. This number does not take into account all of those who perished trying to cross the Florida Straits. During 1965 alone 149, 000 Cubans left the island through what has come to be called the Camarioca boatlift.
Undoubtedly, this mass exodus of refugees signaled a massive response to the oppression of the Communist government that Castro installed in Cuba. Besides being a major embarrassment for those who forged the so-called Cuban “revolution” with a hammer, this exodus also meant a long lasting brain drain, and the subsequent decline of a sound and honorable work ethic that Cuba has never enjoyed again under the guise of the “new socialist man.”
After taking notice of this steady exodus of Cubans, including many defections, President Lyndon B. Johnson took the Dictator, Fidel Castro, to task for saying that no one wanted to leave Cuba.
On October 3, 1965 Johnson embraced the plight of the Cubans who desired to leave by saying, “I declare to the people of Cuba that those who seek refuge here will find it.” This was the start of the Freedom Flights. The flights lasted from 1965 to1973. In those eight years over 250,000 Cubans gained their political freedom via the two-a-week flights.
In addition, between December 1960 and 1962, over 14, 000 children ages 6 to 17 were sent to the U.S. by their parents in what was called Operation Pedro Pan. These children were taken in by churches and private schools and then placed in private homes throughout the U.S. Parents preferred to send their children to America alone, than have them become the scourge of Communist indoctrination and forced induction into the Cuban armed forces.
At the time, Cubans held the optimistic notion that they would soon reunite with their children and other loved ones in the near future. Aside from the sinister intentions of the Castro brothers and their criminal lackeys, few in Cuba imagined the strong-arm, terror-state that they would be forced to live under. Remember that before and right after Castro took power in Cuba, he insisted that he was not a Communist, but rather a humanist.
Equally important to the saga of Cuba and the plight of its citizens under a Communist dictatorship is the steady flow of those who risked their lives on makeshift boats and rafts, thus called “balseros” (rafters), up until the late 1990s.
Another decisive mass migration of Cubans seeking refugee status in the U.S. was the Mariel boatlift of 1980, when 125, 000 Cubans began arriving in the U.S.
Of the thousands of people that reach American shores every year, few can be considered political refugees. People come to America because they recognize that she can provide them with a better life. This hardly comes as a surprise to these immigrants or those who truly understand the possibilities that America offers.
Yet most immigrants to America are not political refugees. That is, they are not fleeing state-sponsored oppression. The political circumstances and ethos of political refugees is a genuinely unique life-experience, especially when compared to those who come to America for reasons of economics and who seek a better standard of life.
Ideologues who fail to understand the shattered lives and frail psyche of political refugees should consider the reality of living under totalitarian regimes before making lazy and intellectually dishonest comparisons between these two types of newcomers to America.
Political refugees are quicker to assimilate into American life than those who merely come to America due to economics. There is tremendous evidence available that clearly demonstrates how political refugees have a higher index of contribution to American life than other immigrants.
There is much to respect and admire in the plight of political refugees. To become exiled from one’s land involuntarily should never be confused with the free-for-all migration that we are so accustomed to witnessing in our world today.
The existential longing of exiles, whether Russians fleeing to Paris and London in the 1920s, Polish exiles to America in the 1940s or Cubans reaching American soil after 1959, make for vibrant and soul-searching political refugees. This aspect of human suffering ought to be respected as an exceptional example of what happens to people who lose their language, cultural identity and personal liberty under monstrous, totalitarian regimes.
Also, we should not forget that the suffering of political exiles comes about as the direct consequence of the radical ideologues who continue to experiment with the human condition and man’s imperfectible nature, and the anti-utopian social-political reality that this gives rise to.
Dr. Pedro Blas Gonzalez is a writer and philosopher who holds a Ph.D. in Philosophy. He has written Human Existence as Radical Reality: Ortega y Gasset’s Philosophy of Subjectivity; Fragments: Essays in Subjectivity, Individuality and Autonomy; and many other books. He also has a personal blog.