Thanks for inviting me to remember this time, the age of anxiety, to share repressed memories from repressive times.
My search for self began in 1992 with many hours at the Library, reading old documents. That same year I made my first journey to the forbidden island. My writing changed to incorporate new realities, different dimensions. They reveal that painful negotiation of identity and culture and values that confront all immigrants. The process was particularly difficult because I was born in 1949…. THE AGE OF ANXIETY. If most americans were anxious, imagine growing up Cuban in a small town in the Deep South with revolutionary grandparents in the McCarthy era!
In the 1950s, our little black and white television provided instruction on how to behave americano. In our TV jackets with TV dinners we studied hard! But those narrow hips and thin lips and Betty Crocker pies would not fit, no matter how hard we tried. They seemed obsessed with getting things white. In black and white we watched Southern policemen use dogs and hoses to stop human rights. We watched in horror, the caravan of bloody limousines. And Ricky Ricardo’s stupidity did not prepare us for Fidel and Che.
But there were points of connection too:
Marilyn Monroe’s hips; she must have a Cuban dressmaker. Elvis Presley shaking his ass. Splendor in the Grass (Warren and Natalie) -- She goes insane, he moves to a trailer with a Mexican wife. Tenessee Williams’ flawed characters. Marlon Brando in a dirty t-shirt.
Zorro! or Guy Williams? Cha Cha Cha on American Bandstand. Beatniks with berets. Kennedy the Catholic and his exotic wife. Bob Dylan and Joan Baez.
Bernstein’s West Side Story, Romeo and Juliet in Spanish Harlem. Even with Natalie Wood as Maria, offered hope. He crossed the border into the barrio and noticed: “I like to be in America” but…
I like my new washing machine,
What will you have left to keep clean?
I Like to be in America,
Everything free in America
Everything right in America
If you’re all white in America”
BEFORE THE BEATLES THERE WAS SOUL ON WTMP-
THE BROWN SPOT ON YOUR DIAL
Bob Dylan and Joan Baez
And his exotic French-style wife, la Jacqui
Democracy offered Lady Birds with Goldwater
Middle class women going mad in suburbs
Children terrorized by phantom communists.
Immigrant blue collars turned white
Latinos and Blacks are invisible (see the TV guide)
The suburban women and terrorized children
crossed the tracks
to dance with “the Others”
In Free Speech
They packaged America to the poor nations:
wealthy, powerful, democratic and blonde.
The poor nations saw violence and racism:
after all, who dropped the bomb?
February 19, 2002. Speech delivered at Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center: Tribute to Leonard Bernstein