The American people's love affair with Cuban music, artists and "things Cuban" was nowhere more evident than in Los Angeles at the Hollywood Bowl, Sunday, July 15, 2001! To attend this event, "A Night in Old Havana", I had to make a pilgrimage from Miami!
At the outset, I must say that I disagree with the disruptive actions taken by the Cuban exile community whenever a Cuban artist is invited to perform in Miami. The First Amendment applies as long as it does not infringe on the rights of other people. It seems to me that once in America, the Cubans in Miami should behave like any other immigrant group. All other immigrant groups blend in and do not behave unduly fanatical about issues concerning their homeland. They do not abuse the privileges of being a United States resident or citizen. If Dr. Fidel Castro Ruz is their enemy because of atrocities they suffered in a revolution under his dictatorship and they wish to seek restitution, this should be addressed in their homeland. Other residents of Miami, who seek only to enjoy a simple concert, should not have THEIR freedoms limited by the reactionary politics of the powerful Cuban exile community here. Isn't that a form of cultural dictatorship?
The recent decision to move the Latin Grammys back to Los Angeles after an attempt to host this event in Miami proved the point that nothing has changed in the 40 years since Castro's revolution. Not in Miami and not in Cuba, where Dr. Castro is still the undisputed leader of his country and his people.
In an article from the LA Times dated Saturday, August 25, 2001, Maria Elena Fernandez , a Miami native, even went as far as to veiled threat as she gave her perspective on the relocation of the Latin Grammys by Mr.Mr. C. Michael Greene, president and chief executive of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. Referring to the estimated 80,000 Cubans living in Southern California, Maria wrote, "Although there is some hard-line opposition, the exiles in this area have been generally supportive of Cuba's musicians for several years, and are in favor of having them showcased and acknowledged at the Latin Grammys. But don't be mistaken: The Cubans here cherish their freedom above all else. Don't be surprised if, on Sept. 11, some of them decide to show you just how much."
Why don't they cherish my freedom? I bet Maria Elena is happy that she lives in Los Angeles where she can experience the freedom of being able to go to any concert she desires. A freedom, she and I cannot enjoy here in Miami.. I am happy that I had the privilege of attending the very memorable event at the Hollywood Bowl before her article was published. Its hint of possible unrest would have put me on edge and ruined my ability to enjoy the event. Having lived for the past 25 years in the constant shadow of similar veiled threats in Miami, I have learned to take them seriously. Thankfully the Cuban community in LA is not as easily swayed by such threats.
So, on a warm, clear evening in July, I was able to attend, without fear of insult or injury, the wonderful concert, "A Night in Old Havana", in a packed-to-capacity venue, hosted by Mr. Tom Schnabel. The Buena Vista Social Club presented the Orquesta Ibrahim Ferrer with special guest Ruben Gonzalez, plus the Chucho Valdez Quartet. It was an evening where every concert-goer expressed happiness and enjoyment with the performance by their obvious pleasure and prolonged applause after each performance.
It goes without saying that artists from Cuba will continue to be nominated and to perform at The Latin Grammys. Indeed, they may be the biggest draw for the show, judging by their talent and world-wide popularity. Perhaps then it is fitting that the Latin Grammys will be hosted in Los Angeles, where these Cuban artists are made welcome all year round.
As for me, I am already planning my next pilgrimage to Los Angeles from Miami, to attend several upcoming concerts and art exhibits by artists from Cuba. Sure, it makes the cost of attending quite hefty for me but - what price freedom!