Tuesday, March 28, 2006


(This post is inspired by Jason Evans of "The Clarity of Night." I hope he likes it!)

In Havana, Cuba there is a giant graveyard that existed prior to the revolution. This cemetary is filled with extravagant homages to the dead. Along with these monuments go many stories. Here is one:

Amelia was buried with her child after they both died in childbirth. 15 years later, the bodies were dug up. The contents of her casket revealed a surprise. The infant, which had been buried on her mother's leg (as this was the tradition) was now being held in her mother's arms. This movement was dubbed "a miracle" and Amelia began to be regarded similarly to a saint.

Now, people visit her grave and ask for aid in sickness and other trials. These believers walk forward, knock on the gravestones to "wake" Amelia and then kiss, hug, give donations or flowers in exchange for their requests. No one ever turns and walks away though. It is said that one should never turn his back on a woman he loves, thus people are seen backing away instead.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Old Havana

In the arched doorway a man sits behind a crate covered in shoes. His sign reads “Just Do Me.” I ask if I can have a picture and he asks me where I’m from. “Soy de Los Estados Unidos.”

In perfect English the man replies, “I have been reading about the history of the United States. Have you heard of Helen Keller?” Si. “Is it true that she was deaf, blind and mute?” Es la verdad.

As the man begins to resole the shoes stacked on his in-bin he marvels at such talent. “Such amazing people!”

Having won his approval he commands me to take the picture. I pull out my camera and frame the scene. A man, his work and all of his potential boxed into a single square. One step backwards and it all fits. Smile and say “Queso!”

Smile and say Castro.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Going to Cuba!

I'm off to Cuba tomorrow (at the ass crack of dawn). I will therefore not be posting for the next ten days. I will, however, be learning a great deal about the Cuban economy as this is a school based research trip. I also hope to spend at least a little time enjoying the beautiful weather, scenery and culture. Have a happy spring everyone!

Saturday, March 04, 2006

I'm actually not trying to be controversial

(My goal, rather, is to point out a interesting observation I made a couple of weeks ago.)

We were reading Le Spleen de Paris (The Parisian Prowler) by Charles Baudelaire. Our class discussion led us to the fact that he had a mistress. This work was first published in the early 1860s. This affair would thus have been all the more gossip worthy because his mistress was a woman of color.

In itself, I find this information to be not all that shocking. What became interesting was what my professor said to describe the woman. As the discussion turned to poems such as Beautiful Dorothy he explained who this "Dorothy" might have been.

"At the time, it was commonly known that Baudelaire had an African-American mistress."

Excuse me?!? Did anyone else catch that? Baudelaire was French. He lived in France (as the French tend to). One dead give-away is the reference to the city Paris right in the title!

So what am I getting at? Well, "Dorothy" couldn't exactly have been African-American if she was French. African-French maybe, but I somehow doubt that's what the common phrasing was there, particularly at that time.

This brings me to my main point: I think we've gone well beyond the original intention of "Politically Correct." Personally, if I ever feel the need to discuss a person's skin color, I would generally call people who appear to be of African descent "black." I'm not trying to cling to the status quo. I use the more general term for accuracy really. Now if I were to ever be corrected, I'd absolutely change the terminology I used for the person requesting the change, but I prefer not to assume too much before I know that is the proper term for a person.

I think the civil rights movement took the United States a long way in the right direction. People know that to judge a person's "content" and "character" based on his or her skin color is wrong. Why then, do we accept that we can know a person's ancestry or native country based on this same criteria?

I discussed, recently, with a friend from Nigeria how he would feel if someone referred to him as "African-American." His response indicated that he would not be too pleased. And what about the many people living in the Carribean, or in Central and South America (or all over the world for that matter)? They are neither African nor American. We need to be careful how we use such terms. Perhaps they have gone from used to abused?

I have no problem with these politically correct terms. I will use them when I know they are accurate. I simply refuse to assume that much about a person when all I know for sure is that their skin indicates a heritage different from my own.