American Friends Service Committee
Patrica Watson, Editor
Sara Burke, Assistant Editor
Pat Farren, Founding Editor
2161 Massachusetts Ave.
Peacework has been published monthly since 1972, intended to serve as a source of dependable information to those who strive for peace and justice and are committed to furthering the nonviolent social change necessary to achieve them. Rooted in Quaker values and informed by AFSC experience and initiatives, Peacework offers a forum for organizers, fostering coalition-building and teaching the methods and strategies that work in the global and local community. Peacework seeks to serve as an incubator for social transformation, introducing a younger generation to a deeper analysis of problems and issues, reminding and re-inspiring long-term activists, encouraging the generations to listen to each other, and creating space for the voices of the disenfranchised.
Views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily of the AFSC.
The Legend(s) of Saint Elian
Albert Boime is Professor of Art History at UCLA.
The image of a beaming Elian Gonzalez reunited with his smiling father will stand as a memorable icon in the controversy surrounding the curious experience of this six-year-old child as the passionate battle for his custody continues. By now an international sensation with his picture in every home and shop window, Elian combines the pixielike aspects of a Peter Pan with the gnomic antics of an Irish Leprechaun. That he's white and cute makes his case even more compelling for this society, since cute black kids from Haiti are obviously persona non grata. His image transcends the helpless mortal creature and has attained symbolic and heroic status on both sides of the Florida Straits. Yet it is ideology that transforms his waiflike image into an icon of power as both sides wrangle over the superiority of their moral and political positions. The offensive video image of a Republican representative of Florida wrapping Elian in the American flag was only the latest in a series of insults to Cuban national pride. Actually, the revolution's diehard enemies make Castro look good by encouraging reflections on the revolution's history and exposing themselves as diehard Batista-lovers.
On the flip side of the Feds' rescue operation, the photograph of the black-helmeted, begoggled agent pointing his automatic weapon at the fisherman who rescued Elian and the terrified child in his arms will also constitute a major relic in some future pictorial archive. Janet Reno's strategy was well-intentioned and probably necessary, but the conspicuous visibility of the assault weapon must delight the NRA, and underscores the USA's continuing role in world politics as Top Gun. It seems as if the solution to every problem is looking down a gun barrel at a cowering enemy, a national ideal that tragically appeals to all age groups in our society.
In any event, the two images together will conjure up a bizarre moment in US-Cuban relations that can only assume mythic dimensions in the years to come. Already the photograph of the goggled-eyed INS agent has been labeled by protesters in Miami as an example of "Federal Child Abuse," and when he is finally returned to Cuba guess what image will be featured in the kind of procession normally arranged for conquering heroes?
It is easy to predict that eons from now these two images will be venerated in sacred shrines dedicated to the memory of St. Elian, the focus of a worldwide religion that will have spread to the farthest reaches of outer space. Naturally, some doctrinal differences will characterize the religion in diverse regions of the universe. Let us imagine we are enabled by the miracle of technology to eavesdrop on the priestly oratory at the unveiling of the latest statue of St. Elian--a ceremony during which the origins of the new religion in the land known as Little Havana are recounted.
Long ago in a time known as the Information Age there was an uproarious showdown between Good and Evil, incarnated by the mighty divinities "Avuncular Sam" and "Infidel Castro," who contended for world domination. The dwarfish antagonist to the South was no match for Avuncular Sam of the North and his mighty arsenal; but nevertheless, Avuncular Sam felt the threat from his puny rival in his gut. Avuncular Sam could not tolerate the least irritant so long as it offered an alternative to his volatile economic system.
Avuncular Sam's struggle was abetted by noisy monsters and lesser deities, occupying the tiny independent land Little Havana within Sam's kingdom, who battled the nasty colossus ruling over Big Havana ninety miles away in the deep blue sea. The struggle was complicated, however, by the fact that Little Havana and Big Havana were linked by ties of kinship and marriage and many families were divided between the two lands.
What had led to the original breakup was Infidel Castro's attempt to transform his domain into a beautiful paradise. He began by sharing it equitably with his people, providing universal medical and health care and drastically reducing the infant mortality rate, decreeing low or zero rent for housing, offering free public education to attain universal literacy.
But those who owned the better part of the land resisted the sacrifices
they were called on to make and fled from Big Havana to Little
Havana where they uttered a mighty war cry and swore eternal vengeance
against the hideous Usurper. Avuncular Sam, who spotted a singular
opportunity to discredit his foe, welcomed them with open arms
and took up their cause. The long years of relentless hostilities
persisted without destruction of the Tyrant, causing great dismay
in the ranks of Little Havana who hopelessly envisioned the struggle
lasting for all Eternity.
Myth of the North
One day a group of discontented mortals tried to fly from Big Havana to their relatives in Little Havana with wings made of albatross feathers affixed to a frame with wax, but the blazing Florida sun melted the wax and they fell into the sea and were drowned. Miraculously, a bright-eyed child emerged out of the ocean riding on the back of a dolphin with the aim of bringing salvation to the beleaguered Little Havana. He told them there was no need to continue the fighting, that the Infidel Castro was willing to grant them peace in exchange for food and fuel to feed his people. The noisy monsters in Little Havana, belching forth fire and flames, suspected a trick and accused the mighty Infidel of using the child to advance his own interests. Little Havana's sharp-toothed demons Lazaro and Marisleysis kidnapped the child and claimed that he was being restored to his Rightful heritage in the Land of the Free and the Brave. The child, paraded before the multitude and showered with fun and games by the demi-gods, momentarily forgot his mission. When a mortal named Juan Miguel, claiming to be the child's father, broadcast a plea for the return of the child, he was accused of harboring the sinister political beliefs of his Master, the Bearded Ogre of Big Havana.
Meanwhile, Avuncular Sam's right-hand goddess, Auntie Janet, whose tender heart was filled with compassion when she beheld the gallant parent, slipped out of her palace at early dawn in the disguise of an INS agent, and under cover of darkness entered the prison where Elian was confined and delivered him from his captors. A photograph taken after his rescue depicts a beatified tot held up for view by Juan Miguel, looking to all the world like the Christ child in the arms of a proud Saint Joseph. Haloes could be clearly glimpsed radiating above their heads. News of his delivery angered the Demons of Little Havana who promptly accused Avuncular Sam of reneging on his sacred principles and staging the photograph to appeal to Easter pilgrims. Avuncular Sam, who wondered what they meant, only chuckled when he heard this accusation.
In Big Havana, a ground swell of gratitude towards Avuncular Sam
for rescuing Elian led to a revolt of the lesser gods against
Infidel Castro and they wrested the Crown from the malevolent
Colossus who was banished in humiliation to a remote section of
Big Havana named Guantanamo. Then they offered to merge Big Havana
with Little Havana, to Avuncular Sam's great delight. This
miraculous event elevated the child Elian into sainthood and the
focus of the new religion named Elianism that now dominates the
universe. Periodically, in his name, the upstarts rose up to vanquish
anew the dread fourfold specter of Leftism, Castroism, Communism,
and anti-Capitalism. Bowing to the inevitable, Big Havana acknowledged
its sins and was converted en masse.
Myth of the South
The Southern branch subscribes to a different story with the names of the protagonists changed to "Carbuncular Sam" and "High Fidelity Castro." According to this version, the snatching of Elian backfired on Little Havana and revitalized the dormant dream of Big Havana by sparking a massive show of support in favor of his immediate return. Every day there were festivals and ceremonies conducted in Elian's honor, and the people called upon the heavens to avenge Carbuncular Sam's ruinous Big Havana policy, which had caused Elian's plight. The crass materialism by which Little Havana tried to win Elian over was held up to ridicule as an example of Carbuncular Sam's deficient world view.
Meanwhile, frustrated Little Havana raised such a violent storm
of protest that the earth trembled, the waters boiled in the seas,
and the hills came crashing down. A powerful hurricane was unleashed
that swept up the entire community at the peak of its fulminations
and swiftly carried it across the sea right to the center of Big
Havana. The rude impact so jarred their faculties that the dazed
newcomers sustained almost complete loss of their collective memory
of the post-1959 era, and the two groups reconciled under the
aegis of the boy/saint to found a Reform Movement within Elianism.
A confused Carbuncular Sam, pressed by the spread of the new religion,
lifted the embargo against Big Havana and the dream of paradise
was again restored. St. Elian was called upon to work his powerful
charm and restore High Fidelity Castro to youth and vigor and
the most exciting social experiment of the ancient period was
finally realized. Although schismatic memories persisted and the
different tales were retold again and again, the fourfold curse
of Capitalism, Consumerism, Corporatism, and NRAism was completely
routed, and Little Havana disappeared from sight to replace in
legend the Lost Atlantis.