I had an interesting conversation with Kurt today. I have been afraid to speak up about some ideas I have because I fear they will be deemed to idealistic or utopian. His kind response was: “You need to share those ideas. They are fundamentally who you are. The people who would criticize you will either not be reading somebody like you anyway or it just won’t make an impact on them, and those that do care and do understand may have the resources to help you do something.”
I recognize that I have a pervasive fear of saying what I **really** think. After my trip to Cuba in March this year with the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver it was abundantly clear to me that my parents, especially my mother, had suffered severe post traumatic stress disorder after leaving her family in Cuba in the 1960s that none of us ever spoke of and the key component of that disorder was our internalizing as a family the message: “there are dangerous consequences of speaking up; better to stay quiet.”
Very literally, my father was arrested for speech. He was arrested for being friends with the young man who owned the printing press that had printed pamphlets for the youth group at the local, rural Catholic Church. It was not an anti-revolutionary pamphlet. It was not something he actually did or said. Yet they were arrested and put before a firing squad. Through the intervention of my mother’s college friend, who wrote on their behalf to testify he really was NOT the regional director of any movement, they were released. Still, the random imprisonment and threatened penalty, were enough to send shockwaves psychologically through all of us for decades.
Just last week, for the first time in my life, my mother told me the story of walking in that day on the police, the equivalent of the “gestapo” she called it, as they went to arrest her. My mother, hilariously to me because all her life she has been a very strong woman, said to them: “You cannot arrest me! My father doesn’t even know where I am!” Some decency, respect for women, respect for fathers, something intervened and she walked right out and went home. Upon arriving, my grandfather informed her they had already been there and collected all her letters with my father and ransacked her uncle’s home. I never heard any of these stories growing up. I just know that I can look back and see it’s taken people close to me in my own life to say “speak up!” before I’ll actually do it.
Once I came to terms with my own fear, I realized perhaps the biggest lesson here is that there were people who behaved justly on this day just as there were people who behaved unjustly. While he should have never been arrested in the first place, there were people who behaved with justice and released him. That is why he is alive. I recognize that many others were not so lucky.
One of my brothers was upset with me for even going to Cuba in the first place. I studied Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution for this reason. I see that we are 11 million people who must find a way to deal with each other through justice one person at a time, recognizing that in “bad situations” there can be “good people” and that in what we perceive as “good” situations there can be bad behaviors too. I realize that to stop speaking as if nothing would happen for the absence of words, is the greater crime.
1/30/2015 note: When I first posted this, I titled it “Fear of Speaking Up” because FOR ME, I was moved to find that I myself had developed a fear of speaking up. What I was really interested in about this story, however, is the second half: the fact that in these complex situations like the Cuban Revolution we must recognize that there are behaviors that are “just” right alongside behaviors that are “unjust”. There is individual accountability, not just a big societal wave. That is true in every situation. To fail to acknowledge that is in itself unjust. Hence the new title.