Humberto Fontova
When Cuban refugees by the thousands landed amidst "gun and religion-clinging people" with ingrained "antipathy to people who aren't like them," the potential for trouble was enormous. When young southern Americans just starting the travails (and joys) of careers and families suddenly found masses of excitable foreign-tongued, octopus-eating strangers applying for jobs besides them, working besides them, worshiping besides them, moving in next door--the potential for trouble was enormous.

In our case especially. In 1961 shortly after the Bay of Pigs betrayal we landed in New Orleans, deepest darkest Dixie. Worse, the city then hosted a huge NASA project, attracting blue collar workers from surrounding states, Texas, Alabama, Mississippi. Here's backwoods states synonymous with hate and murderous bigotry--and here's the social class most prone to it.

After all, Peter Fonda says Easy Rider was gunned down here. Oliver Stone says JFK's murder was hatched here. Showcasing its villainy is a long-time fetish of Hollywood screenwriters and casters. We'd be lucky to get a welcome with mere tar and feathers. Firebombs and nooses were more likely.

My father was one of Castro's tens of thousands of political prisoners at the time, listening to the gallant Che's firing squads every dawn, wondering when his turn would come. My mother wondered too, but she didn't much time to indulge in things like despair. She was alone in a strange country, penniless and friendless, with three kids to somehow feed, shelter and school. Two nephews were also under a death sentence after fighting to the last bullet at the Bay of Pigs. (Actually, we had it relatively easy. Most Cuban refugee families can relate stuff ten times as hair-raising and heartbreaking.)

But a knock on the door in those early days and a burly stranger visible through the window wasn’t exactly comforting. We hadn’t been living in the humble apartment complex for long when it came. We peeked through the window, "AHHH!! Is that a WHITE HOOD?!!

No, it's Mrs Jeffrey from next door with her bleached blond bouffant.

"And what's she carrying?-- AAAHHH!! Is that a shotgun?! A rope?! A bomb?!"

No. It's a basket of fried chicken. And that's Mr. Jeffrey behind her. He's coming to offer help translating that job application.

The Jeffreys were originally from Texas. To liberals the place probably denotes religious nuts in Waco and sadistic yahoos dragging people to their death behind pick-up trucks. To us it's Mrs. Jeffrey with her big basket of food, and more importantly, with her big Texas smile. A few days later she took my mother shopping with her. Next day she consoled her during another sob-fest.


Humberto Fontova

Humberto Fontova holds an M.A. in Latin American Studies from Tulane University and is the author of four books including his latest, The Longest Romance; The Mainstream Media and Fidel Castro. For more information and for video clips of his Television and college speaking appearances please visit www.hfontova.com.