All the “POPS!” and “BANGS!” from fireworks had my single (for the time) mother edgy. Firing-squads had been murdering thousands of Cubans ‘round the clock. Other thousands of Cubans waged a lonely and hopeless guerrilla war against the massively-armed forces of Soviet proxies Che Guevara and the Castro brothers. (All this 90 miles from U.S. shores.)
All those bombs and gunshots were only months distant on July 4th 1962--the Fontova family’s first Fourth in the U.S. We landed in south Louisiana, deepest darkest Dixie. Castro’s propaganda constantly hammered that such areas of the U.S. were infested by "gun and religion-clinging people with ingrained antipathy to people who aren't like them." In the following five decades this dovetailing of Castroite and Democratic “talking points” became very noticeable to Cubans in the U.S.
But refugees can’t be choosy. New Orleans 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 directors and screenwriters. 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 have much time to indulge in things like despair. She was alone in a strange country, a penniless and friendless political refugee, 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 of the time 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.
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.