Like most modern corporations, Buick has a slogan: The Spirit of American Style. Like most corporate slogans, it is nearly vacuous: do Buicks show any more American style than any other American automobile brand? Not really.
But when I think of the modified 1959 Buick that recently departed the shores of Cuba to cut through the waves of the Gulf of Mexico, carrying its eleven passengers towards America, and freedom, "spirit of American style" seems almost right. Unquestionably, the Cubans who sailed the open seas in a Buick demonstrated the Style of the American Spirit.
But did the U.S. government show that same spirit when it sent the Buick down to Davy Jones, or when it shipped eight of the eleven "autonauts" back home to oppression in Cuba?
The answer is a definite no.
Yearning to Breathe Free
Most Americans cheered when they saw pictures of that '59 Buick navigating towards Florida.
Part of that cheering was for the sheer ingenuity of sealing up a Buick and attaching a propeller to its drive shaft.
But most people realized that this was something more significant than a stunt for Ripley's Believe It Or Not. These Cubans really wanted to live in America. We cheered because we agree: better to leave one's own country than to live the life of a slave.
America is where you go to be free. The three families who sailed the Buick certainly know this, perhaps even more than most Americans.
After all, Luis Grass Rodriguez and his friend Marcial Basanta Lopez, the Buick's clever re-engineers, had tried before, last July. They had tricked up and sailed a 1951 Chevy truck, but had been nabbed by the U.S. Coast Guard and then repatriated.
This time they squeezed more people aboard. But they were again stopped by the Coast Guard. And again the Coast Guard scuttled their craft. Unmanned, it posed "a hazard to navigation," you see.
Manned, however, it was no threat at all. After shooting at it and flooding it, it still wouldn't sink. Eventually, the Coast Guard had to ask the Cubans for help. They suggested lighting it on fire. That was one seaworthy Buick!
The Spirit of Collaboration
These Cubans show the American spirit, we like to think; their ingenuity demonstrates a real can-do style.
So why does the U.S. government not share in our celebration of this spirit? Well, the government is not just people. It's a set of customs and treaties and compacts all mashed together. And not all the building blocks of our government are created equal. Not by a long shot.