The Dangers of Humanizing a Hero

Veronica Vega

Photo: Narinder Sandher

HAVANA TIMES — I have always said it would be a good start to start knocking down all of those gypsum busts that are up, not only in schools, but in parks, companies, even bakeries and all over the country, in order to really start honoring Jose Marti.

Pseudo-cultures where the patriot’s face is unrecognizable sometimes, which pop up wherever someone thought to put up a pedestal for who Fidel called “the intellectual author of the attack on the Moncada Barracks”.   

The authentic man, the excellent poet, the politician who was worried about the Cuban cause who didn’t act to impress, and would have serious political problems if he were living among us today, there’s no doubt about that.

The controversy today that the movie “Quiero hacer una pelicula”, by Yimit Ramirez, censored at the XVII Havana Young Filmmakers Festival, has unleashed, proves that the poet’s soul can no longer take the crushing pressure of marble, gypsum and manipulation.

The event organizers’ excuse for justifying the censorship was that “a character talks about Jose Marti in an unacceptable way” in the movie.

As I haven’t seen the movie, the only things I know about it come from articles I’ve read on alternative media sites. It seems that there is a scene in which the two protagonists argue about Marti and one of them calls him a “turd” and “faggot”.

In the face of such impudence, the institutional response was:

“An insult to Marti, whoever says it and in whatever context, is a matter that not only concerns the ICAIC (Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry), but all of our society and everyone who shares his values in this world. It isn’t something that can be simply accepted as an expression of artistic freedom.” Read by Roberto Smith at a function that replaced the movie screening, the statement also rejected “any display of disrespect towards patriotic symbols and our main historical figures.”

The director of the movie whose ban, which has of course made the public curious and raised their expectations, clarified, on his Facebook page, that he discovered Marti outside of “school books, walls and news programs, “in Maximo Gomez and Antonio Maceo’s letters who criticized him and called him “effeminate”, “a Marti who took shits and liked hash.” (…) And also that, “when I decided to leave that scene in the movie, I felt that attacking him was, given our current situation, the best display of affection…”

Foto: MIa Marinkovic

And he added: “Oh, how beautiful it would be! How beautiful it would be to live somewhere where we can all speak our minds and react on the spot, without pretending and pretending to pretend… ! (…) Why does everyone have to like Marti, obligatorily? “Why the Cuban trogon, the palm leaf, the emblem, the hymn? Why so much unreality, rigidity and innocence?”

I don’t know whether it’s because I belong to an older generation but I would have preferred him to have taken this hero off his pedestal without resorting to insults, but I understand that in the sway of the pendulum, every taboo gets thrown onto the opposite side.

And why not? Because Cuba’s young people, children and elderly can’t express themselves freely about a man who himself once said: “I’m a horse without a saddle, I don’t receive laws from anyone and I don’t impose them on anyone!”

Why the commotion, if the edition and distorsion of Marti’s words and ideals (which is allowed greatly) and the infestation of busts where all of the hero’s humanity has been stripped from him, are the worst insult?

Veronica Vega

Veronica Vega: I believe that truth has power and the word can and should be an extension of the truth. I think that is also the role of Art and the media. I consider myself an artist, but above all, a seeker and defender of the Truth as an essential element of what sustains human existence and consciousness. I believe that Cuba can and must change and that websites like Havana Times contribute to that necessary change.

One thought on “The Dangers of Humanizing a Hero

  • As are all of yours, this article is very thought provoking. Two primary trains of thoughts immediately came to mind.

    The first regards my preparations for traveling around Cuba to create a documentary photo project about the people of Cuba. My intent, which I accomplished, was to photograph “everyday citizens” in every province in Cuba.

    Part of my preparation for traveling around Cuba was to read works by José Martí because it was my understanding people in Cuba and Cubans who had departed for the U. S. all agreed that Martí was the most important person in Cuban history. I do not speak or read Spanish but I was able to find a sufficient number of his works translated into English to gain an understanding about why Cubans hold Martí in such high regard.

    Ultimately, I used the following quote from “Three Heroes” as the basis for the title of my project: “In the world there must be a certain amount of honor and respect, just as there must be a certain amount of light.” The title of my project became, “A Certain Amount of Light: Faces of Cuba.” My purpose at this time is not to promote my project but, if anyone is interested, a short version of my project may be viewed at https://www.socialdocumentary.net/exhibit/Michael_Whitaker/165.

    From the very beginning, during my eight trips to Cuba I often have wondered about the numerous busts and statues of Martí in every city, town, village and hamlet. I believe the words of Martí are so powerful that the abundance of busts and statues seems at times to almost minimize or trivialize the importance of his messages not only to Cuba but to the world. With or without busts and statues, José Martí always will be a towering monument to all of civilization. Nothing should distract from that reality.

    My second thought relates to my experiences in the late 1960s and early 1970s while protesting the U.S. war in Vietnam. I was very opposed to the war and, consequently, was active in trying to convince other people to oppose the war.

    In 1971, in downtown Memphis, Tennessee, there was an anti-war protest planned to try to share the anti-war message with what many considered to be a large group of “mainstream,” middle-class, working Americans who did not oppose the war. Much to everyone’s amazement, there were hundreds of people in business clothes gathered around the podium to hear the anti-war message.

    Ted, a former Vietnam veteran with whom I had gone to high school, was a primary organizer of the demonstration and, subsequently, was the first speaker. For whatever reason, Ted decided to begin his presentation by shouting out the beginning lines of the 1967 song “Next Stop Vietnam” by Country Joe and the Fish. A link to the song follows but the song begins by screaming out, “Give me an F! Give me a U! Give me a C! Give me a K! What’s that spell? Fuck! What’s that spell? Fuck! What’s that spell? Fuck!” (The link to the song is https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8qPUJhy0Dz4.)

    By the time Ted finished screaming out “Fuck” the third time, there probably were only a few dozen persons left in the crowd. Everyone else was offended by Ted’s presentation and went back about their own business. Many were furious that Ted, with his screaming presentation, had wasted a prime opportunity to present the anti-war message to so many people who otherwise may have never listened.

    Ultimately, sometimes people seem so concerned about providing a “shock element” to their message that they overlook that the “shock element” may prevent their ultimate message from being heard. I am not familiar with the movie in your article but I find it extremely difficult to believe the director considers injecting the words “turd” and “faggot” into the dialogue as essential to communicating his message. As it turns out, it now becomes more difficult for the director’s message to be heard by large numbers of people.

    Fifty years ago I marched in the streets to protest injustices. After all these years, I still believe, if I have something I sincerely believe is really important for people to hear and understand, that I have responsibility to make sure my message is heard by as many people as possible. Stated otherwise, what purpose does my important message serve if my behaviors (shocking or otherwise) prevent a maximum number of people from encountering my message? There is much to learn, know and understand without putting up unnecessary obstacles. If you will permit a variation on a theme by Shakespeare, “to our own message must we be true!”

    Again, I appreciate this article. Even at my age, having thoughts provoked is a wonderful experience.

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