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Vol. 71/No. 25      June 25, 2007

 
'A book that will be used
to learn to fight—and win'
Presentation of 'Our History Is Still Being Written' at
festival on 160 years of Chinese presence in Cuba
(feature article)
 
The following are remarks by Mary-Alice Waters at a three-day conference in Havana, Cuba, that was part of the May 30-June 2 festival marking “the 160th anniversary of the Chinese presence in Cuba” (see article in last week’s issue). She spoke about the book Our History Is Still Being Written: The Story of Three Chinese-Cuban Generals in the Cuban Revolution by Armando Choy, Gustavo Chui, and Moisés Sío Wong. Waters is editor of the book and president of Pathfinder Press.

Also participating in the June 1 event were two of the book’s three authors, generals Sío Wong and Chui.

The presentation below is copyright © by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission.

BY MARY-ALICE WATERS  
On behalf of Pathfinder I want to thank the organizers of this conference—especially compañeras Carmen [Eng] and María Teresa [Montes de Oca Choy], and compañeros [Gustavo] Chui and [Moisés] Sío Wong—for the opportunity to be with you here today to talk about Our History Is Still Being Written: The Story of Three Chinese-Cuban Generals in the Cuban Revolution.

I will say a few words about two topics. First, why this book is important in lands outside of Cuba. Second, why it has generated such broad interest, thus far especially in the United States.
 

*****

The interviews that eventually became this book were four years in the making. None of us thought when we started that the product of our labors would be a book of well over 220 pages. But the truth is that the story became more and more interesting as we went along. We couldn't stop.

Our History Is Still Being Written begins as the story of three young people who, like thousands of others of their generation, refused to accept the brutalities and indignities of life under the Batista dictatorship. They joined the struggle against it, and finally took up arms as part of the Rebel Army to destroy it. It is the story of how they themselves were transformed, how they accomplished things they never dreamed possible, as they fought—successfully—to transform the conditions of life for all Cubans.

But the book is more than even that, much more.  
 
Introduction to Cuban Revolution
It is an introduction to the Cuban Revolution.

We have seen how young people from all kinds of backgrounds, from countries around the world, identify with the three Cuban youth who they meet in these pages. Many can imagine themselves doing exactly the same things under similar circumstances.

Still, the book has touched a special chord among many Asian youth in countries like the United States, Canada, and elsewhere.

In part, this is because knowledge of their own proud histories of struggle in North America and elsewhere in the Asian diaspora has long been denied them. They are stunned to learn that between 1847 and 1875 almost the same number of Chinese arrived in Cuba as in the United States—at a time when the population of the U.S. was some 38 million, while the population of Cuba was 1.4 million. With that fact alone, they begin to understand the unusual weight and political importance in the history of Cuba’s revolutionary struggles of the Chinese who first arrived on Cuba’s shores as bonded labor.

In a popular way, the generals tell this story of Chinese immigration to Cuba, including the exemplary and singularly untarnished record of the battalions of Chinese workers who fought for independence from the Spanish colonial masters in the late 19th century. That struggle—inseparable from the battle throughout the Americas for the abolition of slavery, and the elimination of indentured servitude in all forms—was the crucible in which the Cuban nation itself was forged. As is often said here in Cuba—with pride—this is a nation that is one-third African, one-third Chinese, and one-third Spanish.

All three generals took part in Cuba’s internationalist mission in defense of Angola’s sovereignty. Each recounts his experiences in that nearly 16-year effort between 1975 and 1991 that defeated the armed forces of the South African apartheid regime. As Nelson Mandela so accurately told the people of Cuba in 1991, yours was an unparalleled contribution to the history of the peoples of Africa. The back cover of the book captures well that enduring proletarian internationalist power of the Cuban Revolution. In the words of Fidel: “A people not willing to fight for the freedom of others will never be ready to fight for their own.”

We often tell young people in the United States, “If you want to understand why the Cuban people were able to resist and surmount the crisis of the Special Period, defying all predictions to the contrary, there is no better place to start than by reading this book.” Without the century and a half of struggle it records—including the selfless aid given Angola—it would not have been possible.

Our History is also one of the best places to start to understand why five young Cuban internationalists risked their lives a decade ago to infiltrate Cuban counterrevolutionary groups in Florida in order to help defend the Cuban people against the murderous plots of these groups—and to expose the truth about them, a truth hidden from people in the United States itself. And why the U.S. government uses the draconian prison sentences imposed on those five heroes of the Cuban Revolution to try to punish the Cuban people for the audacity of making, and for nearly 50 years tenaciously defending, the first socialist revolution in the Americas.  
 
Power of Cuba’s example today
One of the striking things about the response to Our History is that however much interest there is in the revolutionary struggle against the Batista tyranny, it is the descriptions of what is being done in Cuba today that readers find most powerful.

In the final section of the book, entitled “The Special Period and Beyond,” each of the three compañeros talks about his current responsibilities: In the leadership of the Association of Combatants of the Cuban Revolution. At the head of the National Institute of State Reserves. In the work to transform the infrastructure of the port of Havana, and clean up a century and a half of industrial pollution of the bay and its tributaries. In the efforts to develop a program of small-scale urban agriculture to help conquer the food crisis of the Special Period. In aid to the people of Venezuela.

Through their accounts we see Cuba’s socialist revolution as it is advancing today. To use Chui’s phrase, we see history that is still being written.
 

*****

Of the 400 some titles that Pathfinder Press keeps in print, more than 60 are books and pamphlets that strive to make the real, and often complex, history about the Cuban Revolution accessible to those of us outside Cuba who so badly need to be able to learn from the revolutionary example of the Cuban people. To learn not only how to fight, but how to win. Yet nothing Pathfinder has published in recent years has generated the breadth of interest that Our History Is Still Being Written has received.

Since September of last year alone, more than two dozen meetings to discuss this book have been held in cities, Chinese communities, and on campuses across the United States and Canada, as well as in Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and Venezuela. A good number of them have drawn audiences of eighty, a hundred, and more. One at the Vancouver public library in Canada topped 300. A high percentage of those attending these meetings are individuals who previously had no particular knowledge of, or interest in, the Cuban Revolution.

For us this experience has been unprecedented. Most of these meetings on each campus or in the Chinese community have been sponsored and organized by multiple student organizations, especially Asian American and Latin American student groups. And by Chinese historical societies, public libraries that serve predominately Chinese communities, and numerous university departments and study programs—Asian American Studies, Ethnic Studies, Latin American Studies, and more.

At several of them, there has been translation into Mandarin, Cantonese, or both, in addition to Spanish.

Speakers have included dozens of students, both U.S. born and recent immigrants, including Chinese young people from Hong Kong, Taiwan, the People’s Republic of China, and various countries throughout Asia who are studying in the United States. And scores of professors and others with a keen interest in the proud history of struggles against colonialism and imperialist domination of Our America.  
 
Working people: humanity’s real globalization
What explains this surprisingly broad interest?

More than anything else, I believe, the response is a registration of something new in the class struggle in the United States. The first stirrings of a new working-class vanguard have been felt, a vanguard in which the swelling ranks of immigrant workers, many denied residency papers, are often playing a central role, as they fight for dignity on and off the job, for their lives and livelihood, demanding the immediate legalization of all immigrants. “We are workers, not criminals,” is a banner they carry with pride.

But this is not primarily a question of immigration. It is a battle for class solidarity and class consciousness, a battle that will decide the future of the working class in the United States. Standoffs and setbacks in battles with the employers will continue. But the foundation is being laid for strengthened resistance by working people and their trade unions to the brutal and intensifying capitalist offensive of the last two decades. That drive has succeeded in cutting wages in half in basic industries like meatpacking, while accelerating the speed of production to previously unheard of levels that have brought crippling injury and death to thousands.

The de facto absence of a U.S.-Mexico border, and development of an increasingly conscious and combative vanguard among millions of workers who move back and forth across it, is the biggest crisis the U.S. rulers face. Greater than Iraq or Afghanistan. They can and eventually will extricate themselves—temporarily—from any single battlefront in their so-called “global war against terrorism” and survive. But they cannot stop intensifying their profit-driven exploitation of our labor power without ceasing to exist. Yes, we are their grave diggers. And, yes, Marx was right, the capitalists keep producing us. We, the working people, are humanity’s real globalization.

This, more than anything else, is behind the interest that young Asians in the United States have in learning about their own history there. It explains their pride in discovering the centuries of struggle by their ancestors against the exploitation and oppression they overcame. Without exception, in every meeting that has taken place, at least one young person of Asian descent has spoken up to say, “I never knew there were Chinese in Cuba, or anywhere else in Latin America.”

But it is the example of Cuba today that is decisive. What stands out today is the absence of discrimination against Cubans of Chinese descent, their integration on all levels of Cuban society—in striking contrast to what Chinese face elsewhere throughout the Americas and the world. Armando Choy, Gustavo Chui, and Moisés Sío Wong are not exceptions. They are representative products of Cuba’s socialist revolution.

In the book, Sío Wong tells the story of a discussion he had several years ago with the president of the International Society for the Study of Chinese Overseas who was attending a conference here in Cuba on the Chinese diaspora in the Americas. The president asked him, “How is it possible that you, a descendent of Chinese, occupy a high government post, are a deputy of the National Assembly, and a general of the Armed Forces?”

The answer, Sío Wong told him, was not complex. The difference is that “here a socialist revolution took place.” A revolution that eliminated discrimination based on the color of a person’s skin because it “eliminated the property relations that create not only economic but social inequality between rich and poor.” That is what has made the experience of Chinese in Cuba different from elsewhere in the Americas. That is what makes this book important.  
 
A special request
In closing, I want to address a special petition to our Chinese compañeros who are taking part in this special event that commemorates the 160th anniversary of the arrival in Cuba of the first shiploads of indentured Chinese workers.

Our History Is Still Being Written was published simultaneously in Spanish and English. Everywhere we have presented it, however, there are always young people as well as others who ask, “When will this book be available in Chinese? Please let us know as soon as you have it so we can organize another meeting to discuss it, one in which all of us can genuinely participate on an equal footing.”

In the United States and Canada today (not to speak of other countries) there are 1 million? 2 million? who knows the exact figure? of our coworkers and co-students who will not be able to read this book until we have it in Chinese. And that number is growing daily.

When we announce that the Chinese translation is already under way, organized by the International Center for Chinese Art and Culture in Beijing, that news invariably brings a spontaneous burst of heartfelt applause. Audiences are delighted to learn of the plan to present the book in China in September of this year as part of the activities that will be held there to commemorate the 160th anniversary of the Chinese presence in Cuba.

So we hope our Chinese compañeros will carry this petition from your compatriots in the Americas with you on your return to China, and help us meet their eager requests.

For our part, it has been an honor to be able to help make this story available to those the world over who will use it as they too learn to fight like the Cubans fight—and to win.
 
 
Related articles:
Students at Minnesota event learn about the Cuban Five
'íSalud!' shows Cuba's health care system, internationalism  
 
 
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