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Vol. 72/No. 45      November 17, 2008

‘Cuban Revolution gains importance
in midst of world economic crisis’
(feature article)
MERCED, California—Nearly 100 people, mostly students, participated in a discussion on the book Our History Is Still Being Written: The Story of Three Chinese-Cuban Generals in the Cuban Revolution, held October 21 at the University of California campus here. The featured speaker was Mary-Alice Waters, president of Pathfinder Press and editor of the book.

At UC Merced and three other campuses the same week, Waters spoke to some 150 students at five classes about the Cuban Revolution and related topics. One of the classes at San Francisco State University focused on Cuba’s revolutionary internationalist solidarity in Africa (see accompanying article.)

Our History Is Still Being Written tells the stories of Armando Choy, Gustavo Chui, and Moisés Sío Wong, three young Cuban rebels of Chinese ancestry, who in the 1950s became combatants in the revolutionary war to overthrow the U.S.-backed Batista dictatorship, rose to the rank of general in Cuba’s Revolutionary Armed Forces, and continue to play leading roles today in Cuba’s socialist revolution.

The UC Merced meeting was sponsored by the School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts; the Chicano Student Association; and the Center for Research in the Humanities and Arts. The campus, the newest in the University of California system and located in the center of the state’s agricultural heartland, opened three years ago. Enrollment has now grown to 2,700 students.

The meeting was opened by Ignacio López-Calvo, professor of Latin American literature at UC Merced, who had invited Waters to come to the campus. Waters addressed a similar meeting last May at the University of North Texas, where López-Calvo was then teaching.

Author of the recently published book Imaging the Chinese in Cuban Literature and Culture, López-Calvo spoke about the history of Chinese immigration to Cuba. “Before reading this book, I thought that all Chinese-Cubans had left Cuba after the revolution in 1959,” he said. “After reading it I had to rewrite my manuscript.”

Before Waters spoke the audience watched a portion of the documentary film Ancestors in the Americas: Coolies, Sailors and Settlers, produced by filmmaker Loni Ding. It graphically depicts how hundreds of thousands of Chinese were forced into indentured labor in Cuba and elsewhere in the Americas during the 19th century.

In her remarks Waters noted that the example of the Cuban Revolution, which is the real subject of Our History Is Still Being Written, has added importance today given the rapidly unfolding world economic and production crisis, which has only just begun.

“The crisis is a product of the lawful workings of the capitalist system, not of policy errors,” and poses the need for socialist revolution in the world today, for working people to take power as they did in Cuba, Waters said.

She pointed to Sío Wong, Choy, and Chui as examples of the millions of men and women in Cuba who made a deep-going social revolution. “The Cuban Revolution wasn’t, as many of us learn here in the United States, the product of a dozen men who picked up guns and went to the mountains. It was the product of the action of millions,” she said.

During the discussion period Yang Li, a student who lived in China until he was eight, asked, “How is the situation in Cuba after the revolution and the cultural integration of Chinese in Cuba relevant to the United States?”  
Racism based on property relations
Waters said the discrimination that Blacks and Chinese faced in Cuba prior to the revolution had the same roots as the discrimination they confront in the United States. The revolutionary government adopted laws that prohibited discrimination based on the color of a person’s skin and enforced those measures.

“Socialist revolution changes the property relations on which institutionalized racism in our society is based,” she said. “The revolution doesn’t eliminate prejudice, but opens the door and makes it possible to combat it.”

“I thought I was the only one on campus who thought this way, but now I know that’s not true,” said Rafael Maravilla, a student, after the discussion.

Waters also spoke about the Cuban Revolution to two classes at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, California, at the invitation of English professor David Vela.

“Is it possible that in this economic crisis other countries in Latin America will become socialist? Will capitalism last only for a time and then go into socialism?” asked Carla, a student in a first-year English composition course.

“Capitalism is based on a different economic foundation from socialism, but property relations don’t just change on their own,” Waters answered. “A contradiction grows up under capitalism between the increased concentration and productivity of labor and the private appropriation of wealth. The problem is not bad guys on Wall Street. It’s capitalism itself.

“Many countries have similar conditions to those that existed in Cuba prior to 1959,” Waters noted. “However, revolutions don’t just come out of conditions of poverty and desperation. Revolutions come from traditions of struggle, growing consciousness, and political leadership.”  
Prejudice against homosexuals
Waters also addressed a “Critical Thinking” course taught by Vela. Students asked how she would respond to the accusation that in Cuba there has been discrimination against homosexuals. A similar question was asked in one of López-Calvo’s classes at UC Merced.

In both classes, Waters noted that in the early years of the revolution there was strong prejudice against homosexuals. In this Cuba was not different from other countries at the time, including the United States. Mistakes were made in the treatment of homosexuals in Cuba that the revolutionary leadership later corrected, she noted, adding that the position of women and diminishing prejudice against homosexuals in Cuba today is far better than in other Latin American countries, and is among the most advanced in the world.

“One of the foremost proponents in Cuba of the fight against discrimination of homosexuals is Mariela Castro, who heads the National Center for Sex Education in Cuba” and is the daughter of Cuban president Raúl Castro, Waters said.

At an Asian American studies class at San Francisco State University, taught by professor Wesley Uenten, a student who is Asian asked Waters, “Why don’t we learn about our own history in schools here?”

“Discrimination is part of the fabric of social relations perpetuated by capitalism,” Waters said in response. “The capitalist owners seek to foster and exacerbate divisions in the working class to divide and weaken us. This will be especially true as the current crisis deepens.”

“Capitalism has no interest in teaching us the real history of struggle by Asian Americans and others, but many youth and working people, as they begin to resist the conditions imposed on us, discover this history for themselves,” she noted. “Our proud history of struggle gives us confidence in our own capacities to resist, to change the world in which we live.”
Related articles:
UN resolution condemns U.S. embargo of Cuba
Service Employees Int’l Union urges U.S. visas for wives of Cuban Five
San Francisco students discuss Cuba and Africa  
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