Cuban Artists are Not Terrorists
An open letter to the City of Los Angeles
Jimmy Centeno & David Roman
On Wednesday evening (9.18.2002) when the Latin Grammy Awards come to an end, and hundreds of artists, producers, and industry moguls pour into the streets of Los Angeles, millions of people across this country will have seen the best Latin American music stars honored by their peers.
Published on LatinoLA: September 18, 2002
Nine Cuban artists, nominated for those same awards by the Recording Industry Association of America, will be watching the awards from home, a distinction befitting no greater achievement than the ability to turn on the TV. The United States Department of State did not believe that it was important for these nominees be present at the awards ceremony. The visas to travel to the United States that they applied for, several months in advance, were never issued. Because our government chooses to characterize all Cubans as terrorists, it is virtually impossible for Cuban artists, academics, priests, or students to visit the United States for any purpose.
It?s a shame that nominated artists like Chucho Valdez, who has performed in the United States hundreds of times in the past without incident, didn?t even get a fair chance from our government.
Our city is very different from Washington D.C. Los Angeles is unmistakably the city of the 21st century -- a nexus for the Pacific Rim, home to millions of immigrants from the deepest corners of Southeast Asia to the southern-most tip of Argentina. Of all the immigrant populations that now call L.A. home, those from Latin America are most numerous. Her streets teem with signs of new immigrant landmarks exalting these facts: Panaderia, Pupusas, Tamales, Candombl?, Orisha, Botanica. Los Angeles is a cultural crossroads.
Because our City is a crossroads, it is vital that we preserve our cultural diversity. We ask that our city?s leaders join us in defending our cultural sovereignty; to determine for ourselves what cultural ambassadors we are to receive. These choices are best made within our City, at the local level, where we can be responsive to the desires of our citizens. We ask that our City leaders let Washington D.C. know that the citizens of Los Angeles will determine who it will and will not invite to perform at its cultural events and not some bureaucrat in the State Department. This is necessary now, more than ever, at a time when our country?s policy toward Latin America and its artists is dictated from Miami via Washington D.C.
To say that the behavior of Washington bureaucrats, who sat on a request by these Cuban artists to participate in the Latin Grammy Awards, is a travesty would fail to underscore the embarrassment that our City should feel for allowing showboats and partisan politics emanating from Washington DC to hijack our rights as American citizens. It is we, the citizens of the City of Angels, who must hang our heads in shame for the pettiness that goes on in our names. Nine Cuban artists, who have devoted their lives to the art of music, are denied their rightful due because the State Department would rather assume that all people coming from Cuba are terrorists.
A policy that turns Cuban artists into terrorists is a wicked noose and our State Department is a willing hangman. The ominous signs already loom over our collective heads, indicating that the label of ?terrorist? is being liberally applied to many Latin Americans from Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, Argentina, and Brazil. Where will the madness end?
Twenty years ago, visitors to the City of Angels would have noticed a community in flux. Today, brown faces, and a bevy of languages are the norm. North or south of Sunset, Los Angelenos are now aware that Mexicans are not Salvadorans. Some have even discovered that Latinos can be of Asian or African descent. We are more than a niche market. We are a majority in the City of Angels.
We now ask that its leaders join its citizens in decrying this travesty. We hope that the City Council will address this on the Council floor and pass a resolution against the government?s actions. Until this happens, it is the duty of every citizen in Los Angeles to call their City Council, to ask that their elected representatives take a stand on these issues to let Washington DC know that Los Angeles? cultural diversity will not be held hostage by Miami.
Jimmy Centeno & David Roman:
Jimmy Centeno and David Roman are students at California State University Los Angeles and members of the Cuba Study Organization. They can be reached at CubaStudyOrg@hotmail.com