One month before Christmas at the dawn of the millennium, a child came to us. Having come from an atheistic nation, his baptism probably came in the salt water on that day when his mother gave her life trying to raise her son in a free land.
That child was Elián González, and ten years ago this week he was returned to live with his father in Cuba. It seems so simple at a glance. The convolutions of his story may not make any sense to most people, but that winds up being the point of it after all.
The Cuban Government released this photo to the AP showing Elián today, a serious-looking 16-year-old boy in the military uniform of his school. The odds are that most of the readers of this blog are at best puzzled as to why I would care about this little piece of Cuban propaganda. Wasn’t this a simple custody case where the surviving father clearly had custody rights, regardless of where he lived? I would say so.
Yet in saying so I am denying what I know to be true – that Elián González has become a symbol of so many things that have gone right past nearly every Anglo I know. A little boy can be much more to us these days than a child in need of our nurturing – he can be a tool for promotion. In this case, every side had an angle on him.
I knew there was trouble right away when I read the Spanish language press coming out of Miami. When Elian was picked up as the only survivor on the raft, he was immediately known as “el Niño“, the boy – a term used at that time of year to describe the infant Jesus. The man who found him first, Donato Darymple, was called “el Pescador,” the fisherman. The language only became richer from there.
Elián González was more than just another boy, he was a testament to faith, one that ran far deeper than Cuba Libre. This little boy might even be Jesus himself, sent here to test our ability to be faithful to him.
That, by itself, is not too much of a story. What I found and still find fascinating is how little of this was understood by the English-speaking world. An entire controversy became lost in the translation, both linguistically and culturally. The Clinton administration did what nearly every Anglo thought was the right thing and gave custody of Elián to his father, who promptly took the little boy back to Cuba. It was all over but the shouting, but in a story like this there is always an awful lot of shouting left to do.
Fast forward a little bit to the election of 2000, which was without question very close in Florida, and you can see how costly this lack of understanding may have been.
Today, the Castro Brothers government uses Elián as a symbol of victory against the US, ignoring the simple reality that it was more of a victory for the rule of law over politics. But the politics took the kind of turn that you can expect at one corner of the Bermuda Triangle, a turn that only happens when everything is disconnected and people shout right past each other. Judge for yourself what happened to the rule of law when the politics became over-heated and evened up both sides.
Today, little has really changed. People still talk past each other in various languages and cultures. Politics has very little meaning in an atmosphere where no one can really make sense of what is happening around them. For my part, I wanted to write about this for one simple reason – I was very happy to see Elián looking strong and fit, regardless of what uniform or flag was wrapped around him.
¡Vaya con Dios, mijo!