Celebrations of Diversity Ignore Questions of Loyalty

Of late, we have been treated to a continuous spouting and fuming emanating from the general direction of Miami, where the Cubans or Cuban exiles have been carrying on at a great rate about that 6-year-old child whom they don’t want returned to the Communist island non-paradise. At the risk of saying something unfashionably insensitive, that bunch of Cubanos down there gives off whiffs of something reminiscent of the Falange, Francisco Franco and a lot of not-so-democratic ugliness.

Without trying to walk away from the fact that Fidel Castro is a bloody dictator, let’s recall what kind of Cubans fled the island when the Red brigades took over. For all their talk about small-D democracy, they were the adherents of the previous bloody dictator, Fulgencio Batista. As poor and miserable and gray as Cuba is under the Reds, it was probably much worse when the Miami Cubans were riding high. The average annual wage of rural workers, which was most of the population, was $91; 75 percent of the island’s arable land was in foreign hands as was 90 percent of the country’s utilities and transportation.

There’s something else about the Miami Cubans. Whenever I see them on television holding one of their indignation meetings, the faces are all white; whenever the camera pans the crowd bused in to listen to Fidel, the only world figure who talks longer than Bill Clinton, I see many black faces. One can only surmise that there are some racial aspects to the politics of the Miami Cubans. Why don’t they have more dark-skinned adherents, or have they brought their own Cuban racial divisions here? The press has carried occasional articles for years about the low esteem in which Miami’s American-born, African-American population hold the white Cuban immigrants, or should they more aptly be called émigrés?

Even though the immigrants-émigrés have been in Miami nigh on two generations, when they have press conferences they often leave the impression that they are simply waiting to hear that Mr. Castro has kicked the bucket before they take off for Havana to re-establish a new Batista in the President’s palace and bring back the exploitive foreign corporations, the whores, gangsters and class-caste rule of the past. As with the return of the Bourbons and the Stuarts in the persons of Louis XVIII and Charles II, restorations of old regimes are seldom happy affairs and from the looks of that bunch poised to swoop in on Havana, well, God help the long-put-upon Cuban people.

Nevertheless, how Cubans run their island nation is their own business, although you’d never know it from looking at American behavior throughout the last century. Let us look to our own knitting and pose some questions prompted by Miami Cubans, such as, “Are there limits to diversity?” Politically correct goodspeak demands that diversity be “celebrated” on any and all occasions, but do the culturally diverse owe something to the American generality? What about the question of divided loyalty? Can we demand allegiance to the nation and to certain cultural and political norms? Or is America to become a place where any group is invited to come for its own purposes without the previous inhabitants requiring certain behavior in return?

The question of divided loyalty has come up before in our history in connection with American foreign policy and Germans, Jews, Japanese, Communists of various backgrounds, Irish and Italians. Heretofore, the judgment of the nation has been that you may not take the oath of allegiance to the Stars and Stripes while holding as a silent reservation a greater love for das Vaterland . Jonathan Pollard, the American who spied for Israel, sits in a Federal penitentiary, a warning to those who would serve two masters. The American citizen of Chinese ancestry currently under indictment for taking home classified information is another case in which divided loyalty strongly figures.

Then is diversity to be encouraged and protected as long as it does not extend to espionage or outright treason? Political systems are culturally based and culture-specific. A value such as “free speech” is a universal but with different definitions in different democracies, based on different cultures. Hence, the British regard our form of free speech as a species of license, and we look on their rules governing speech, especially the Official Secrets Act, as an intolerable suppression. Sharing the same set of abstract values is not the same as playing under the same rules, especially when those rules are rooted in the accidental quirks of culture. When freshly arrived ethnic groups have piled up in large numbers in one place and played politics according to their rules and with their attitudes, there has often been hell to pay. Diversity, under those circumstances, may become division and disunity. The system will not work unless, somewhere inside every citizen, there is a sense of being joined with others beyond his parochial, ethnic or other allegiance, to a larger community and to the nation. If political life and process is reduced to a squeaking, grunting contest among groups, who feel nothing in common save mutual contempt, the larger systems we all depend on will be damaged or destroyed.

The special considerations squeezed out of Washington for Cubans has complicated immigration law and practice possibly past the fixing. Gay politics, with its heavy emphasis on AIDS and its success in getting through special-interest legislation, has made it much harder to develop a national health program for all.

It’s obvious some cultures have not been as receptive to American democracy as others. Because nobody can stand them at the moment, a noncontroversial example would be Russians in Russia and Russians in the United States. More controversial, indeed, would be any speculation as to how receptive the gay subculture is to a democracy based on adherence to a commonweal. And then there are the various Hispanic subcultures in the United States–Cuban, Mexican–which are part of the Hispanic world that got clobbered by the idealism of the French Revolution. Most Spanish-speaking countries have had the devil’s own time turning those glorious abstractions into stable, functioning democracies. The reasons, doubtless, are many and complex, but elements in culture such as romanticism and what you might call jefismo must play some part in the fragile and often unhappy history of democracy in those lands.

Our own history of cultural diversity and democratic politics has been a mixed bag. Big-city, ethnic political machines in the 1860-1950 era made a sewer out of the democratic process. The persistence of corruption to this day in New York City has its origins in the folkways of ethnic and cultural diversity. However, as various ethnic groups made their way up and began to confine their diversity to cuisine, national “days,” festivals, arts and crafts, democracy, which often translates into honest government, has taken a turn for the better. As intermarriage between all our ethnic groups grows, we seem to be creating a commonality within diversity. We are finding out how to have essential unity and a society in which a large variety of cultural strains flourish.

Anyone who’s spent any time around Cubans knows how splendid they can be. I for one would hate to see any of them go home when Mr. Castro finally makes his long-overdue exit, but the mishegoss in Miami ought to tell us that diversity has its limits and that we don’t have to embrace everything that everybody brings here from everywhere.