Friday, December 10, 2010

Booknote: Nuestra historia aun se esta escribiendo (12 Books, 12 Months Challenge, Book 4)

This is my review as I posted it on GoodReads. Overall, I thought this was a neat little book. I also think it is a book that more people should read to expand their horizons a bit more.

Nuestra historia aun se esta escribiendo, La historia de tres generales cubano-chinos en la Revolucion CubanaNuestra historia aun se esta escribiendo, La historia de tres generales cubano-chinos en la Revolucion Cubana by Armando Choy

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A brief but very interesting book. This book consists of a series of interviews with three Cuban generals of Chinese descent. The generals discuss their lives, their upbringing and social struggles, their revolutionary experiences their military experiences, and how they are still active in the revolution. For readers who may not be too familiar with the socialist notion of revolution, the revolution is an ongoing process. A professor once explained it to one of my classes as "there is the big R revolution" (that is the one you usually think of, with guns and armies, so on. Like the American Revolution or in Cuba the revolution to topple Batista) and then there is "the small r revolution" (this is the ongoing process of building and maintaining the society after the big R revolution). When the generals speak of the revolution, they mean that "small r" revolution.

Unlike other history books about Cuba, I liked this one because it takes a unique angle. It looks not only at people who were active participants in history but also at people with a pretty unique ethnicity for the region. Chinese immigrants were brought to Cuba (and a few other Caribbean islands) to do work in the sugar cane fields and other manual labor though sugar was the main work. They came as indentured servants and most usually stayed on the island. They often stayed because they could not afford their passage back to China, but a good number also stayed out of choice. These Chinese immigrants created communities, set up their own small businesses, thrived, and they eventually were mainstreamed into Cuban society. Ok, mainstreamed may not be the best term; some may choose "assimilated," but the point is that they were fairly integrated into Cuban society. If you ask the generals in the book, they see themselves as Cubans first who just so happen to have Chinese descent. This would be very different than a lot of Ethnic-Americans in the U.S. who often still see themselves as being from whatever place they came from first. Anyhow, this does not necessarily mean that the process of assimilation was smooth or easy. Prior to the Revolution, they faced racism and discrimination, and this is part of their story. Personally, their stories of youth were one of the most interesting parts of the book for me. Keep in mind that once Fidel took power, one of the first acts was to institute anti-racism legislation and measures, which benefited not only those of Chinese descent but other minority groups.

The generals played an active role in the Cuban campaign in Angola, so that gets some good coverage in the book. Most American readers may think this was just some Cuban adventurism, but when you read the accounts here you can learn it is not as simple as that. They discuss why they felt it was an obligation to go (requested by the local government of the time; because of an internationalist spirit; as a legacy or to meet the debt of those from other nations who fought for Cuban independence, so on). From there, we move to what is known in Cuba as the Special Period, and the book ends at about 2005 or so. You also get some discussion of Cuba sending medical teams to Venezuela and around the world as well.

A strength of this book is that it brings the generals to life; they are not just some mythical figures or just some generals. These were young boys that grew up, joined the revolutionary movement for various reasons (they each had different backgrounds), and then remained active in their society both in the military and after. The conversations are short, and they are fairly easy to read. They do come across as fairly warm individuals.

For American (read U.S.) readers, they may or not like the book. I am thinking an objection right away is that, well, it is a book looking at communists. Yes, they are communists who embrace the socialist movement and ideals. Much of their discussion does integrate socialist ideas and concepts. Much of their argument, when asked, is that the things they accomplished or that Cuba has accomplished (and even those who hate Fidel and Cuba have to give them credit for various accomplishments) would not have been possible had it not been for the revolution. I would say to those readers to read the book anyways. There are a few lessons to learn plus you get a pretty good picture of Cuban society in the 20th and early 21st centuries. Furthermore, you will get a bit of a history lesson (there are some discussions of colonial history for instance, the relationship of the nation to the Soviet Union, which was not always in lockstep, so on).

I read the book in Spanish, but it is available in English. Finally, the book features an appendix with two speech excerpts by Fidel Castro and one by Nelson Mandela highlighting the Angolan mission. Mandela is particularly praising the Cuban forces, who have a special place in the heart of a good number of African nations, in part because their mission did lead to the eventual independence of Namibia.

View all my reviews

Update Note (12/13/10): Here is the round-up of 12 Books, 12 Months Challenge readings for month 3 over at Later Day Bohemian.

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