I have heard many times over the years this statement, “don’t mix politics and music”. Those that make the statement are usually speaking on behalf of a musical group that comes from, or is linked with a Socialist Country or other dictatorial regime. On the surface the request seems innocent enough and certainly well meaning. The problem I have with that statement is that my experience and observations don’t reconcile with the statement and the reality I see. On august 29th, 2015 there will be a performance in Miami by a musical group from Cuba “Los Van Van”. This will not be their first visit, they have been here several times before. This visit however will have two very unique things that are difficult for me to swallow. They will be rendering tribute to the founder of the group (Juan Formell) and the concert will take place on my father’s birthday. So you ask yourself where are you going with this.
In 1969 the Castro government decided that they were going to produce 10 million tons of sugar. This was a herculean task and it would require the whole island to participate. Many ‘volunteers’ were enlisted to achieve this endeavor, but what the world does not often talk about is that there was a group of Cubans who participated but for them it was a matter of life and death. By the end of the 1960’s thousands of Cubans had already left Cuba or were on official government lists requesting exit visas. The order was given to setup Labor Camps all across the island to force these people who wanted to leave to go out in the fields as a form of punishment for ‘abandoning the Revolution’. The Labor Camps were guarded by men in green fatigues with weapons and the authority to shoot anyone who did not comply. My father spent a year in one of these camps as a sacrifice to get his family out of the island.
While all of this was going on, a young musician named (Juan Formell) founded a musical group and named it “Los Van Van”. The official government slogan for the 10 million tons of sugar was ‘Los Diez Millones Van’. In other words Mr Formell named his group, sang about and paid homage to my father’s imprisonment. Now that very same group comes to Miami on my father’s birthday to pay homage in this city to the man who celebrated my father’s imprisonment. Yet when I tell someone I will not attend the concert they tell me “Don’t Mix Politics and Music”.
You tell me am I mixing politics and music or am I respecting and honoring my father’s sacrifice for my freedom; and the sacrifice of thousands of Cuban men who spent time in these ‘labor camps’ for the sake of their families.
I’ll spend next Saturday with my father and we’ll listen to the old songs.
Happy Birthday ‘Viejo’ and thank you for my freedom!