In the early 1970s, I found myself as a young scholar studying in Cuernavaca, Mexico. The time spent there was an education of the heart as well as the mind.
During the day, I attended an anthropology class and in the evenings I would set out to explore and soak in the culture and customs of the region. Staying an hour outside of Mexico City, I paid a roughly 5 cent fare to ride the jitney around Cuernavaca, where mariachi music flooded the public square and one could feast on a hot meal for $1.25.
My eyes were opened to another way of life and a softness of culture that’s missing in America. In Mexico, medical care was accessible and affordable. When folks saw you hanging off a packed jitney, they pulled you in and made room.
What became clear to me, even back then, was that we Americans have a lot to learn from our Latin American neighbors. And that remains true today, particularly in light of our nation’s thawing relationship to Cuba.
When President Obama announced an executive decision in April to remove Cuba from the list of state sponsors of terrorism, GOP presidential hopeful Senator Marco Rubio was just as quick to rebuff the move as he was in December to condemn the Obama administration’s plan to normalize relations with the Cuban government. This is despite history revealing the failure of a throw-back, Cold War-era isolationist policy towards Cuba that’s proved fruitless for Cuban citizens and only entrenched its leaders.
The Cuban Thaw, as it’s been dubbed by news reports, promises to help boost U.S. ties across Latin America. As a nation, we could use help in smoothing over relations with countries like Brazil and Venezuela, both of which have increasingly turned to China to bolster their common interests. For those critics who blamed President Obama for putting America in jeopardy by extending a hand to Raul Castro, I would implore you to take the long view.
Let me be clear, as much as we want to promote democracy, freedom of expression and human rights in places like Cuba, we must also humbly acknowledge that their country—its people, heritage and values—can teach Americans a thing or two.
There is more than one way to walk a difficult road. We don’t have all the answers. Let’s open our ears and minds to our neighbors and be willing to learn from them.
by Monsignor William J. Linder