Wednesday, 29 May 2019 15:09

The Yankee and the Modern

Written by Abel Prieto
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The Yankee and the Modern Photos: Granma

As a sign of U.S. cultural hegemony, the identification of"the Yankee" with "modernity" seems to have remerged in Cuba. Those who want to attract clients with a "modern" appeal use symbols of the North: Santa hats, names in English for different spaces, Disney or Halloween costumes

 

Identifiying "the Yankee" with "the modern" and with "progress," was already a widespread idea when Martí lived in the U.S. It flourished among annexationist Cubans and Latin Americans, fascinated by a huge country of rapid economic growth and a seemingly perfect democracy.

The Yankee and the modernity

Roberto Fernández Retamar points out that by living "in that nation at the moment when it was transforming from a pre-monopolistic country into a monopolist and imperialist country, Martí understood, with concern, that its next step [...] would be to expand its reach over the rest of the Americas; first, over Cuba."

That was why Martí chronicled the real face of the U.S., and fought against the simplistic tendency to confuse 'the Yankee" with "modernity." Martí's idea of "progress" was not reduced to American pragmatism: it included spiritual wealth, the full development of human beings, their freedom.

Although he clashed with editors and newspaper owners, he managed to denounce the ills that afflicted the United States (and continue to), and in particular the cult of money as the very meaning of human existence. Money: that hairy and happy devil around which politicians, bankers, shysters, and a whole heap of dirty characters danced (and continue to dance). "American laws have given the North a high degree of prosperity [notes Martí] and have also raised it to the highest levels of corruption... Damned be prosperity at such a cost!"

The story that follows is known and insulting: Martí and Maceo's death in combat, the Maine, and the intervention that snatched the victory from the Mambises and signaled U.S. military occupation.

Between 1898 and 1902, "a confused stage" emerged, according to Marial Iglesias, in which "the dismantling of Spanish colonial rule" coincided with the attempt to mold Cuba according to "the pattern of modernity and progress of the U.S. authorities." Business signs appeared in English – barbershops, grocery stores; and the "English Spoken Here" sign was placed in windows. The rich held "tea" and "garden" parties, and spent the summer at the "yacht club."

Some 1,300 Cuban primary teachers passed a course at Harvard in 1900. It was a project to train annexationists, who in turn would transmit such ideas to the new generations, but it had the opposite effect: much of what they learned there gave them the means to instill patriotism upon their return.

The "Plattist" Republic was inaugurated, and the U.S. did its utmost to spiritually dominate us. Cuba became a laboratory for the Yankee cultural industry. Magazines on the benefits of the American way of life were translated and printed on the island, to be distributed across the region, while popular U.S. television series were dubbed into Spanish. Hollywood reigned over movie theaters, with a relatively strong competitor in Mexican cinema, and a lesser rival in Argentine film.

In those years, the number of "Yankeephiles" multiplied: unbridled admirers of everything that came from the paradise of the North. But the resistance to this assimilation also grew.

Cintio Vitier warned in 1957 that "We are victims of the most subtly corrupting influence that the Western Hemisphere has ever suffered": the Yankee way of life. And he added: "The naive American way of life removes the values of everything it touches from the very roots."

How was it possible to resist such attacks in such disadvantageous conditions? There were three vital factors: our popular, mestizo, vigorous culture; the efforts of avant-garde intellectuals; and the quiet work of teachers in Cuban public schools.

The triumph of 1959 dealt a devastating blow to the Yankeephiles, and emancipated the homeland through culture. It decolonized us, set us free, trained us as anti-imperialists; but it never fostered resentment toward the American people. Fidel said with pride that Cuba was one of the few countries in the world where a U.S. flag had never been burned.

However, for some years now, the identification of "the Yankee" with "modernity" seems to have remerged. Those who want to attract clients with a "modern" appeal use symbols of the North: Santa hats, names in English for diverse spaces, Disney or Halloween costumes.

Cintio compiled the Cuadernos Martianos in 1994. Faced with the possible return of annexationist positions, he proposed that teachers "comment extensively with our older students on the article El remedio anexionista (The Annexationist Remedy)," convinced that "The invulnerable shield of our history is named José Martí."

Today, faced with an increasingly exasperated and aggressive empire, Martí, Fidel, Maceo, Céspedes, the founders of the nation, inspire us on a daily basis. (Granma)

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