I HAD JUST GOTTEN UP at around 7 a.m. because I needed to take the car in for some repairs. I usually don’t wake up earlier than 9 a.m. anymore, not since I got fired and was collecting unemployment and on summer break from college and staying up late watching Netflix documentaries, reading news, alone on the couch in my one-bedroom apartment while my girlfriend sleeps 10 feet away behind a closed door in a big, unwelcoming and half-empty queen-sized bed.
But that morning really pissed me off.
I will attempt to start from the beginning. Here it goes.
I live in Echo Park, which is a relatively shitty neighborhood in Los Angeles. I stay off of Sunset Boulevard and Echo Park Avenue. After a few years of gentrification, the area has started to get trendier, with borderline upscale restaurants and high-end, snotty wine & beer bars, beauty salons, art galleries and random shops that cater to overly privileged white kids with nothing but money and an overwhelming conviction of irony and post-post-modernism.
However, the poor and the bums remained, much to the chagrin of the young iconoclasts. Some of the small shops stayed, but most left or were kicked out—either directly from an abundance of commercial, more modern competition or they were just bought out, or they saw the new wave of clientele come into the hood and decided to pack up and head farther east or south—the last haven for darker-skinned, non-hipsters.
There is a park with the same namesake in Echo Park where there is a bronze bust honoring the Cuban national hero and anti-imperialist fighter, José Martí. It sits at the far northwest corner of the park across the street from an evangelical church. The bust is surrounded by short and well-manicured palm trees. Echo Park has a huge Latino population, and a sizeable component of that is Cuban American.
Unfortunately, most Cuban Americans living in the States have a deep-seeded resentment toward Castro and most of the socialist and Left movements in Latin America—some of them go as far as being ultra-rightwing violent zealots. In fact, a documentary recently came out called “Will the Real Terrorist Please Stand Up?” by award-winning director Saul Landau, which goes into great detail on the history of anti-Cuba and anti-Castro terrorist groups centered in Miami and a group of five Cubans who infiltrated these extremist groups in order to stop future terrorist attempts (but guess who’s in jail?). But Miami is not alone. Places like New York and even Los Angeles harbor a vastly conservative Cuban population.
Don’t get me wrong. I love Cubans. I love Cuba. I even love mojitos, salsa and pulled-pork Panini sandwiches. But, more importantly, I admire and respect the Cuban Revolution and Socialist Cuba, and the resurgence of the Latin American Left going on in South American and Central America [Mexico is lagging, unfortunately]. I make no apology for that. Not to you. Not to Cubans. It is what it is. And for that, I believe, I am suffering the consequences.
Unfortunately, some folks have a hard time dealing with seemingly controversial politics or differences of opinions. I consider myself to be of average intelligence and with a strong passion for social justice; I work and organize around political and community activism in Los Angeles. I think most people know that.
It all started about less than a year ago.
I went to my car one morning to go to work and noticed several massive footprints all over the hood, roof and the hatchback. At first I just thought it was some drunken hipster playing the Mad Max badass at 2 a.m. after the bars kicked him out. This was a Thursday morning. But the event was not the last.
A few months afterward, I go down to the car and notice the passenger side of the car is missing the side mirror and there’s a fist print smudged on the passenger’s window. That’s when I started suspecting there might be more to this than just randomness. It was also a Thursday morning.
Fast forward a month or two later. Same story. I come down to go to work and see that my driver’s side window is completely gone. Glass is shattered on the ground and on the seat. My yerba mate (South American tea) bag is gone—don’t know why they would want to steal my tea. That same day I took my car to get an alarm installed in the San Fernando Valley, thinking the mere act of the alarm going off will deter future attacks.
That didn’t stop them.
On another Thursday morning as I made my way to the car I see in bright red paint marker letters scrolled on the windshield of my car “FUC-U RED.”
My car is a red Toyota Celica with a Che Guevara sticker on the back with the words “VENCEREMOS!” (We shall overcome!) and a United Farm Workers sticker which reads, also in Spanish, Con Unión se Vive Mejor (With a Union Living is Better). There once was an FMLN sticker (El Salvador’s leftist political party) on my bumper but it eventually lost color so I took it off.
Everyone agrees that it’s politically-motivated and specialized, that it’s not just random acts of violence and it’s most likely coming from pissed off rightwing Cubans, or gusanos—Spanish for worms—as they hate to be called.
So one day, after having my girlfriend of four years dump me but allow me to stay until I secure a new place (I decided on leaving before the end of the month), I decide to stay out all night on Wednesday and catch the Cuban perpetrator in the act. I had lain in the bushes across the street next to the Asian market, sniper style, covered in foliage and dirt, with binoculars (which I didn’t really need since it was only across four lanes of minimal traffic). But I wanted to go all out, guerilla style. I was lying on my chest, resting on my elbows, waiting patiently, staring eagerly across the street, militantly. At first, nothing. Just typical privileged, post-post-modern, nihilist hipsters with acute alcoholism and European disposition toward smoking and promiscuity and locals walking by smoking, throwing up, taking bites from the bacon-wrapped hot dogs sold on the corner by Spanish-speaking-only immigrant ladies.
Then I see it.
A lady with a hooded sweatshirt descends from the steps coming from the direction of my house. She has a baseball bat in her hands. I dash through the street, not bothering to look both ways, cars honk, bikes zoom by, the riders shouting “WHAT THE FUCK, BRO,” but I don’t care. Shit just got real.
She spots me, drops the bat and runs away. I catch up to her and force her around, face to face.
“Babe, whatthefuck are you doin’?” I say.
I am in a state of shock which has substituted my anger with sincere astonishment.
And in a surprising Cuban accent, my ex-girlfriend, who is allegedly from Michigan, admits to everything.
“Bueno, chico, ju repreesen everythin that we are agains, coño! Bajo con la dictatuda de los hermanos Castro—down with the Castro brothers dictatorship—viva cuba libre!—long live free cuba!” she says and throws a hand grenade at me and runs away.
And as it explodes, in that precise moment of blinding light and blasting force, my mind connects it all. I was with a gusana for four years. I was with an infiltrator gathering intelligence on me and my ties with local communists. But, by then, it didn’t matter. My body parts were splattered all over Sunset Boulevard and were being gawked at by all the hipsters and the ladies selling hot dogs. Although, for what it’s worth, my car was left untouched.
Girls, Guns & Hot Rods:
by Jami Beck