Moving the Grammys Won't Still the Note of Discord

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Dear Mr. C. Michael Greene, president and chief executive of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences:

Like a catchy tune, your words about my hometown keep echoing in my head. You moved the Latin Grammys to Los Angeles because Miami's Cuban exiles, you said, jeopardized the safety of the event's 7,000 attendees by forcing them to march a dangerous "gantlet" past Cuban demonstrators.

"Having to run that gantlet is demeaning at best and dangerous at worst," you said. A gantlet? Hmm. This would require the attendees and the demonstrators to be in close proximity, no? But the "safety zone"--a compromise agreed to by protesters who oppose the participation of musicians from Cuba because they believe it serves as international propaganda for Cuban President Fidel Castro--would have placed the demonstrators across an eight-lane boulevard, in front of the Cuban community's historic Freedom Tower.

The plan also called for county-provided shuttle buses, which would have transported between 3,500 and 3,800 attendees from police-guarded satellite parking lots to the arena. Everyone else would have driven up to the red carpet itself, at least 150 to 200 feet from the closest protesters, according to Miami police. Was it your belief that the gantlet would stretch across Biscayne Boulevard, a road as wide and as well-traveled as Santa Monica Boulevard? Or were you expecting El Duque to show up and throw some eggs for the home team?

Then there's your declaration that "the academy was made aware that protestors had secured tickets to the show and were organizing a disruption to the live telecast." That would also be quite a feat, considering the show is not public, getting tickets is next to impossible, and the Miami police have said they had no such intelligence. Let's not forget this is a high-profile event that calls for the highest security measures, protesters or not.

Could it be, Mr. Greene, that the global image of this event is what drove you to pull your show out of this nation's Latin-American capital, and with it a community's constitutional rights? Wouldn't the safety zone allow exiles better visibility in front of the cameras, thereby giving them international exposure? Don't want to be upstaged, huh?

I am a first-generation Cuban American, born and raised in that hotbed of a city, the one with the reputation for anti-Castro fanatics. When people ask me why mi gente , my people, are so imposing, loudmouthed and opinionated about the Castro regime, I ask them if they've ever lost anything. Or worse, everything.

A lot of Americans tend to forget that Cubans did not leave their island to make a better living or to seek higher education. In my family, for example, there were lawyers, doctors, teachers, landowners, and restaurateurs--30-something (and older) professionals who boarded freedom flights in the 1960s, leaving behind their assets and personal belongings, to start over in a country where they knew no one and did not speak the language.

Before they were granted their exit visas, my father spent 18 months in jail as a political prisoner and my uncle in an agricultural concentration camp. Their crimes? Disagreeing with the Castro regime. They left everything for the right to express themselves. And we were among the lucky, Mr. Greene. Few of our relatives stayed on the island, but there are many Cubans who have not seen their loved ones in 30 or 40 years.

My generation of civic leaders lobbied to lure your Grammys to Miami, in part, to help rid the city of its "banana republic" perception, fueled largely by the Elian Gonzalez saga. We are concerned the nation we grew up in views us all as a bunch of extremists and ignores the four decades of suffering our parents and grandparents have endured. This profound loss is what drives the older generation of Cuban exiles to protest the attendance and recognition of musicians from Cuba at the Grammys. They believe this is a form of political and ideological support to the Castro regime. While I understand that viewpoint, I, like many of the Cubans or Cuban Americans of my generation, don't share it.

As a writer, I do not see the politics in music. Like you, I view songs as art. But because democracy is what we are striving for, the freedom to express that art should be held in as high regard as the freedom to protest it. I, like my peers, want the music of my people to be heard and celebrated worldwide; Cubans on the island have been silenced for too long.

"It's the wrong protest against the wrong people," wrote Miami Herald Pulitzer Prize-winning (Cuban) columnist Liz Balmaseda. "Cuban musicians, even those who thrive within the revolution, are not The Enemy. They are not the kingpins of Cuba's repressive system. In fact, they are often victims of that regime."

Or as Cuban pop salsa star Willy Chirino put it, "Sept. 11 would have been the day of freedom for artistic expression inside Cuba."

Amen.

Unfortunately, thanks to you, Mr. Greene, Sept. 11 will now live on as the day Cuban exiles got a bitter taste of 40-year-old medicine in the country of liberty and justice for all. It is obvious your decision has little to do with safety, and everything to do with protecting your sense of prestige.

You are entitled to a bright and shiny event, but you've been grossly irresponsible in your depiction of the so-called peril your VIPs faced. The truth is you didn't want the loud chants of angry exiles or their pained faces broadcast around the world. You've never said there shouldn't be protests. But does the fact that you're in show business mean you can manipulate the location of a protest to ensure that news cameras only capture your glitz? Don't those who want to speak out against a certain aspect of your star-studded show have a right to be seen and heard too?

In case you didn't know, an estimated 80,000 Cubans live in Southern California. Although there is some hard-line opposition, the exiles in this area have been generally supportive of Cuba's musicians for several years, and are in favor of having them showcased and acknowledged at the Latin Grammys.

But don't be mistaken: The Cubans here cherish their freedom above all else. Don't be surprised if, on Sept. 11, some of them decide to show you just how much.

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