In the 1950s, dictator Fulgencio Batista and the rich and powerful of Cuba oppressed countless Cubans. On April 9, 1958, rebels against Batista called a strike. Batista fought back, including in Sagua la Grande, where my family lived.
I was 3 but clearly remember this: watching, riveted, as the bodies of Castro’s bloodied men were dragged down the street in front of our flimsy wood-frame house.
Then my dad sharply called me away. It was unsafe, he stressed. Now, looking back as a grandparent of a 3-year-old who reminds me of what it’s like to be 3, I also imagine he was horrified to grasp what I was so innocently yet so intently drawn toward.
Months later, the battle of Santa Clara was fought an hour from our house. Afterward, my dad drove us to Santa Clara to see what had happened. We saw bullet-and-bomb-pocked buildings and a huge black train engine toppled on its side. My dad had once photographed a pre-revolutionary version of Fidel Castro in suit and tie at a rally. Now in Santa Clara, my dad took photos of Castro’s rebels, bearded and in rebel uniforms, atop the train with big grins, machine guns triumphantly raised.
When the U.S. State Department finally forced U.S. citizens to leave, my parents never fully recovered from the grief of leaving Cuba and their friends there behind. Many of those friends were part of the Cuban middle and upper classes who lost property and even their lives if they didn’t flee to Miami and beyond.
My parents tended to side with their Cuban friends. They saw Castro as an oppressor. Castro had dissidents and many who would once have been comfortable under Batista shot, exiled or forced into poverty in the name of justice for others. I didn’t see eye to eye with my parents and dreamed of what could have been if Castro’s regime had more humanely lived up to its claimed ideals. But I’ve also come to believe that revolutionaries who rightly understood Batista as an oppressor were themselves prepared to oppress in the name of justice.
Today I often wonder: What if Batista’s loyalists, Castro’s guerrillas and we who see ourselves as offering the antidote to cruelties of our enemies were willing to entertain that large question a lawyer once asked Jesus: “And who is my neighbor?” In response, Jesus told of how, instead of the supposed “good” people of the day, it was a Samaritan, whom Jesus’ audience would have viewed as a villain, who had mercy on one in need.
If Jesus told the story today, which outcast would he pick to make his shocking point?
Who would be the hero if Jesus were addressing white nationalists?
Who would be the hero if the audience saw white nationalists as villains?
Who would be the hero if, after an opening speech from the president of the United States, Jesus were invited to give closing comments to those who, asked by the president how you stop migrants, shouted, “Shoot them”?
As mass shootings constantly make the news and show us that demonizing others has turned literally deadly, what if we asked again and again, “And who is our neighbor?”
What if we allowed ourselves to be as shaken as the lawyer must have been when asked to treat as a hero the one we stereotype, keep out, send back, kill? What if, when Jesus asked which character was a neighbor, we answered, “The one who showed him mercy”? What if Jesus then said to us, “ ‘Go and do likewise’ ”?
Michael A. King is publisher of Cascadia Publishing House and blogs at Kingsview & Co., cascadiapublishinghouse.com/KingsviewCo.