In 1998, some buddies and I went to Cuba to go scuba diving. As it turned out, a recent hurricane had churned up the water, visibility was zero, so diving was impossible. We ended up sitting on the beach for a week, drinking rum, smoking cigars and talking to the locals. Our talk, being Americans, was somewhat more unrestrained than that of our Cuban compadres. Cubans under Fidel were, obviously, less free than any American living under any American president, ever.
One of the missing freedoms I found most difficult to accept was the lack of freedom of speech. I mentioned this to a bartender in Havana, adding that I supposed it ran counter to some unspoken Cuban law to criticize El Comandante in any way. The bartender said it was not permitted to criticize Fidel, but that people found a way “to talk about him”—and as he said this, he moved his hand down under his chin as though smoothing out an imaginary beard. And that’s how people signaled that they were “talking about him”—they made the sign of the beard.
Perhaps with Cuba opening up, we’re guessing some of the restrictions—self-imposed or official—on speech will loosen as well. The opposite may be true in Chicago.
For this issue of Newcity, I had planned to speak with a Mexican-American chef in Chicago. He agreed to be interviewed. I sent a few questions to him in advance. I didn’t want to ambush him; I wanted him to think about what he wanted to tell me. Here are some of the questions:
- In response to the election, how would you describe the general feeling among the Mexican-American community? I know you can’t speak for all Mexican-Americans, of course, but from the people you’ve spoken with, how would you describe their response? Are they worried? Are they angry?
- Chicago restaurants rely heavily upon the skills and expertise of Mexican cooks and chefs. How do you think the election of Trump will impact the restaurant industry in Chicago?
- When you walk out the door in the morning, do you feel any differently than you did weeks before the election? Has your attitude changed? Have you noticed any changes in the attitude or demeanor of those around you?
I was genuinely interested in how one member of the Latino community in Chicago was feeling with a president-elect who built his campaign on the promise to build a wall to keep Mexican people out of the United States.
The chef kept putting me off, continuing to assure me he’d be able to answer my questions by the end of the week. Then a little after 5pm the following Friday, he emailed me:
“Hey David, I talked with my business partners about this article and they’d prefer that I not participate in it…the PR firm thought it would be best not to get too political.”
I get that, I suppose, and maybe it was naïve of me to think that a public person in the Latino community—even in a sanctuary city like Chicago—could speak freely about the president-elect.
What I’m sensing is that unlike criticism of Obama or even Bush, criticism of Trump is going to be muted for now and well into the foreseeable future.
It might be bad for business, sure, though it’s not nearly as bad as it was in Cuba, where talking about the supreme leader could get you fined or jailed. At least it’s not like that yet. But there’s no doubt: fear is afoot. (David Hammond)