The Militant(logo) 
    Vol.59/No.41           November 6, 1995 
`I Support The Brother'
Harlem Workers, Youth Welcome Castro  


NEW YORK CITY - The corner of Lenox Avenue and 138th Street was crowded and alive with political talk and activity on the night of October 22, when Fidel Castro spoke at the nearby Abyssinian Baptist Church.

In addition to the 1,600 who had tickets to attend the program inside the church, hundreds of workers and youth were outside in the streets. Most came to welcome Castro and to try to catch a glimpse of the Cuban leader. Many were from the Harlem neighborhood where the church is located, but some came from Queens, the Bronx, and Brooklyn.

A few carried signs protesting the U.S. economic blockade. One handwritten sign said, "Fidel, Sí! Rudy, No!" (referring to Rudolph Giuliani, the mayor of New York City).

"I don't care what they say about Castro, I support the brother," said Arnette, an older Black woman who remembered Castro's visit to Harlem in 1960. "He didn't yield to white America. They don't like him because, to be frank, he didn't kiss butt. He didn't beg. I think the Cubans are a strong people."

Four young Black men were huddled around an older Black man and listening intently. This reporter caught just a sentence of his presentation as I walked by. "And he sent them troops to Angola, and I appreciate him for that," he told his audience.

"Me love Fidel," a construction worker from Antigua said. "He's a man for the poor people. Nobody should dictate how he runs his country." His friend, also a construction worker and a Rastafarian like he was, added, "Big presidents like Reagan tried to step on him. He stand up to all of them for justice for all."

The talk everywhere was about Cuba and Fidel as people explained what they thought of the Cuban leader. A small number said they weren't sure, but most people had definite opinions.

Nhlanhla, a 27-year-old South African who is a graduate student at the New School, said he was disappointed that more people could not get inside the church to hear Castro. "On the heels of the Million Man March, which for me was a beautiful historic occasion, a celebration of brotherhood, it is too bad more people can not listen to what he says, because it would be good for the people who were inspired by that march to seek alternatives outside religion and outside capitalism. And Fidel Castro to me has the right alternative," he said.

"I think it is a statement in and of itself for Fidel Castro to come here," said Wendy Calderón, a Colombian- born resident of Harlem. "Look at this neighborhood," she stated, pointing to abandoned buildings and dilapidated housing. "Just with that he's saying something. He's saying I'm with the poor, that the working people are valuable to me."

"I just don't think he is the monster that they paint him to be," said Noritha Brown, a health-care worker from Harlem.

Twenty-one year old Munkunda Tejada and her friend Antonio Lora are both students from Hofstra University who came all the way from Long Island. "We read something in the newspaper and then we watched CNN, and I said, `Let's go!" said Lora. "I have a cousin studying in Cuba and he's told me how Cuba is totally different from the way it is portrayed."

`Just about eradicated racism in Cuba'
"Castro just about eradicated racism in Cuba and they are trying to put him down," said Isis Grimes, a nurse's aide at Harlem Hospital. "He got rid of the elite and this government can't handle that. They think the whole damn world belongs to them."

Irma Cáceres from Noticiero Nacional de Televisión Cubana was there to cover the activities for Cuban TV. She found herself surrounded by young people eager to find out more about Cuba. "It is so inspiring to hear them chanting against the blockade," she said.

Some said they didn't agree with Castro's political views but were still opposed to Washington's policies toward Cuba.

"He's a man. I don't agree with his ideas. But he's got a right to be heard," said James Mossey Jr., a Harlem resident. "They say Cuba is a bad place to live. Well, Mississippi is a bad place to live too. At least in Cuba they don't have drugs and beggars. The [U.S.] government needs to clean up its own act."

Kelvin, a painter from Trinidad said, "I have loved Fidel since 1959. He made a lot of changes in Cuba. They had gambling and prostitution before. Since he took over the place, he cut that out."

Mary, a retired nurse's attendant said she was 38 years old when Fidel came to Harlem and stayed at the Hotel Theresa in 1960. "He was standing there with his swashbuckling self waving and talking to people," she stated. "Some say he don't like the common man, but he always comes among the common people. That shows he's a human being. This is a historic event and I had to be here for this second time in Harlem."

Right-wingers get cool reception
Late in the evening about 15 opponents of the Cuban revolution and supporters of the embargo showed up and picketed for a brief time. Their appearance caused a stir. The cops separated them to one side of the street and kept anti-embargo protesters and others who'd come to welcome Castro on the other side.

A Black local teacher yelled at the new arrivals, "Gusanos [worms] out of Harlem!" as they picketed. "Fidel is one of the greatest men in history," he told the Militant. "The Cuban people have made the most noble sacrifice in Africa, especially because of what they did in Angola."

Shango, a sound engineer who is from St. Lucia tried to explain to those observing what was going on. "The revolution is on the other side of the street," he yelled, pointing to those holding signs saying, "Alto al Embargo Inhumano" (Stop the inhuman embargo), and "United in the struggle with the Cuban people."

"Batista's family is on this side," he said, pointing to the anti-Castro demonstrators. Fulgencio Batista was the U.S.-backed dictator whose tyranny was overthrown by the Cuban people in 1959. "Fidel ain't a bad man," Shango continued. "He says what he thinks, not what they say he's supposed to say. If Fidel was president here, we wouldn't have these ghettos."

An Afro-Cuban man walked over near the anti-Castro demonstrators and added his comments of explanation to the crowd. "These people are racists," he said, pointing to the picketers. "I'm not pro-Castro. But I'd rather have 100 Castros than have these people in power."

The discussion went on for hours like this, with many staying until midnight.

At one point, what looked like it might be a motorcade transporting Castro passed by the crowd. Those holding anti- embargo signs chanted "Fidel!, Fidel!" Many others who held no signs said nothing, but burst into spontaneous and respectful applause.

Derek Bracey, Hilda Cuzco, Francisco Picado, and Greg Rosenberg contributed to this article.

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