Cuban-born, American-bred and worried about the tenor of presidential politics

Posted March 21, 2016

I was born in Cuba 50 years ago. I have spent the last 49 years of my life in the United States where I’ve grown up listening to my parents’ stories about Cuba and the communist dictator who consumed their beloved country. Perhaps because of where I was born, I have always had an interest in politics but never as much as in the past months. For the first time in my life, I am scared of an election’s outcome.

My parents fled Cuba to ensure that my brother and I would be raised in a free and safe country. I grew up fearing communism but knowing I was safe in the great democracy of the United States. These days I’m no longer certain we are as safe.

I have been alarmed by the increasingly virulent and contentious elections this year. However, it was a comment by my 77-year-old father during a recent visit to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., that left me cold.

While watching a short museum documentary chronicling Hitler’s rise to power, my father leaned over and asked me if Hitler’s speeches reminded me of anyone. I drew a blank.

"Trump sounds like Hitler," said my father matter-of-factly. My dad, a man who’d never attended college, who’s been a blue-collar worker his entire life, left me stunned by the reality of what he’d said.

Since then, I have been thinking about the German people and Hitler’s rise to power in comparison to Trump’s shocking (and unfathomable) rise through the primaries. When did the Germans realize that they were blindly supporting a maniacal leader with poisonous ideals? When did they realize that Germany’s soul had fractured and millions would be sent to their deaths?

In Cuba, Castro literally rode into power from the mountains after a successful coup supported by many Cubans. However, within months, Cubans realized what a terrible mistake they had made. They had welcomed a dictator, not a democratic leader.

Trump is not Hitler, at least not yet. But Trump and some of his supporters are beginning to sound like Hitler and his followers did in the 1930s. Trump, like Hitler, speaks of banning or blocking a religion and deporting 11 million people. He inserts references to using violence against protestors and even other countries if they do not capitulate to him. Trump, like Hitler, speaks in nationalistic terms about elevating our country to be feared by others. (I’ll just briefly say that Ted Cruz isn’t much better than Trump. In some ways, Cruz is worse because he is the son of a Cuban immigrant, but that’s another article.)

Hitler was a master at capitalizing on his country’s anger and passive consent. He lit the fire under their anger, and it boiled to the surface. Trump is using the exact same tactic.

Will Americans make the same mistake as the Germans? Just a year ago, I would have found that question absurd. How could anyone compare the greatest democracy in the world to Hitler’s Germany and the Holocaust?

Just as Germany turned on itself by turning on its own people, I see my country turning on itself. It is led by the Republican party which bred Trump and is now at a loss as to how to respond. It is the party behind the debates spewing hateful and nationalistic rhetoric never before heard in an American presidential election where audiences laugh and clap rather than walk out in disgust.

We are not a country without problems and diversity of opinion. No country is, of course. It took several wars, several hundred years, and much bloodshed to become a wiser and more tolerant nation.

We began to understand the injustices and inequities of slavery and the Jim Crow era of discrimination among others. So we changed our country.

Americans slowly moved the social justice pendulum toward the center and set the standard for democratic rule all around the world. At least that was the case until 2008 when ugly rhetoric became commonplace and acceptable and when Sarah Palin’s speeches cloaked in “folksy” charm actually hid more frightening racial and social undertones but amused her followers nonetheless.

The color of our skin suddenly seemed to draw lines of social inequities. Would an American president really ban people because of their religion? Have we really become as hateful as we seem lately?

I am scared each time I think of the German Jews driven from their birthplace by their neighbors and a cruel leader. I wasn’t even born here, so when I see supporters at a Trump rally telling protestors to “go home," “go back to Auschwitz," I am scared. Where is my Auschwitz? This is my home.

Most of the Germans were good people whose emotions got played on by a master who pandered to their fears. Often, group behavior sets in and we simply follow. There have always been, and always will be, more followers than leaders. But we need not follow anyone blindly.

I was born in Cuba, but this is my country. I worry that we have forgotten who we are as Americans.

Diane Evia-Lanevi is the founder of The Tomorrow Fund for Hispanic Students and serves on several nonprofit boards, including The American Immigration Council, the Durham Nativity School and Uniting, NC. She was born in Camaguey, Cuba.


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