Posts tagged with "epluribus america"

Wrestlemania Represents A Symbolic Trait Of Many American Men



Tough, massive, strapping, powerful men, (and some women) ready to rip your head off…that’s essentially what Wrestlemania is in a nut shell. All of these characteristics are wrapped up in the WWE world despite it being a highly choreographed and strategic performance complete with moves like the Pile Driver, The Peoples Elbow, Leg Drops and Rock Bottoms. The wrestlers and the folks running the show already know the outcome before the frenzied fans do. Nonetheless, many people, particularly men, just about foam at the mouth trying to be a part of the action that is Wrestlemania.

American men, and perhaps men around the world who have come to love this unique part of American culture, identify with this symbol of strength and might. The image of the strapping man making his way towards the ring is the epitome of might and American men eat it up like candy because that’s what many of them see themselves as. Nothing else seems to matter except the display of strength and all that is perceived as manliness in the wrestling world. Wrestlemania fulfills the dreams of millions around the world but especially American men whose identity is wrapped up in that symbol of might.

Wrestlemania 33 took place at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida this year with record number crowds, and the wrestlers didn’t disappoint. Even John Cena decided to propose to his long-time girlfriend, one of the Bella twins also of the wrestling world, during the hyped event. Manhattan bar and restaurant Legends is known for hosting monthly viewings of wrestling shows and today’s crowd surpassed the 700 reservations they received. A group called, YEP! I Like Wrestling (YEPILW), are the organizers behind the monthly events. Sir Wilkins is a member of the organization and was in full Randy Savage costume corralling wrestling fans to their seats in the packed establishment. Justifying its significance as part of American culture, he says, “Wrestlemania is the Super Bowl of wrestling; it’s pop culture, it’s been around for over 20 years. It’s on ESPN, it’s on MTV, it’s on everything, even sneakers.”

The line outside the establishment was a long one full of cheering men and women ready for the showdown. They chanted and cheered whenever another reveler showed up in a costume or some other artifact of the thing they love the most; wrestling. To many, Wrestlemania is part of what it means to be a tough and strong American man, keeping its popularity high and steadily growing. It was certainly pandemonium across the country as folks ushered in one of America’s favorite pastime. Wrestlemania is here to stay.



Fashion Lives In A Burning Room



For just a moment, I’d like to take you on a journey; a fashion journey in the middle of a burning room. Don’t be frightened. The colors are beautiful. The people are simply magnificent. And, if you disregard the flames around you, you will be captivated by magic, music and the beauty of our world.  Fashion is that one thing that grabs us—even for just a brief moment on a chaotic planet—and allows us to imagine a world we’d all love to live in. Fashion lives, even when the outside world seems to be crumbling at our feet.

The lines, angles, symmetries, the walks—each a unique display of self-worth from the strutter—will embrace you with the possibilities of what the world can be; beautiful like a dancing bird of paradise. Those on the outside looking in walk away with this burning question; what do they know that the rest of us don’t? Nevertheless, the fashion world isn’t untouched by scandals or the perils of the world around it. Photographers are responsible for bringing many aspects of our daily lives to life. They capture tragedies, wars, and sufferings of all kinds, not just beauty, although it serves as a soul nurturing distraction from the “real world” that’s left unchanged and unmoved outside the protected walls of an incredibly influential fashion industry.

Images are powerful. They tell stories of our lives, our hopes, fears and dreams. Fashion is part of who we are and Fashion Week New York never seems to disappoint, despite the glitches and strange designs coming out of this unique world full of beautiful and iconic characters, and creative figures. When the world is quiet—which fashion week seems to grant for just a short window of time—it allows us to feel and look our best, which never goes out of style. Even in a burning room.

Although he’s not a fashion photographer, Steve McCurry, a world-renowned photographer responsible for his iconic photograph, Afghan Girl, said, “Fashion is always a part of culture, whether any part of the world, culture is important. You can live in the most remote parts of Tibet or China, or Russia and fashion is always…we always want to adorn ourselves and look good and have the right hair, or clothes or whatever it happens to be, it’s something I think that, we always want to look our best to present ourselves in the best possible way.”

Art imitates life, and despite some turning their noses at the mere mention of politics or anything other than fashion during Fashion Week, the old adage remains. The incredibly talented and prominent author and public speaker, Fran Lebowitz, a fellow panelist during the FWNY reveal of the 2017 Pirelli Calendar didn’t hold back when asked by moderator Derek Blasberg about President Trump’s impact on the fashion world. “He’s worse than Mussolini,” she quipped.

Peter Lindbergh, one of the most influential contemporary photographers and film director, is responsible for this year’s Pirelli Calendar. He seems to put it all in perspective when he said, “Fashion is foremost, dangerous because it allows people to pretend things that they are not. And, it’s easier for people who have money, than for those who have no money.” Although he goes on to explain that that is not the point of fashion, he seems to honor the fact that fashion is a much needed distraction from the metaphorical flames of this burning room we call; the world.

What does the future look like for the fashion world? According to Lindbergh, “the future is t-shirts and tennis shoes.”



I Am Not Your Negro Challenges White Americans To Confront An Ugly Truth; Racism



James Baldwin spoke from the grave in this searing and poignant piece of storytelling of our American culture and shameful racist history.

This film is not merely an entertainment piece to add to our collection of artful imagery to fill our heads and occupy empty and bored pockets of the mind. No, this piece is to wake our collective conscience that is rooted in a basic understanding of humanity. The difference this time is that the “our” Baldwin and the creators of this powerful piece of historical and cultural storytelling is directly aimed at is white people; American white people to be exact.

I Am Not Your Negro is a soul shaking and profound message. It forces viewers, especially American whites, to face the ugly truth of race relations in our country. It forces them to address the largest elephant in the middle of the cultural room we call our United States. Keep in mind, there are other elephants to content with, like immigration, women’s rights, disability rights, LGBTQ rights and indigenous people’s rights; however, the biggest one—institutionalized racism—is threatening to release a level of aggression like musth across the country. The film’s aim seems to push white Americans, yet again, through more modern and powerful means, to face the truth of life in America for black people, or “Negros” as this film appoints as another searing and thought-provoking label of brown-skinned Americans.

One can’t deny the uncomfortable truth staring, screaming, whaling, hanging, running, begging, pleading, fighting, marching and confronting them…right in front of their eyes. Closing your eyelids, seeking refuge in indifference, won’t change this stark truth. Black people, since the beginning of our country, have suffered tremendously at the hands of white people. Thankfully, not all white people. There are examples in this film of whites entrenched in the struggle for racial justice and equality too. This truth can’t be separated from the black American struggle. Even so, time has yet to heal these wounds as this film so justly brings to the forefront of a national dialogue. The images on the big screen aren’t new. Most of us have seen them before; either in a class room, a movie theater, books, pictures and essentially through all forms of media and communication. Bob Dylan singing of the callous murder of Medgar Evers stings, and moves a compassionate soul to tears. It seems that each new generation requires a different and more impactful way of forcing much needed societal change. That’s what this film represents in many ways too.

I Am Not Your Negro is the incomplete work of the most dynamic, clear, passionate and unapologetic orator of our young culture and democracy; James Baldwin. Baldwin expresses himself in ways that are still stirring in our current society. If America is to sustain its good fortune—if one can call it that—of not having to experience what has been laid out in Baldwin’s other writings in The Fire Next Time, a populous movement coming to a bloody and tragic head, underway even before the days of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr., which this powerful film draws upon, than the time for real change is upon us. Baldwin lays it at our feet. His words, and those of Samuel L. Jackson further tattoos it on our conscience, reminding us all of our responsibility and role in creating a new nation that honors its people, regardless of creed, color, or sex. What we do with this forewarning depends on each and every American that yearns for all that this country pretends to be. But first, we must face the ugly truth that despite the “perfect” images of American lives that has shaped our thinking and understanding of ourselves and fellow countrymen, the reality on the ground is completely detached from the true lives and experiences of black Americans.

Baldwin expresses this as clearly as any man can or could, especially when he states that the image of America we grown up with looks ideal in movies and pictures…for white people. Unfortunately, the portrayal of black Americans is not only false, but morally damaging and despicably demeaning to the people that helped built this country through the brutal practice of slave labor. He makes it expressively clear that black people are not the big lipped, lazy sub-human buffoons as consistently portrayed in the old footage shown as a historical reference in I Am Not Your Negro.

This film diverts our attention back to the reality on the ground. And just when you think that the racial narrative of our country placed in front of us in this powerful film is unrepresentative of our current state of being, you’re hit with images of Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Walter Scott, Alton Sterling, Sandra Bland, Philando Castille, Terence Crutcher… the list goes on and on, just like the struggle for equality and basic human rights for all Americans… not just for those who have benefited from oppression, slavery and brutality, to maintain a grasp on the heavy crown called power. Undoubtedly, as it comes across in this film, power equates to might but real power embraces the responsibility of humanity.

America, throughout its short history, has failed to reconcile its racist past adequately enough to settle these burning issues that keep us bound in a discombobulated ball of spaghetti. It’s not a coincidence that the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture only came to fruition in September of 2016. That was 6-months ago… after years of black civil rights leaders and other activists working to persuade mostly white politicians that it’s the right thing to do. There are numerous examples of unjust treatment of blacks, and stark examples of our evolving police state in this film that has primarily impacted black people in America. For this to change, America must change. Specifically white Americans, according to Baldwin and many others like him who have paid the ultimate price pushing for this change to occur.

Throughout the film, this sentiment is expressed eloquently by Baldwin in this uncomfortable but crucial piece of cultural and racial perspective. Baldwin, from the grave, is targeting our collective conscience as Americans. “We’re in this together,” he seems to shout from an impenetrable divide. America is not a white country. America is a multicultural phenomenon brought about by all who built, fought for and shaped her. Black Americans have an equal stake and root in this land and its identity. If white Americans—especially those in powerful positions to shape and govern us as one nation—accept this unyielding truth, we will come together as one people. In our relatively short history, this has yet to happen, making I Am Not Your Negro a reflective piece of art that imitates our real lives. This film is a must see. But, prepare to be confronted with an uncomfortable truth.


The Challenges Of Scouting In CNY

The local Boy Scouts of America Troops need a few good volunteers. The local council, specifically Troop 21, was formed in 2008 by former BSA Council President, Ricardo Fernando “Rick” Rosero. They serve local at-risk youths, many of whom are new immigrants and refugees from war torn countries that now call Central New York home.

Following a two-year sabbatical after retiring as council president, Rosero said, “I came back and asked them to send me to a place where there were no troops. And they said Donovan Middle School needs a troop. So, I said fine and I went there.” Troop 21 started with just a few scouts but quickly grew to include more local students taking part in the after school meetings. “It started with three, and then six and ten, and as time went by another volunteer came out to assist me. That’s how it all started,” Rosero said.

Today the local BSA collectively serves about 50 scouts in Troop 21, 101 and 316 with many success stories from those who joined in 2008 that have gone on to lead successful lives. “Everybody graduates from high school. Those that are eligible can go to college or go into a training program. We really stress that as the young fellas get older. This is something we’re pushing all the time,” Rosero says. The idea of going to college after high school is not necessarily a good option or fit for some of the scouts and Rosero says that’s not a bad thing, especially when they have other options, such as training programs, that can help them lead successful lives. He says his message to the troop is, “When you graduate from high school you need further training, whether you go through the college route, or the crafts route. You can be a Plummer or Electrician, or whatever will help you because you definitely need training for the future.” In the 9-years of serving local at-risk youths, Rosero says that the program has been tremendously successful as he points out that not a single one of his scouts have had any dealings with law enforcement or have gotten themselves into trouble. “No problems whatsoever. I can categorically say that,” he adds.

And, he wants to keep it that way.  Rosero says BSA Troop 21 needs the community’s support in many ways but the most effective way is through volunteering. “The more young men we can help, the better. There are a lot of kids out there. When you start to look at statistics and demographics there are programs out there that actually work, but nothing works unless you have volunteers. If you don’t have people out there in the streets and helping and participating, it’s all rhetoric,” he said.

Although the program started at Donovan Middle School, Troop 21 serves young men from all parts of the city of Utica and beyond. “That’s why we do a lot of driving around,” he says. The small number of volunteers and BSA leaders are tasked with picking up and dropping off the scouts, which amounts to a lot of driving during the week. They also go on camping trips, swimming lessons and take part in a host of other BSA activities, making it more and more difficult to meet the needs of these at-risk youths. Troop 21 could also use a van to help with their transportation efforts; however, Rosero says although funding is important, the greatest need is volunteerism. He says, “Unfortunately, I find that a lot of adults…they read the papers, they see what’s going on around them and they’re assuming someone else is going to pick up the pace and volunteer, and they don’t have to. I rather people keep their money, and give us their time.”

There have been some significant changes taking place within the BSA in the last few years. In 2015, after coming under tremendous pressure and criticism, the organization moved to accept gay scout leaders and youths. And more recently an announcement from BSA Chief Scout Executive Michael Surbaugh effectively changed the organizations position on eligibility and participation for the transgender community. However, these momentous changes will not be applied across the board. The local BSA troop is funded by Utica’s Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church and according to BSA policy; each sponsoring organization dictates the policy each troop must abide by. Rosero said, “I just read about it the other day and it wouldn’t be a problem in our troop because Our Lady of Lourdes Church dictates to us any policy. For example, their policy as a church would never allow homosexual leadership or members. I don’t make the decision our sponsoring organization makes the decision.” Rosero says he has not dealt with his troop members facing a similar LGBTQ issue.

Those interested in supporting BSA Troop 21, 101 and 316 can do so by visiting their website: or by calling (315) 735-4437. Despite all the politics and changes taking place within the BSA, it truly is inspiring to hear and witness what these young men are doing to improve their lives and the community they call home. These young people are not lost to video games, or other modern avenues that can lead to a less productive life. They’re learning and growing as organically as possible in an increasingly changing world thanks to what the BSA instills in them; character and leadership. But, without volunteers and the support from parents and their community, these fundamental and important goals will become increasingly harder to achieve. CNY, and especially Utica, can’t afford to lose another generation of young men to the perils of an impoverished community. There is hope. You can see it in the outcome and eyes of those directly impacted by BSA Troop 21. Scouting works, and research proves that.



standing rock

Journey To Standing Rock


“The white man broke every promise except for one. They promised to take our land, and they did,” these are the words of war chief and holy man Sitting Bull that, more than 100 years later, seems to still echo across the plains of the Dakotas.

The bitter cold and recent decision from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that put a halt to the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline, (DAPL) may have sent some protesters packing, but not all of them. The camp—today a community of staunch, unwavering and passionate like-minded people—is bracing for what’s to come. Whatever that may be, some of the Veterans I spoke to said. Even after president-elect Donald Trump, who supports the construction of the pipeline, takes over the reins at the White House. The protesters, those willing and cleared to speak to the media, made their intent very clear. They’re not budging until all Energy Transfer Partners, L.P. equipment, still at the ready to proceed in constructing the 1,172 mile pipeline under Lake Oahe, is removed from the disputed site.

The location of the All Nations Camp, as its been dubbed by its members and the locals, is in Cannon Ball, SD. A short distance drive up the road passed Prairie Knights Casino. The camp sits between Oceti Sakowin Camp and Sacred Stone camp, immediately after crossing the Missouri River. For many of the protesters, the casino provides some relief from the camp and the bitter cold. As you near the camp site, you can’t help but feel a sense of amazement and awe of the tenacity and strong will of the human spirit. These are the first Americans. Fighting to maintain their culture and identity, still.

“Fifteen or twenty thousand years ago, at the end of the fourth great Ice Age or before, the first men reached the New World. These were the ancestors of the American Indians. They came in small bands of several families, following the hunters who got them food. Straggling out of Asia in pursuit of game, they had no notion of the two enormous continents that lay ahead of them, empty of men,” states a passage in The Ghost Dance, The Origins Of Religion, by Weston La Barre. This understanding carries enormous significance when adequately judging the on-going protest against the pipeline, despite the multicultural distinction of its members, these people have taken on a David versus Goliath like combat.  And, they’re unsure of what lies ahead.

Tribal Flags of all kinds and meanings guide your path into the snow covered camp shrouded with howling winds and flapping tarps begging for mercy. Tents, Tepees, RV’s and even basic plywood  structures that serve as a much needed refuge from the weather, seem to stand at attention as a sign of opposition against an unmatched power, and an unforgiving changing world. Man’s need and insatiable appetite for oil and other riches that help advance and sustain our modern society reigns supreme in these vast lands, fought fiercely for, and belonging to the first Americans, the Lakotas’.

“…every year the first entry of man into the New World seems to be pushed deeper into antiquity,” states La Barre in The Ghost Dance. And, to put the DAPL protest in historical perspective, one can’t help but find the irony and sad truth of this observation. The Lakotas’ aren’t new to these kinds of constrictions, but it’s hard to argue that the on-going struggle for basic human and land rights is steadily pushing them further away from their ancient past, as the world around them tugs away at what remains of their land and culture.

A recent article in the Smithsonian titled, Grant’s Uncivil War by Peter Cozzens, states fittingly at this moment in history concerning this on-going issue: Under the Fort Laramie Treaty, the United States designated all of present-day South Dakota west of the Missouri River, including the Black Hills as the Great Sioux Reservation, for the Lakotas’ “absolute and undisturbed use and occupation.” The treaty also reserved much of present-day northeastern Wyoming and southeastern Montana as Unceded Indian Territory, off-limits to whites without the Lakotas’ consent. The article goes onto say that “most Lakotas’ settled on the reservation, but a few thousand traditionalists rejected the treaty and made their home in the Unceded Territory. Their guiding spirits were the revered war chief and holy man Sitting Bull and the celebrated war leader Crazy Horse. These “non-treaty” Lakotas’ had no quarrel with the wasichus (whites) so long as they stayed out of the Lakota country. This the wasichus largely did, until 1874.” That’s when Major General George Armstrong Custer received his marching orders to scout land for a new Army post, according to historical records.  Fast forward 142 years later, it’s clear to see who got the raw deal of the Fort Laramie Treaty.

During my stay in Bismarck, ND I got a chance to speak to an official who asked to remain anonymous. He made the argument, sitting next to his wife and a family friend they jokingly didn’t want to claim as such, that the protests may have started as a fight for mother earth and clean water, but says that it’s taken a political turn for another shot at pushing for land rights. “It’s about old rights. That’s what the protest is really about,” he said. “Pipelines are everywhere! Why is this one so important?! It’s a lands rights issue and the rule of law has been violated,” he said. He asserts that the protesters that have come from across the country and Canada are not being good guests of the two bordering states. The group shared stories of poaching, menacing and trespassing on farmers lands. He said the cost to maintain order and safety doesn’t come cheap. “North Dakota has paid 17-million so far to deal with the protesters,” he said. The official also stated that the coverage of the protests have been biased and that goodwill between the Sioux and locals have been damaged because of the protests. “Friends are torn apart,” he said.

Speaking to some Veterans at the camp, the consensus was that the recent visit from other Veterans led by Wesley Clark, Jr. caused more confusion and discontent than anything else it set out to do. Some of them believed that there were political motives involved in Clark coming to the camp. “He even rode on a horse up to a hill,” one of the “Old Vets” claimed. The Veterans, still dug deep into this struggle, refer to themselves as “Old Vets” to distinguish from the newer arriving Veterans that have since left. One thing was made clear. They’re not budging until the Sioux Nation asks them to leave. When asked about getting paid to maintain the protest, the group collectively took offense to the question and said, absolutely not. However, the question merit asking as it was brought up by some in Bismarck, including the official that spoke anonymously, as a reason behind the on-going protest at Standing Rock.

My evening at the camp ended at the Dome, appropriately aired and warmed with burning wood and the smell of sage. It’s a dome structure in the middle of the camp where camp leaders meet to discuss issues, like change of perspectives, how to improve camp life, the forming of clicks and Lakota virtues. The members form a big circle and take turn speaking, adhering to a respectful exchange, and ending with a prayer.

It is necessary to recognize both sides of the situation. It’s hard to argue with the official who says it’s time to merge cultures and collectively contribute to our greater American society. However, the root of this pattern of conquering land from the first Americans, at any cost, runs deep. The wounds are still raw and hard felt. How the Trump era of politics and dealings will impact this struggle is anybody’s guess, but it behooves one to remember that the strength of America is rooted in all the people of this land. The first, the old, and the newcomers.

Former U.S. Consular To Cuba Reflects On His Work And The Passing Of Fidel Castro


The world is changing at a rapid pace right in front of our eyes. Trump is president-elect and Fidel Castro has died. These two incidents alone represent a monumental shift in the world. It’s a lot to take in and reflect upon, regardless of how these two powerful figures will eventually settle into their rightful place in history.

Fidel Castro’s passing, perhaps even more so than the election of Donald Trump, highlights the importance of conducting diplomacy maturely. That’s according to Tom Holladay who is retired from the State Department these days but recalls his time as U.S. Consular to Cuba. Holladay served as consular in Cuba from 1977 to 1979. He was part of a group of ten American Foreign Service people who reopened the interest section of the US embassy, as part of the Swizz embassy in Cuba. “The Swizz had been representing us since we broke relations with Cuba and left in 1961. So, we went back to our old building, which had been kept by the Swizz, and we set about trying to reestablish a channel of communication with the Cuban government and solve some problems that had been outstanding,” he explained.

CUBA – CIRCA 1962: A stamp printed in Cuba shows image of the Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz, a Cuban communist revolutionary and politician who was Prime Minister of Cuba from 1959 to 1976, and President from 1976 to 2008, circa 1962.

ePa: Can you describe the state of Cuba upon your arrival in 1977?

TH: I don’t think it was really that different than a lot of the countries in Latin America at the time, materially, probably a little more run-down. Cuba was sort of a dependency of the Soviet Union so they weren’t that bad off. A lot of old cars, a lot of unpainted buildings…interesting place, but I didn’t really focus on what the place looked like.

ePa: At the time, U.S. relations with Cuba were much different. Were you well received, or was it a hostile welcoming entering the country?

TH: No, no, this was an initiative of President Carter that actually during the Ford administration, even under Kissinger, we had started this effort to try to normalize relations with Cuba, and it was briefly interrupted by the elections when Carter ran against Ford. Ford was trying to get his own term in office. Ford administration had started this optimate, and they cranked it back down for the elections, probably because of the Cuban vote in Miami. And then Carter, as soon as he was elected, his transition people started the process of getting ready to open with Cuba very shortly after he took office.

I was working in Cuban Affairs in Washington during the time of the run-up, and then going back down, then cranking back up again, and so when we arrived, it was an optimistic time.

The problems were that the Cubans were becoming militarily involved in Africa. The Cubans, had among other things figured out a way to fly troops to Angola via Guiana, using old Bristol Britannia aircrafts that didn’t really have the rage without a fuel stop, and the Guianese gave them the fuel stop. So, as we were opening up and dealing with some of the issues that I was involved in, we were also concerned about their increase activity in Africa. And that eventually put the kibosh on the improving relations. We really couldn’t make any progress on that political side.

The real reason the Carter administration gave for opening up with Cuba was that they could solve some of the human rights issues that had been pending, and some U.S. citizen issues that we couldn’t really resolve if we didn’t have a presence and a dialogue.

ePa: Can you describe some of the issues you dealt with?

TH: We had political prisoners, hijackers, including American citizens who couldn’t leave Cuba with their families for many years because Cuba wouldn’t give them permission to leave. And then there were a lot of Cuban citizens who suffered from the human rights situation there, who wanted to leave but couldn’t get out, so we were trying to solve all those problems.

We were trying to reestablish a dialogue and reestablish some semblance of normal relations.

ePa: What was your first day of work like?   

TH: The first day we opened, all of the people with complaints and problems came to the opening—American hijackers, Americans who couldn’t leave the country, people with permission to leave but needed American visas, all kinds of people—they all showed up as we were talking to the press out front. The management was worried that this would mar the opening. So, they brought them all inside for me to deal with. But, they forgot to screen out the media when they did this. So then I got into a question and answer session with these people, and of course it was all recorded and people in the United States saw me on television that night.

ePa: Can you talk about the hijackers?

TH: Well the hijackers that I dealt with were Americans. They were guys who hijacked planes to Cuba. And they came in and said, ‘we want to leave, we can’t take it anymore.’ So then I had to tell them that, I can’t give you a U.S. passport to leave because you’re on the FBI Wanted list so the only way I can send you home is into the hands of the U.S. authorities. So then they would go to the Cubans and the Cubans would say, ‘if you have a U.S. passport we’ll let you leave.’ Course we couldn’t give them one, so I’d tell them, go back and tell the Cubans I’m not going to give you the passport until we can arrange a way for you to go home that you can’t get beyond that reach.

Most of these guys were American black guys. One group came to Cuba, asked to see Fidel, robbed all the passengers and tried to give Fidel what they stole from the passengers. Fidel had them put in jail immediately, and they never got out again.

So they (hijackers) wanted to leave so we organized their return to the United States via Canada. Air Canada sent down a plane with most of the passengers being undercover Mounties. So, we got them all out to the airport and the stewardesses refused to fly with them. We had to abort the operation. Then, the Canadians spread the rumor that they had gotten to Canada and they (hijackers) were at large there. That didn’t work out. The Cubans thought it was ridiculous that an airline couldn’t transport some fugitives, and that the stewardesses could veto such an operation.

In any case, they were supposed to fly to Canada. Their plane would become an FBI charter and they’d fly to the U.S. where they would come under arrest, had it played out. But, we moved them via Jamaica a few days later with the same plan.

ePa: What happened after the hijackers arrived in the U.S.?

TH: They got back to the United States and then one of them said that I promised him that he would get off if he promised to go back. So, I got dragged up to Federal court but the judge believed me. They all came in and lied that I had enticed them to go to the United States…

ePa: When they got back here eventually, they were all arrested?

TH: Yes, exactly and sentenced to jail for periods of time. One of them was a Puerto Rican guy who hijacked the first 747 to Cuba. His name was Rivera, (R. Campos). These guys were on the margin of society…they didn’t work, and they were sort of malcontent.

He (R. Campos) was the one who said that I tricked him into going back. But, he sent me a Christmas card for years afterwards from jail. I don’t know where he got my address, but for years I got this card from Rivera.

ePa: Really? That didn’t scare you at all, considering that he claimed you promised him freedom when he got here?

TH: (Laughing) Yeah, well it worried me and he may still be after me, but I’ve forgotten him. I think he knows that I meant no ill will toward him…he just saw these other guys leaving and thought, well, you know, I’ll do it too.

ePa: Was he in jail in Cuba?

TH: No, he wasn’t in jail. Most of these hijackers were not in jail in Cuba. They were on the street. Only some very violent and means ones, who killed people in the process of hijacking the planes, went to jail.

ePa: As Consular, did you have a relationship with Fidel Castro, or had any direct dealings with him?

TH: I never dealt with Fidel directly, only very shortly after we got there. Nobody else had access to him either. I only had access to Fidel once in connection with a hijacking to Cuba of a Delta flight, where I went to the airport for our side and Fidel went for his side. I had pretty much the run of the airport, they knew me out there. I can always get in the back way and go in the secure areas but that day I couldn’t get in.

His car was parked out there, so I went to the normal places I usually go in and they wouldn’t let me in. They said, ‘what are you doing here?’ and I said, ‘I’m here for the same reason he’s here’. I said, ‘I came to look at the welfare of the passengers of this plane’, and he, the Director of Immigration,  took me around to the VIP entrance of the tarmac, pushed me through the door, and there was Fidel.

So we sat down on a little couch, I asked him about who the hijacker was and he gave his little ditty about the hijacking group. We had a bilateral hijacking agreement, in which we agreed to return hijackers or punish them locally. The Cubans were hijacking boats and going North and the Americans were hijacking planes. Some Cuban planes had been hijacked too, but he (Fidel Castro) was just giving the reassurances that all of the United States should start respecting the terms of the hijacking agreement, which is in sustention, we’re going to abide by its principles in handling this case.

Then, we had to figure out how to pay for the fuel. The Delta pilot had a credit card he couldn’t use in Cuba. So, I had to commit to making sure that the Cubans got their money for Delta’s fuel. I said I would guarantee that this 15-thousand dollars worth of fuel would be paid for, which a Consular Officer is never supposed to do…is commit the U.S. government to payment. But, Delta lived up to their word. They transferred the money to us and we issued the check on to the Cuban Central Bank.

Those are some of the nitty-gritty operational details…

ePa: Can you talk about some of the political prisoners you dealt with?

TH: Larry Lunt, (Lawrence K. Lunt) was an ex-pat who was married to a member of the Belgium Royal House. He was C.I.A. He was in prison and I visited him every month. The Belgium Ambassador also visited him. The Belgium Ambassador was his wife’s cousin. So he was really well taken care of… I don’t think the Belgium Ambassador had anything else to do.

We had another guy who ran the American Club; we had another guy who worked for Look Magazine who parachuted into the country, just different guys who had U.S. citizenship but who were in jail for political crimes. They wore different color uniforms and were segregated from common prisoners. So, I visited them every month. They were an odd lot, (laughing).

Meanwhile, secret talks take place between Miami Cubans and the Cuban government, which the U.S. government did or did not participate in, where they agreed that the Cubans would release 3 to 5-thousand Cuban political prisoners, if we would take them. And we agreed to take them at a rate of 500 a month. The Cubans also agreed to give permission to leave the country to 15-thousand ex-political prisoners. So then, we started processing them.

The first group was a VIP group. One of them was Paulita Grauw. Paulita had been involved in an attempt to assassinate Fidel by putting a poisoned pill in a milkshake at the Havana Libre. She had delivered this poison pill to the guy at the Soda jerk and he had put it inside the freezer and it had stuck to the wall of the freezer and when he took it out the poison leaked out and he was unable to put it in Fidel’s milkshake. They somehow uncovered the plot and arrested them all. So, Paulita had this attempted murder rap and I had to do an advisory opinion to the department to justify sending her to the U.S. The people who cut this deal where the Miami Cubans. We agreed to do this for them because Carter was big on human rights and we wanted Cubans to release their political prisoners. This would meet one of our conditions for them to improve our relationship, and it would prove that Carter opening to Cuba actually brought some results.

ePa: Can you reflect on Fidel’s death, and what it means for U.S. Cuba relations moving forward?

TH: You know, I’m very torn because I obviously was, I mean, we were subjected to surveillance, bugging, harassing phone calls, break-ins. These security people were on us like flies on shit. They were on top of us all the time. It was an oppressive atmosphere, but I was there trying to do a job and I wasn’t really there to judge them. I was seeing these huge prisons full of people, listening to horror stories all day long, the injustices and the difficulties, the hardships people had gone through because of the revolution, so I was basically dealing with the malcontent of the revolution. But, I believe that the guy deserves some recognition for being the sob that he was, for noble purposes, even though his methods were very bad.

ePa: What are your thoughts on the future of the Cuban people?

TH: I have no idea. Raul is now in charge, has been since 2008. These guys aren’t going to let go. Hopefully they will get the message and start an incremental effort to open up the economy and open up the society in a gradual way. Maybe follow the Chinese model. They have a lot of enemies out there and a lot of people who celebrated Fidel’s death. I’m not sure that it’s that relevant to contemporary Cuba.

Raul has decided to open up diplomatic relations with United States. That’s pretty radical. But, now all bets are off because we have our own domestic problems to content with. We might break relations with Cuba and go back to square one.

If we continue on the path of dialogue and communication instead of posturing and playing fault, we’ll probably be able to move forward. Good things can come from communication and dialogue and dealing direct and nothing good usually comes from vitriol and exchanges of insults.

ePa: Do you think Fidel Castro has brought anything positive to his people and to the world in general?

TH: The guy was a brave man, a tough man, a brilliant man, a master politician, a master chess player. And, he managed to win the hearts and minds of millions of people in the third world. I don’t think you can deny his place in history.

Big Daddy’s And Utica, A Love Story



Big Daddy’s Beauty Supply store on Genesee St., in Utica, NY is more than what it seems. It’s the go to hair place for most African Americans in the area. Andrew “Andy” Gambino, (no relation to the Gambino family, although he jokingly says he couldn’t tell you regardless) took over the store after his father, Russell A. “Big Daddy” Gambino, died suddenly at the age of 66, on August 15, 2009. Gambino relocated from Pittsburgh, PA to carry on his father’s legacy, as he would have wanted. His father had long paved the way for him to fill his shoes, not necessarily by selling  groceries or hair products to people, but with his love for the people he served. The younger Gambino has fulfilled his father’s legacy, and continues to do so. Quietly and humbly.

What makes this story uniquely relevant to our collective American culture, is its deep rooted connection to the black community in Utica, and African American culture in general. Hair is an important part of our American culture and identity. For African Americans, especially, it is substantially more so, considering our long history battling our hair, and all the negative and positive stereotypes attached to it. For these reasons, and perhaps many more, Big Daddy’s has firmly secured its place as part of the unique African American experience.  Although Big Daddy’s customers are varied and diverse, it is the main spot for African Americans to purchase the many products we use to maintain our hair, styles and all kinds of other products primarily used by black folks. There truly is no other hair supply store like it in the area.

This is Big Daddy’s story in honor of his legacy and service to the people in the region, especially African Americans.


Is “Trump” The New Synonym For The N-Word?



Last week, I stopped at one of my favorite upscale resale shops in Clinton, NY. Dawn Marie’s Treasure’s on Park Row is packed with old, new and eclectic things.  I’ve spent hundreds of dollars there since calling the area home in 2008. During this time I thought I had developed some rapport with the owner and her husband. For example, when we see each other we say hello, and engage in small talk. During the holiday season, I have even brought other family members to the small store to shop.

Unfortunately, my stop-in at Dawn Marie’s Treasure’s didn’t go as expected this time. Her husband was at the register instead of Dawn. I said hello and told him I would be browsing in the back. He was busy talking to two other ladies at the register but greeted me and said, OK. As I’m browsing through the winter coats, and following the departure of the ladies, the owner’s husband walked towards me and started to engage me in conversation. He immediately started asking me about my work. I answered politely but was stand-offish because I wasn’t comfortable with his line of questioning. Not satisfied with my answers, he started asking me about my previous position as a journalist and radio talk show host. A position I had 4-years ago. Still feeling uncomfortable with his line of questioning, his tone and demeanor, I politely changed the subject by asking him how he was doing in his life. He apologized for being controversial in his prying and excused himself when the phone rang. Saved by the Bell! I thought, and kept looking through the winter coats.

As I’m shaking my head internally at the ill-mannered audacity of this man, I naturally made my way towards the other clothing rack in the back. This move to the back rack clearly caused some issue for the man who I then hear say in a rushed tone: “I have to go!” to the person on the other end of the phone call he left me to answer. I immediately thought that it was probably because I was no longer in his view. He couldn’t keep his eye on me anymore when I moved from the coat rack to the rack with blazers. My perception was formed by how quickly he got off the phone when I moved, and his tone in delivering, “I have to go!”

After all my visits to the little shop on Park Row, I was hit with a dose of reality… I am perceived as a villain simply because my skin is brown. It didn’t matter that I had become familiar with the shop owners, spent hundreds of dollars at their store, or recommended their shop to friends and family. It was blatant, painful and thought-provoking. I wasn’t just any shopper. I was a black shopper. Trying to remain dignified in this harsh reality and discovery, I maintained my composure, picked out a few items and made my way towards this man who, after getting off the phone, made sure he had both eyeballs on me the entire time I was in the back of the store.

At the register, he started asking me more of his line of controversial and personal questions. By this time, two other people walked in. I took notice that he didn’t seem concerned about their unsupervised presence in the store. They were white. And besides, he had his villain right in front of him. It was me.  As he’s checking me out he started asking me about my previous job again. He was making a face like he was trying to remember some juicy tale about my personal life but couldn’t put his finger on it. I just kept giving him a look that I hoped would ward him off, but he kept attacking me with his prying. I asked him why he was peppering me with his questions and he laughed it off as if it was all just a big joke. He then started asking me about my son. He said, “How’s your son? You have a son, right? Didn’t he have some problems?” All of these questions were delivered back to back, in front of the other two customers. They were judgments disguised as questions about me, the villain, the black shopper.

I kept looking at him with dumb-founded amazement. When he stopped to take a breath after his line of questioning, I asked him if he knew my name. He didn’t. I then told him for someone who doesn’t even know my name you certainly seem to think you know a lot about me and my son. He apologized, laughed and said: “You’re right, I’m sorry. I’m being so negative. It’s just that I thought you were some kind of disgruntled person and that your son had some problems or something.”

The dismayed look that had developed on my face didn’t go unnoticed, I hoped. However, I backed it up with words that I hoped would teach him something about customer service, and the art of decency. Basically, I told him that I didn’t appreciate his line of questioning and that I take offense to his treatment of me. He gave me an insincere apology, as if I had no right to be offended. I took my items and left. I almost didn’t want to spend that $71 in the store anymore but didn’t want to make a scene, as our exchange was uncomfortable enough.

Days later, I couldn’t get the experience out of my mind. I felt so strongly about what happened to me that I felt compelled to bring it up to his wife, Dawn. I thought if I explain to Dawn—the shopkeeper I normally deal with—how her husband made me feel during my last visit, perhaps she’ll talk to him and advice him not to bombard customers with personal and inappropriate questions.

Today, I went back to the shop while I was running another errand in the same shopping strip, Park Row. I politely waited until she finished speaking with two customers, greeted her and asked if her husband told her that I was in the store last week. I purposely kept my voice low because I didn’t want to embarrass her but felt strongly that she should know about my experience. She answered, no and proceeded to listen to me. After telling her that I was very uncomfortable with the exchange she became defensive. She told me her husband was the nicest person on the planet and if he made me uncomfortable it was not meant to be so. I just took it the wrong way. …It was clear that she didn’t care about me. I was the enemy to her too. She made that clear by being condescending, dismissive and excusing her husband’s treatment of me.

I then told her in a very calm voice that I would no longer shop at her store. I made the decision on the spot because of how she handled my genuine concern about the experience with her husband. She then got angry and yelled out: “I don’t care! Get out or I’ll call the cops!”  I told her I’m happy to leave her store and will never return. She then started shouting: “Trump! Trump! Trump!” That’s why we voted for Trump! Get Out!”

I turned around, still calmly, and took off my sunglasses, which I had put on as I made my way toward the exit. I told her that I was actually wearing Ivanka Trump sunglasses and that I didn’t care that she voted for Trump. I threw a rhetorical jab back at her by asking her what she thought her vote for Trump really meant?!  …She simply kept yelling “Trump! Trump! Trump!” at me as I made my way out of her shop.

I wondered if she had forgotten about the two customers in her store. I wondered what she thought about me over all these years. I wondered if she ever valued me as one of her regular customers. A lot went through my mind… And then I eased into the comforting feeling that her behavior only speaks of who they are. Not me.

Only a bigoted, racist human-being—in my view—would use Trump as a synonym for the N-word. To describe that moment as shocking would be an understatement. Dawn Marie was yelling Trump at me…because I’m black. There is no other logical explanation for it.

On my drive home the only question lingering in my mind like a bitter after-taste was; Did the word “Trump” replace the N-word?