Travel to Cuba? 10 Ways to not act like an American American while you are there

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Now that travel restrictions have eased, Americans from across the country have been posting their travel plans all over FaceBook and Twitter about how they are going to fly to Havana. I am really enthralled by the new developments, the travel ban is political segregation that allows both the US and Cuban governments to promote false ideas about who we are to each other. However, I know Americans too well. I am an American. And while I love us, I know that most of you are complete morons when it comes to traveling to another country because you say you want an authentic experience and then complain the whole time because it’s not exactly like where you live and work every day.

You can secretly confess to yourself this is you and in the spirit of the new year take this advice to heart so when you buy your roundtrip ticket to Havana you don’t make Cuba rethink their decision to normalize relations with the US.

1READ A BOOK. NO, READ TWO.

The relationship between Cuba and the US is one that is presented in the US media as a black and white issue from both the left and the right perspective. Meaning, that any documentary or film you’ve seen on Cuba is presented as “Fidel is the devil, Cuba is a prison,” or “Fidel is an angel, Cuba is a socialist paradise.” Neither of these are true. Both of these are true. But before you go, really do some research. Even a rudimentary look into the complex and multi-layered history will make your trip worthwhile and make you look like less of a goofball.

2. GO PREPARED.

Do not expect to find tampons, batteries, aspirin, shampoo, fresh panties, socks, rain ponchos, pens, disc cards for your camera, anything for your camera, shoes, clothes, medicine, books, whatever other things you think you will need. They do have clothes, obviously, but the selection is little, the quality is poor, and the price is expensive. Batteries are probably expired. When I first arrived in Havana to shoot “They Will Be Heard,” a doc on Cuban heavy metal, Jennifer Hernandez and Yando Coy and I walked around for no less than 4 hours going to each “mall” to find a pillow. They didn’t have any pillow for less than $25 dollars and they were used or dirty or flat or whatever. I took to rolling up my jeans or drooling on my arm. One day, I am not exaggerating, I walked around for 4 hours looking for toilet paper. They do have books in the book stores but they are either about the Cuban revolution, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, or surprisingly, written by Wayne Dyer and in spanish.

3. GO PREPARED.

Bring tampons, batteries, aspirin, shampoo, fresh panties, socks, rain ponchos, pens, t-shirts, especially band t-shirts, any old digital camera you don’t use anymore preferably with a rechargeable battery, clothes, medicine and books to give away to all the awesome Cuban people you meet. I brought all my cd’s to give away since anything I want I can access digitally.

4. BE HUMBLE.

Joan of Arc was a martyr. You are not. Cubans have endured 50 years of bullying by America and not only have they resisted, they have risen and in very difficult circumstances achieved amazing accomplishments in sports, education, literacy, medicine and culture. The ordinary Cuban deals with difficulties and inconveniences on a daily basis. No one wants to hear you complain about the condition of your hotel room. Many times while filming “They Will Be Heard“, the band was like, “You should make a movie about you trying to make the movie!” I knew that any difficulties or obstacles I was facing were temporary. I knew that I could always leave, I was leaving. And when I did get frustrated or impatient, it was immediately followed by a crushing sense of shame since all the Cubans I was in contact with were always positive and upbeat even though they dealt with water shortages and rolling black outs all the time. Let me put it this way: things are so horrible in Cuba that when members of Escape came to Jersey City, they thought the PATH train was the best thing ever.

 

5. IF YOU’RE NOT THAT GOOD LOOKING HERE, YOU’RE NOT THAT GOOD LOOKING IN CUBA.

While we all like to have our international love affairs when we travel, Cubans bring it to a whole new level. My first Cuban love was dreamy. He was a bass player for one of the emerging bands at the time, he was spiritual, like rasta spiritual, sensitive, his dreadlocks were perfect…our week long affair wasn’t just a wonderful memory we shared, it was marked by an emotional goodbye at the airport, promises of eternal love, yes, our love would bring down the blockade. Of course I wired him $300 a month later.

Listen, in New York, I’m probably like a four, maybe on a good day a five and a half. This guy was smoking hot. If you find yourself in a hot romance with a severe mismatch, stay focused, Enjoy yourself, but don’t get embroiled in some kind of Cuban romance. You are a walking ticket to financial freedom, a means to get a new color television or visa. Cubans, ever practical, aren’t just looking to hook up, they are maximizing how much they can get out of the relationship. These people are called, “jinoteros” or horse jockeys. You are the horse.

On that note, you want to socialize with Cubans. Beers are a dollar. Buy everyone a beer. Cigarettes are a dollar. Share your cigarettes. Cubans will give you whatever they have. No matter who I approached on the street, they would immediately offer whatever they had in their hands to me, a piece a cake, a sip of rum. They are experts in the field of sharing. Be generous.

6. DON’T COMPLAIN ABOUT THE FOOD.

My father left our family when I was 11 years old. My mother basically raised us by herself. She worked all the time. When I came home from school, I had to cook for myself. That’s why, when I ordered a spaghetti dinner and got some spaghetti with melted butter on top with a side of sliced cucumber, it was very familiar to me and brought back all of the abandonment issues I thought I left behind with my EMDR therapy.

When my Cuban friends and I met up with another American in the plaza, we decided to celebrate and we ordered lobster. I always thought there was just one way to make lobster, to boil it. Apparently, there is another way where you prepare it so it is rubbery and hard to chew. Don’t complain, do not send it back, just plan on having a terrible culinary experience so that if it’s just relatively not tasty, it will seem like a gourmet meal!

On a side note, since the food is so terrible, you always have room for dessert and you can get delicious pastries almost anywhere!

7. NOTHING THERE MAKES SENSE.

Half the time I was shooting in Havana, I was like “Am I understanding you correctly or is my spanish just completely terrible?” When immigration discovered that I was staying at my friend Justo’s house, the lady said, “You better be here at 8 am tomorrow morning!” At 8 am we arrived and no one knew why we were there but we were told to wait. Three hours later some one came to see us.

When I went to the office to renew my visa that the travel guide to Cuba published the year before told me to go to, (an hour away by bus), the guy at that place said, “No, you need to go to the office that is located 5 minutes away from where you are staying!” (Smiling, always smiling. Somehow everyone there is always in a good mood.)

When I finally got my visa from the Cuban Music Institute to film, I was told to get two id photos before going to the office. I got to the office and they said, “Why do you have these photos?”

When you are on a bus coming back from somewhere and the bus breaks down, do not ask how you will get home. Just do what the other Cubans are doing, sitting there waiting. Do not be the only person complaining (American) and yelling out “What’s going on? What’s going on?”

If you are on a bus and the bus driver pulls over to talk to a friend of his, just sit in your seat and wait. Think of Cuba as a big DMV pre-2000. Expect to wait. Expect to be inconvenienced. Bring a Wayne Dyer book to read and practice  your spanish.

8. BRING CONDOMS

People are posting online that Cuba gives aways condoms for free. This is true. These condoms are for Cubans who don’t have access to every single type of condom in the world in an aisle of their grocery store. Bring your own condoms.

9. JUST UNPLUG FOR THE WEEK. 

Don’t bother with trying to instragram or tweet. Just be in the moment. Use the internet sparingly. The internet is very slow and very expensive. Like my friend Michele said, spend less time with FaceBook, and more time with faces and books.

10. GO TO MAXIM ROCK!

My film, “They Will Be Heard” is mainly about Cuban metal band Escape. But the entire metal scene in Cuba is pretty serious business. Maxim Rock embodies that metal scene which you can read all about in David Peisner’s article, “The Red Menace”. After you shake your ass in salsa class, go bang your head to some Cuban metal!

Rock UnBlocked

Like most great revolutions, UnBlock the Rock (UBTR) was conceived in a kitchen by two women. A logo was designed, letters were written, phone calls were made, beers were bought and held up ceremoniously before being joyfully consumed. It was determined that we would bring metal band Escape from Cuba to the United States for the first Cuban metal concert on US soil.

Jennifer Hernandez and I, the women in that kitchen on a chilly morning in February of 2011, initially met in 2007, on a sweltering August afternoon in the apartment of Alejandro Padron, the drummer of Escape.

“Vamos hacer vecinos,” she told me, “We’re going to be neighbors.” She was referring to the fact that her father, world famous percussionist Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez lived in NJ, and she was in the process immigrating there, as part of a policy of family reunification. I thought she said something about a piscina, or a pool. Elated I replied, “Oh! Que rico!”

 

That fateful August, I was in Havana to photograph Escape. The month before, I was documenting a trip through the US with Pastors for Peace (PfP), an activist caravan comprised of donated school buses, stopping in cities all over the US, collecting medical equipment and educational things to bring to Cuba, openly challenging the US imposed travel ban. The travel ban, imposed in 1963, prohibits Americans from spending money in Cuba and receiving gifts from Cubans while there. The Office of Foreign Assets Control, (OFAC), considers the purchase of a ticket to Cuba spending money. Americans can travel to Cuba with a special license for what may be considered journalistic or religious reasons. In a move toward greater democracy, the Obama administration recently began to allow Americans to travel on chartered tours, controlling how you travel and who you talk to.

I would like to say here that I’ve traveled freely to many places with histories of human rights abuses and terrible leaders, like Cambodia and South Africa and Newark, NJ, without the hindrance of US government sanctions.

PfP organizes caravans against the travel ban, and has done so faithfully for the last 24 years. I was proud to be a part of a resistance movement that challenged a segregationalist, unevolved policy. However, even if I was on the bus, I couldn’t jump on the bandwagon that Cuba was the best place in the world ever.

In American mainstream media, Cuba is a prison/paradise, Fidel is a saint/the devil. There is only this tired dialogue of left and right, volleying back and forth frozen in history. In major publications, documentaries, literature this is the range of expression, the only 2 options to understand Cuba-US relations, presented as democratic debate.

The US provokes Cuba and thrives on this drama, causing crisis on the island all the time, their actions making the Cuban government’s grasp on their people tighter. The US portrays itself in American media as victorious, benevolent, and magnanimous by offering Cubans immigration policies ensuring that just by arriving, (unlike Mexicans, Haitians, Dominicans or Guatamalans, Belgians, Japonese, etc. etc.) Cubans are eligible for citizenship within a year.

Any real objective presentation of truth regarding Cuba is lost in the narrative that is necessary for both governments to perpetuate their policies. Where is their justification for either policy, US or Cuban, when it is widely reported that in a friendship that was born in mutual illegality, two women made a decision while eating breakfast on a chilly February morning to proceed according to love and friendship? That, one born in Cuba, and one born in NJ, under systems that both propagated ill will towards the other’s government, would come together, and with no money or resources, fight to bring a heavy metal band from Havana to the United States. And that people would join them. Lots of people. Good looking, interesting, talented people. What political purpose does that serve?

When I first met Escape in the summer of 2007, I was a recovering leftist. I was emerging from an immersion in Marxist politics that stifled debate and made everything relatively unfun. I was introduced to the members of Escape, and to the burgeoning metal movement in Havana when Patio Maria (Cuba’s CBGB’s) was shut down and Maxim Rock had not yet opened up. I spent a month photographing Escape, and our friendship, illegal in two countries, would prevail, with limited contact for the next 2 years.

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When you arrive in Cuba, you must stay in a state sanctioned hotel or pension. To live with a Cuban, if you are a foreigner, you must obtain what is referred to as “A Declaration of Friendship”. To prove you are friends, you cannot go to the immigration office and say, “Alejandro’s father makes me coffee every morning”, or “Justo’s mom taught me how to make Pan de Rico” or “Yando said something funny and it gave me great joy.” This is not sufficient proof of friendship. The presentation of photographs, smiles wide and gleaming do not qualify.

Jenny and I applied for a “Declaration of Friendship” in 2009 when I returned to Havana to shoot “They Will Be Heard”, a documentary about Escape. At the immigration office in Havana, after her address and personal information were dutifully written down and recorded, surely to be presented to the Committees in Defense of the Revolution, to ensure I did not live in her home, it was declared we were not friends enough.

So this is what we did.

We campaigned for Cuban metal for the last 2 years. We used FaceBook. Twitter. YouTube and Vimeo. And you know what? The right people showed up at exactly the right time. The ultimate rock and roll liberator, Monica Hampton, producer of “Heavy Metal in Baghdad”, brought in legendary guitar player Alex Skolnick of Testament and both organized tirelessly without any compensation. Local bands like Darkness Descends and BroHammer and Iratetion played benefits to raise money. Awesome bartenders hooked us up with metalicious venues like Three of Cups to host cocktail contests. We ROCKUPIED City Hall in Jersey City. Tomato and Karina and Faisal and Alex and Dean and Ismael learned “Simbolos de Libertad” by Escape (Faisal learned spanish!) and they rocked the shit out of it in City Hall, where all the photography of the band was hung. (I was told months later by someone who attended, “It was LOUD! You could hear it from blocks away.”)

 

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UnBlock the Rock with members of Alex Skolnick, Faisal Talal, Monica Hampton, members of Iratetion and Darkness Descends, and Firehaze.

 

Elan Trybuch appeared at a bar stool next to me one night and graciously and amazingly designed our beautiful website. (Look at it, here! www.unblocktherock.com) David Peisner, the author of The Red Menace, an article about Cuban metal in Spin, solicited great tracks for our benefit CD, “The Red Album” and was instrumental in getting visas for Escape to perform at SXSW. Alicia Zertuche performed the herculean feat of organizing frikis, or Cuban metalheads via email, (virtually impossible) and US congressmen to make the visas manifest the week before the SXSW. The Supersuckers, Black Tusk, Eyehategod, and other killer bands donated tracks for “The Red Album” to raise money. Bill Martinez advised. Talented people photographed and shot and edited our amazing propaganda. WSOU joined forces with us. ShitKill and Dave Dreiwitz and FireHaze performed at various venues. All in the name of Cuban metal.

Democracy wants to be born.

UBTR is a new voice, championing those Cubans, true visionaries, who adopted a language of resistance that was born out of the blues and transformed by disgruntled working class kids through out the western hemisphere and translated it into their own, embodying metal riffs with Cuban history and identity so complex that even Alex Skolnick and Chris “Tomato” Harfenist, both accomplished musicians, had a hard time mastering the rhythm of “Simbolos de Libertad.”

 

Listen: The US erected a fake wall in the middle of the ocean in 1963, the Cubans retaliated with their own fake wall banning The Beatles (!) Cubans who heard Metallica’s “Ride the Lightning” in 1986 didn’t necessarily speak English but they understood completely the language of rebellion. Young Cubans start to emulate and adopt and transform metal culture in the mid ’80s and early 90’s when Brothers to the Rescue was shot down over Havana and Bill Clinton signed the Helms Burton Act tightening the embargo, the USSR falls and the Special Period ensues. The walls grow taller and that infamous 90 mile stretch of Atlantic Ocean becomes a vast graveyard where most likely, the original sound engineer for Escape, Bryant Rodriguez was buried a year ago when he tried to take advantage of America’s favorable immigration policies.

On March 10th, 2013, Jenny and I took a taxi to LaGuardia airport to fly into Miami and greet Escape. It’s hard to convey the sensation of walking in communion with your dreams.  Even now, reflecting on seeing Escape walk through those doors into the Miami airport, my skin is jumping, I feel electric. “I’ve been waiting for this moment for 3 years,” I told Yando, lead singer of Escape. “Tracey, I’ve been waiting for this moment for 28 years,” he replied.

What a beautiful thing we all did.

 

My hope is that Obama, in his last term, will just lift the blockade altogether. If the US isn’t provoking Cuba, the Cuban government has no pretense to demand Declarations of Friendship, they have no enemy to protect the revolution from.

As of now, Escape, along with Ancestor and Agonizer, is in Miami, doing what they have always dreamed of doing, performing live in front of new audiences. UBTR is in the process of bringing them to NYC before the band, all or some, return to Havana. Alejandro called me yesterday about performing in NYC, “Is it possible?” he asked, then, immediately, responding to his own question “Of course, everything is possible!”

Of course everything is possible. It’s our time.

 

Tracey Noelle Luz

March 31, 2013

 

 

Communism and the Art of Detachment

I tried to find my zen initially in July of 2003, at a meditation camp in Thailand. At this world renowned Buddhist training camp, you cannot talk, you cannot write, you cannot read. You meditate for 10 days straight. It supposedly changes your life.

The night before I left for meditation, I went out with a man I had been traveling with, a man I now believe to be the one who got away, and drank my whole face off. In Chang Mai somewhere.

His name was Brett and he was, besides my sister, the funniest person I ever met. I don’t have specific memories of us together, per se. Looking back, I see myself hinged at the waist, mouth stretched back, eyes clenched tight, tears streaming down my cheeks and him by my side.

I met Brett on the train to Chang Mai. He was accompanied by a Belgian girl who had the affectations of a drunk heiress; her arms were forever bent at the elbows, at any moment you could pop a long fancy cigarette holder into her crooked fingers, her head was eternally engaged in an lolly neck roll. At any given moment, she might be facing the ground directly, or resting her forehead on her shoulder. There was also a french existentialist in our little group. In the movie of my memory, he is wearing a black beret.

We ventured out to a monkey park together because one night, eating our pad thai and drinking our Thai iced coffee, we bumped into a daddy tourist who told us he took his young son to the  monkey park where the monkeys played basketball. Monkeys playing basketball! I envisioned an arangutan dribbling the ball down the court with another arangutan about to steal the ball, and then the first arangutan, in a black and green sleeveless jersey of course, does a spin and twists in the air, lay up, Score! How big were they? I thought. How high was the net?

“It’s great,” the daddy tourist said, peeling a three year old off his shoulder and trying to stand. “You’ll love it.”

That’s not really how monkey basketball is played. The monkey is on a chain, nightmarish techno pounds in the background and a pretty young Thai girl is the sports commentator. There are no teams. There is one monkey. The monkey’s name, a spider monkey with a metal collar chained to what looks like a hot dog cart, bleeding from the ass, is Oscar, and the young woman is not commentating, she is screaming into the microphone over the techno, “Osca, go trow ball Osca!” The monkey approaches the basket, which is not that far away, and not that high, and nonchalantly tosses the ball more or less in the general direction of the basket. He wants to die. He is depressed. His ass is on fire. The Thai woman shakes her head yes, excitedly clapping with the mike in one hand, encouraging us with smiling eyes, her overzealous cheer telling us this is ok. “Ok Osca!” In the bleachers, there’s an apparently inebriated Belgian woman having a hard time sitting up straight with her rolly skull and a morose french guy disdaining Brett and I in his journal when we are trying to catch our breath. We have succumbed to a severe case of the giggles because it’s really the most horrific thing in the whole world.

They left our little travel group and Brett and I went on to take Thai cooking classes together, go to discos, get Thai massage and facials, ride elephants. I bought him an ethnic hat at the market that was a red, blue and fluorescent green thimble with a dangly sash bumping his nose. Ha ha ha. People in Thailand wear silly clothes! Ha ha ha. Ancient traditions are funny.

It came time for me to go to my meditation camp and change my life. A bender was in order. The night itself wasn’t so memorable, but the amount of beer we drank was.

Brett and I platonically shared a room that particular evening. I might have even left the festivities early the night before, in any event, I was the first one to wake up in the morning and I went for my breakfast that was included in my 7$ a night room. Eggs, tomato, toast, coffee. I remembered thinking, “Oh, my malaria pill. Let me take that now.” I popped one in my mouth.

It didn’t take long for my malaria medication to have a serious discussion with the alcohol careening through my blood stream. The label specifically said not to mix the two, they don’t play well together. Until that point, I had always interpreted warning labels on medication as suggestions. Waiting until the last day of antibiotics to start drinking, for example, was like using a dental dam. It’s a good idea but nobody does that.

Malaria pills and alcohol meeting each other has the same chemical reaction of a baking soda vinegar volcano. Except, in your ass. I was still at the breakfast table when the patron saint of puke gave me a sign. I ran upstairs to my room. Thankfully, Brett had emerged from the bed and I could pass on the warning.

“You should leave now,” I told him. I locked my self in the bathroom and was, is, eternally grateful the sink and the toilet were so close to each other.

This type of two way would happen to me only one other time; after eating seafood at Wakamba, a restaurant in Cuba, 7 years later. No malaria or excessive drinking required.

I left the bathroom, took a few steps and collapsed on the bed. Brett returned. I warned him, never, under any circumstances, go into that bathroom. From my pillow, I groaned, “Brett, my malaria pills made me so sick.”

“You might as well just get malaria then,” he said. This seemed logical, and I left my medication on the dresser.

When I left for meditation, perhaps Brett when back to bed. Perhaps he went into the bathroom. He never tried to contact me again.

This particular meditation group was free. Donations were accepted. It was 10 days long, and you meditated all day. There were occasional breaks where you could walk, but there was no speaking, writing, or reading. There were instructional videos we would watch at night. About how to detach. Aside from not being accustomed to meditation at all, I couldn’t find a comfortable position to sit in for eight hours. My back hurt. My knees hurt. My ADD was killing me.

My stomach was killing me. I tried to endure it, for three days. I thought I could meditate myself to better health. Then, on the third night, I thought maybe I was really sick, maybe there was internal bleeding. Maybe my intestines had burst. I had taken a detour on my journey to spiritual enlightenment.

To leave, you had to ask permission from the head yogi. This was kind of embarrassing. Something I would certainly scoff at had it been someone else. They called a taxi and sent me back to Bangkok. I went to the emergency room. It cost me 15$ for the visit and for the medicine. Apparently, I tore my stomache lining with my emmy worthy exhumation in the bathroom.

I got some medicine and a room in a hotel with a little pool in the front in city center. I was down, but not out. I spent a day in the pool and read a book by Jose Saramango. I watched BBC. There is something really special about watching the BBC news in a hotel room. It makes me feel fancy.

I left for Cambodia the next day. I think, for the most part, I was either complacent enough in my depression or content enough with my actual life, that I left any Buddhist aspirations to the side.

Six years later, it would occur to me that Buddhism might just be my salvation when the school where I worked for 9 years was collapsing. I was finding it really hard not to strangle 95% of my co- workers. I sat down and thought to myself, what can I do before I strangle that woman to death and go to prison? What alternatives do I have? I found a Buddhist retreat, for three and not 10 days, that was not so austere. We could talk to each other. We could read. There was coffee.

Kadampa changed my life, and I began practicing, irregularly, but still, practicing, at Dharma Punx in the East Village. Any one who has not died by my hands at my old school owes Josh Korda their lives.

I tell you all that to tell you this. I made a movie about heavy metal. I cashed in my pension, which probably would not be there in 30 years thanks to mismanagement by the state government for the last 25 years. I may or may not be here in 30 years. I quit my job, gave away all my stuff, said goodbye and left for Cuba.

Before I left Jersey City in June 2009, the very last thing I did was go visit my friend Hamlet. Hamlet has been living with HIV for over 20 years, with full blown AIDS for the last 6 or 7. He has been ready to die for a while, but life is fighting him. He lives in a hospice up the street. He has lived there, maybe 5 years. My darling friend Michael was driving me to my sister’s where I would live for the next 4 days. The car was packed. I had an hour to see Hamlet before I left.

Walking into the hospice center, you are accosted by the scent of decay and piss and ammonia. I hate that place. Somehow, it brings out the best in me. I am forced to be happy there. I am not rotting away on a gurney. When I am there as a tenant and not a visitor, push me down the stairs, pull the plug, drive me into the river. I am totally on Hamlet’s side. He is ready to go.

I have seen Hamlet corpse-like in an ICU. I have sat and read to him when he was a 60 lb shell, plugged into so many devices. This was different somehow.

Hamlet was in the bed, barely propped up. It was July 1st. It was hot and sunny. He was in the bed, with the curtains drawn tight. The room was dark. The room is always dark. Hamlet was in the fetal position with chalky remains of his insides all over his lips and the garbage strategically placed near the bed. Maybe he would lift his head and spit and it would land somewhere in the vicinity of the mouth of the garbage can. Not necessarily.

Hi honey, how are you, I ask.

Exquisite, he says. He was.

I wish now I had remembered that moment more while I was in Cuba. On my to do list of making a documentary, I didn’t put: #4. Confront my own limitations of discipline and/or patience. I didn’t know. When I left for Cuba, I loved Cuba. I wish, after being there for 6 months, I didn’t hate Cuba for being Cuba.

It wasn’t that the country was poor. It was. Or that things were difficult. They were. My biggest problem was accepting a whole cultural system which includes making everything a really difficult process. Es un processo, people would tell me, shaking their heads, like, I don’t know, martyrs in the Bible or something. Like time consuming, unnecessary procedures were like the the horizon separating sun and sea. That’s how it is. Man has no control, no agency. Cubans are resolved to believe that bureacracy and wasting your time is as inevitable as the next crisis of imperialism. Or sunsets.

I waited 6 hours to buy bus tickets! I would tell my adopted family. No es facile, the mommy, replied, shaking her head. But in regards to easy things. Like buying bus tickets. For some reason that is a really difficult, time consuming process. No es facile is the Cuban equivalent of in God we Trust. It’s engraved in the capital and imprinted on currency.

And I think, if I was in Guatemala, and it took a long time, I wouldn’t have been so annoyed. (and it does not take a long time in Guatemala, or anywhere else to buy bus tickets. And then they tell you that you cannot travel together because there are different busses for Cubans and foreigners. Ha! Martin Luther King Center my ass.) But this is in a country that posits itself as the vanguard in human development and progress. Well, I think your hepatitis vaccine is awesome. Why does it take an eternity to buy a fucking bus ticket?

I tried to be joyful. I tried to embrace everything I had and not focus on what I did not. I feel as though I cultivated more Buddhist zen in Havana in 9 months than I would have in India over a life time. My gurus: Escape. Do you want to hear something funny? Jenny would tell me, smacking her hands together and laughing. She tells me a story about how they waited for a bus for an hour at 2 am in the morning. Once it came, it only travelled one or two more stops until it made everybody get out and wait another hour for another bus. Isn’t that funny? she asks again. No, I say. No, that’s awful.

But in Cuba, awful must be funny. Because if you don’t laugh, well, you have no alternative. You can’t just walk around being angry all the time, because you will just be angry all the time. You certainly can’t protest. You can’t be funny and complain on video, because you will end up under house arrest. Maybe you can write a letter and complain to the CDR, if you can find a piece of paper and something to sharpen the pencil you’ve been holding on to for the last 2 years.

When I think about how I explained to Jenny, Yando and Alejandro how I was studying Buddhism when I first arrived in July, I laugh. They must think American buddhists have a strict diet of vodka and cigarettes and curse words.

I am not sure if it’s because everything here is easier, or if because we are allowed to complain when it is not. I am not sure if it’s because I learned the futility of complaint over there. I don’t like who I am when I am complaining. Even if I am right. But I have noticed that I don’t get stressed out anymore, that I am usually calm, or at least calmer, after my Cuban escapade. Namaste, Havana. Namaste.

Statement for Briant, Rockupation of City Hall, June 1, 2012

In dreams I see myself flying…                                                         Invisible Wounds (Dark Bodies), Fear Factory

I know introducing a photo exhibit on Cuban metal with a Fear Factory  song is strange. I know.

I actually discovered Fear Factory in Havana after spending a month with Escape in 2007. And when I hear Fear Factory, I remember Alejandro Padron, the drummer of Escape, in a larger way, in a way that transcends any kind of sadness I might feel from missing him, from missing everyone in Escape. If I am out somewhere, at a club in NYC, and Fear Factory comes on, I remember Julian in the kitchen, Alejandro’s father, serving me coffee from his rations while music blared down the hallway from Alej’s bedroom. I remember nights at Madriguera, an outside music venue in Havana, where DeLa and Jenny and I got drunk and banged our heads to live metal. I remember the paralyzing swelter of Havana, the slow motion of our days together, the evening pilgrimages to Calle G where all the frikis convened with communal bottles of vodka that could blind the sun, the birds in the morning and again, Julian’s cafe.

Closer to the sun and I’m climbing

When I met Jennifer Hernandez in Alejandro’s apartment in 2007, she told me, “Vamos hacer vecinas.” It means, “We’re going to be neighbors.” I thought she said something about going to a pool. I was grateful. The heat was oppressive. “Great!” I told her. “I can’t wait! When?” This type of misunderstanding would characterize the entire process of documenting Escape and filming They Will Be Heard.

 

Tried to touch the sun but the brightness burned my eyes

Two years later, I filmed Jenny as she walked through the doors of the airport check-in toward her terminal, waving one last time to her family, her boyfriend at the time, Yando Coy, who is the lead singer of Escape, and her friends, before reuniting with her father in New Jersey. Briant Garcia Rodriquez was there, waving goodbye.

Briant had worked with Escape for several years as their sound engineer. And he was an avid Escape fan, he had Escape tattooed on his arm.

As Jenny’s waving hand, seen above the crowd of people at the airport checking their luggage and getting their boarding passes, disappeared behind a red door, Briant turned to me and said, “The next time I come to the airport, I’m going to be the one leaving.”

Briant had three options. He could wait for normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba, he could become an international artist right away and get invited to another country, or he could get married to someone else outside of Cuba.

Unconscious or am I conscious?

Briant couldn’t wait to get married or become famous. Who can? Briant chose the fourth option: to get on a balsa and try and float 90 miles to Miami.

And I saw my own face in the dark and loneliness

Briant went missing in October. Jenny and I were hopeful, but there are instances in your life where the words being conveyed to you carry their truth, undeniable like the weight of the ocean. I thought of Briant in his last moments often, succumbing to that weight, as the truth of what was about to happen became certain…sometimes I think of it scientifically, when I am swimming; I am aware of how heavy the ocean is. Sometimes I can’t think of it, but I feel it in my chest and my face becomes frozen.

and I saw my own face like a spark frozen in heaven

One of the problems when someone you love goes missing is that there is no ritual of closure. You are aware of what has happened, you are aware they are gone, but there’s this window, this impossible window, and you think anything is possible.

Jenny and I have been very lucky in many ways. One, she came to New Jersey, and we were able to build and continue our friendship. We’ve been fortunate enough to meet and know and love incredible people who saw the potential of Escape and the entire Cuban metal community and understand the necessity of changing the world through heavy metal. We’ve been able to develop and build UnBlock the Rock with an amazing team of artists and organizers.

Jenny and I decided that we would dedicate June 1st, UnBlock the Rock Occupies City Hall, to Briant as our memorial for him. He is in these photos, immortalized with a smile and surrounded by friends. Tonight you will hear “Simbolo de Libertad” by Escape, performed by musicians from Venezuela, Cuba, Iraq, and the US, and we can remember Briant in a larger way, in a way that transcends missing him.

http://www.theywillbeheard.com

 

 

Cuba, Heavy Metal and Pope Benedict

Benedict said the “ambition and selfishness of certain powers” took “little account of the true good of individuals and families,” and added that it was impossible to “continue in the same cultural and moral direction which has caused the painful situation that many suffer.” (Wall Street Journal, on the Pope arriving in Cuba)

As the director of They Will Be Heard, and the Executive Director of UnBlock the Rock, I read these words and felt compelled to share my thoughts regarding Cuban heavy metal band Escape and the Cuban heavy metal movement in general.

Alejandro Padron, practice at Casa de Cultura
Alejandro Padron, practice at Casa de Cultura

I don’t think it can be stated clearly enough that the US imposed blockade against Cuba and the internal Cuban blockade against anything “that smelled American” effectively segregated two nations of people for the last 62 years.

 When heavy metal arrived on the island, and was warmly received circa 1986, it signified a population of Cubans who were hearing and understanding and embracing the language of resistance and rebellion young Americans had the privilege of accessing at our local record store or recording on to cassettes from the radio, or purchasing from those record clubs where you got 10 albums for a penny, or MTV, or U68 so easily.

It signified a major breakthrough between two communities who were deliberately politically and culturally isolated from each other. Beyond enjoying heavy metal, young Cubans, continued against all odds, to emulate heavy metal, to create and develop heavy metal, putting themselves under great scrutiny of the Cuban government, with little or no interaction, much less support of the international metal community, with the exception of Sepultura and Audio Slave performing in Havana.“

They Will Be Heard” is testimony from those courageous Cubans who have been fighting for their dreams for the last 10 years, who have been fighting to be heard.

Escape with John Lennon in Havana.
Escape with John Lennon in Havana.

UnBlock the Rock is our movement to bring Cuban metal band Escape here to perform with their head banging neighbors in the United States.

While I was filming in Cuba, I had the great honor to be there when Jennifer Hernandez’s father, El Negro Hernandez, came to perform at the Gran Teatro. When asked, “What do you think about this type of cultural exchange,” Negro, who defected from Cuba in 1989, replied, “The reason Cuban musicians and American musicians don’t perform together has nothing to do with musicians. We want to be together.”

For all of us, music is the way we externalize how we feel. It is the loudness of our love, the silence of our sorrow. It’s time for Cuban musicians and American musicians to be together. It’s our time.

For more information, contact traceynoelleluz@gmail.com or             (973) 868-6393.

 

 

It Explodes, An Open Letter to My Students at Thirteenth Avenue

Everyone will tell you “No”. People have been telling me “No” for the last two years. For the last 38 years. And people you would expect to be your allies, aren’t necessarily your allies. Don’t worry about them, they don’t understand what we are doing.

I never intended to become a teacher. In high school, I came equipped with a distinct set of beliefs about myself; that I was ugly, that I was worthless. That I was an outsider. That it was my privilege to be a spectator. But I loved learning.

I didn’t know anything about teaching, I didn’t know anything about children. Which was the same message you got walking into Thirteenth Avenue School in October of 1999. All I knew was that I was going to get dental insurance, so my life’s ambitions had been pretty much met. What else was there?

I had the privilege to teach at Thirteenth Avenue School for 9 years. Because no one at the Board of Education cared about our school or the children who went there, the staff and a new principal, the Mr. Lenny Kopacz, were able to create an educational oasis founded on love and imagination and creativity. We created a learning environment for the children and their families, and I would like to say publicly that I attribute all of my personal successes as a 6th grade teacher to never doing anything required by No Child Left Behind. Why? Because I was teaching them. And I refused to accept public education doctrine from a president who had every educational opportunity at his fingertips and squandered it, emerging as a grown man unable to negotiate the difference between an object and subject pronoun.

I discovered that I loved children. And that the children of Newark are amazing and courageous and loving and resilient. Much like, I imagine, Trayvon Martin was.

And so for 9 years, I would pass out copies of “What Happens to a Dream Deferred?” by Langston Hughes. “Boys and girls, who would like to read this poem out loud?”

What happens to a dream deferred?                                                           Does it dry up                                                                                                         like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore–                                                                                          And then run?                                                                                                    Does it stink like rotten meat?                                                                            Or crust and sugar over–

like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags                                                                                               like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

No one told me to do it. It wasn’t a part of staff development. The poem wasn’t in any curriculum but, when we are fortunate enough to listen, what is beautiful instructs us.

Soon enough, it occurred to me that I had dreams too. I saw myself in the not so distant future wearing a lime green gown, steadying myself with the desk, pearls swaying to and fro, with a martini glass half filled with olives and vodka, “Boys and girls, tell me about your dreams,” I sneered. “I had dreams, I know the answer to the question Langston is posing.” Olives swishing to and fro.

I did want to be a photographer. I lamented the fact I didn’t study photography in college. Somewhere along the way it became embedded in my consciousness that being a photojournalist was something other people did, people who grew up in nice houses and didn’t suffer the constant chaos of being poor. Even afterwards, I allowed myself to shoot as long as it was a hobby. “I can’t imagine where I would be right now,” I told my sister, “if I had gotten some encouragement to do what I wanted to do when I was growing up.” Growing up, the mantra in my home wasn’t, Hold Fast to Dreams! but like most working class families, Make sure you find a job with dental insurance!

Certainly, no one wants you to consider and think about your dreams when you are growing up in Newark, NJ. You aren’t entitled to dreams. The Newark Board of Education is run by empty headed ghouls who lack vision or creativity, or love. (Incidentally, where is the line by line itemization of what happened and is going to happen with the notorious and well choreographed millon trillion dollar donation to Newark via Face Book and if that money is going to Charter Schools where do you go to school if you don’t win the lottery?)

Recently, I sat across my mother, who has worked hard all her life. We were sharing a sundae at a Friendly’s. In a moment that could have been stolen from a depressing and terrifying Joyce Carol Oates novella, she told me she was watching a craft show on television and she almost starting crying. “I could have done that,” she said. “I can’t imagine what I could have done with my life if I had someone encouraging me.”

No one read her Langston Hughes when she was little.

Some truths are irrefutable, smashing you in the face like a well-deserved hang over. Some truths wait for you before they open up, like a flower to a bee. That’s what I’m dealing in now, truth. I am addicted to it. And I don’t believe that those who are in power of controlling access to the truth necessarily have our best interests at heart.

In the two years of production for “They Will Be Heard“, I’ve found myself with all my resources invested in and drained by random footage on a hard drive. I don’t even have dental insurance.

There are times where I wake up and think, I can’t do this anymore, it’s too hard. And I think, just walk away. To this a more terrifying question: what will you do then? Now the question has become an answer. I’m obligated to live my dreams. I’m obligated to finish the film.

Young poets and dreamers of Newark who I had the privilege of teaching: Everyone will tell you no. They will tell you no because you’re not ready yet, or because they don’t know any better. In the pursuit of your dreams you will find yourself discouraged, depressed, elated, anxious, alone, empty. You will give everything you have and then be told it’s not good enough yet. Give more. Give again.

I thought, pursuing the dream would be enough. I thought that the fact that leaving my job to pursue the lucrative field of documentary photography and film making during the worst economic depression since the, well, The Depression, would entitle me to immediate success. Leap! Leap! Buddha said. And the net will appear. The net does appear, but it’s not comfortable. The purpose of the net is just that you almost die but you don’t.

After living in a closet-sized room for a year and a half, which was ironic because I didn’t have a closet, I moved across the street into a crooked apartment with an upstairs neighbor who is constantly puking. This is nice, my friends said. Don’t talk to me like I’m rebuilding my life after a terrible mistake, I told them. I made a documentary, I didn’t burn my babies in a homemade meth lab.

Be tenacious. Remember when the gangs kept spray painting the side of our school and every morning Mr. K would paint over it. And they would come back and tag the school again, and the next morning Mr. K would paint over it. One morning, they just stopped coming.

Remember, it’s all on you. People will help you out along the way, but even, hypothetically speaking, if you have a rock and roll fantasy threesome with an executive producer from MTV who should for all intensive purposes be slightly curious about your rock and roll documentary, it doesn’t mean he’ll like your FaceBook page.

Don’t worry, this only makes you better. It only makes you brighter. And you will always be able to find a decent bottle of tempranillo for $8. You will wake up in the morning and it will still be dark, it will be dark for days, but there is no turning back. You will feel jealous and resentful of those people who pass by you because they have the right contacts or better luck, but don’t worry about them. You will feel grateful for and honored to have those people who stand by you and tell you to keep going. They are out there. They are with me all the time. Keep going. Keep fighting. Ask questions. Find mentors. It’s not easy, but then again, nothing for you has ever been easy. You have always done twice as much with half as much. I know the light you possessed when you were 11, it’s only gotten brighter, stronger. Your time is now, take it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spain, Stocks and Rock UnBlocked

When I read the news of Spain’s youth taking over the streets, I had my typical these days reaction which was to bounce up and down in my seat and contain the energy surging in my veins that wanted me there, now, into the hopeful and encouraging FB status and link that maybe some would comment on. Boo.

But as a recovering lefty activist, I was inspired to see people redefining their movement to change the world outside of the left/right paradigm that has dominated the discussion of class politics for the last 50 years.

Why is UnBlock the Rock so special? Because nothing has epitomized the left/right dichotomy more than the relationship of Cuba and the United States. And so within this very confined discussion of “No, you” “No, YOU!” Somehow, someway, heavy metal arrived on the island in the mid 80’s. Somehow, someway, the same music that helped me identify my systems of oppression arrived at the polar opposite of that system and defined another. 

We have to be friends. Cuba and the United States that is. Regardless of what Cubans think about their situation, and it’s their decision to make, it’s really ridiculous that it’s illegal for US citizens to travel there. 

I believe in free health care and free education. I believe in freedom of speech. I believe they can all exist together. I also believe it’s time for us to focus on what brings us together and start determining our future in a time when the stocks are down and Spain is rising and the middle east is figuring things out and how rock and roll figures into all of this. I believe it’s time to stop being so left you’re right and so right you’re wrong and coming up with a new ideology, a new ideology that sounds good.

So what is UnBlock the Rock? It’s us recognizing that on an island where it is impossible to find toilet paper, these people found guitar strings. It’s us realizing that if nothing else, we all have Metallica. It’s us coming out to see three great bands for 10$ and that 10$ going towards legal fees to organize Cuban hard core band Escape, featured in the rocumentary “They Will Be Heard” (the website of which, surprisingly is theywillbeheard.com) and organizing the first Cuban metal tour on US soil ever.

Come out, June 24th, at 11 pm to see FireHaze, Iratetion, and Trash Executioner at Boca Grande (564 Washington BLVD) Jersey City.

Wake up, it’s the beginning of the new world.

-
Tracey Noelle Luz, Director, “They Will be Heard”

The Flanders – Havana Connection

Growing up in Flanders, NJ in the 1980’s was a lot like living in Cuba in the first decade of the new millennium. In both epochs of my life, my friends and I ate copious amounts of pizza. We had nothing to do and nowhere to go. There was no internet, and no one had cell phones. Our pot was lame. We finagled beer and vodka and drank on the streets. We were made stronger by the Power of Metal. When I write that, it is said like thunder and each syllable is very important. The Power of Metal.

Except, in the 80’s, in Flanders, I was a very young teenager. I had no control over my circumstances. At the age of 11, my father would finally leave, which was a good thing because he took his out of control temper with him. The judge awarded custody to my mother, forcing my father to contribute the legal equivalent of pitching in here and there. We were struggling financially, and the absence of a father, not necessarily mine, made adolescence even more difficult. Heavy metal was a natural outlet. Metal united me with all the other misfits of society, and we loved the Misfits. The voice of my frustration against the injustice of my circumstances, against the suffocating feeling of adolescence, of being controlled by adults who stood in the way of my fierce determination to be self destructive, was heard through Metallica, Judas Priest, Ozzy Osbourne, Motley Crue, Testament, Anthrax.

 

To live in Cuba means to be isolated from the world. Kind of like living in Flanders in the 80’s. There are three television channels that show Friends, Desperate Housewives, Grey’s Anatomy and Gilmore Girls, courtesy of the state. There are three newspapers. To have access to internet, you must have permission from the government. Most Cubans do not have access to the internet.

Living in Cuba is the eternal suffocating feeling of adolescence, even when you’re a grown up. You have no control over your external circumstances. You live with your parents. In most cases, your bedroom, when you have one, the guitar player Yanio does not, bears the same decorating savvy as it did when I ripped my first centerfold out of Circus Magazine.

In Flanders, in the 80’s, when I lived with my mother, and I was angry, pictures from metal magazines, right angle to right angle, joined forces to create a motley montage of hair and heavy metal hands. Ratt, Def Leppard, Bon Jovi, Queensryche, with an occasional intruder like Chief Seattle because he was also righteous and had long hair. Alejandro,the drummer of Escape, has this wall, with Scarlett Johansen looking completely comfortable out of place because she knew, if given the chance, that Slipknot and Megadeath would love to be her boyfriend. She had no fear on the wall of metal.

I ripped down my photos when I became more sophisticated and slightly gothy and punk rocky and wrote poetry like most ugly girls in high school. My hair was thankful. So was my vagina, in lieu of skin tight jeans, I started wearing loose anti-objectification garb. But, I had options. There were choices. Even in culturally vapid Flanders, I could land my hands on DK and Black Flag and go through my whole Sid and Nancy worship phase. (I kid you not, I saw that movie no less than 20 times and still confuse Sid Vicious with Gary Oldman. Watching JFK was a complete mind fuck.)

Metal came to the island poco a poco after the ban against John Lennon was lifted in 1966, after the first wave of rock music came to Cuba. Cubans who had the opportunity to travel to Germany or other countries of the USSR came back toting Metallica and Judas Priest. Metal did not come to Cuba from the US, as the majority of US tourists go to see old cars and marvel at the musicians in the square who play Guantanamera or Hotel California. The activists who travel there on some humanitarian mission or another tend to cling to the hip hop movement, also state controlled, extolling Martin Luther King who can’t get any peace where ever he is trying to rest, since Cubans aren’t permitted in hotels, nor or they permitted to demonstrate against these segregationist policies. Todavia.

Metal is an expression of individual liberty, explosive and furious, passionate. For these Cubans, born into the successes of the revolution and the suffering of the Special Period, they are finding their own way, despite all odds, to define who they are.

 

 

In Cuba, this is especially difficult. In Cuba, this is especially courageous. Access to instruments, practice space, electricity, social acceptance, accessories, is difficult. You are not permitted to speak freely. Escape, the band featured in this documentary, shouts, growls, screams what they feel, explosively, forcing people to listen.

Metal, the white, working class equivalent of hip hop, the trumpet, I mean electric guitar, for collective frustrations, was identified with western values and ideals by the Cuban government and seen as contraband. Cuban metalheads, frikis, were arrested for having long hair only 15 years ago. Patio Maria, Havana’s equivalent of CBGB’s, gave a home to those early bands, Zeus, Agonizer, Escape, and Hipnosis and a birthplace for metal until it was shut down in 2000.

What is so ironic, so fucking ironic, about that, is that metal led me down the path to my commitment to social and political justice. I found a deep correlation in the injustice of my parent’s relationship, the subsequent lousy divorce settlement, our financial struggle, in the themes explored in my favorite metal songs. And I loved Stephen King. (See Among the Living) I emphasized with the plight of native americans (Chief Seattle, again, righteous and long hair. The first metal head ever! Run to the HIlls, brothers!) I was concerned about the nature of good and evil, I also wanted to bring the noise. Metal, when you scratch the surface, is against the status quo. I wanted to rock and roll all night, and party every day. That first act of resistance, of realizing you had choices, you didn’t have to participate in the capitalist 80’s culture of cocaine and bad hair, yes, Cuba, the worst tenets of capitalism, were born into the consciousness through metal.

It was through metal, and punk, and hip hop, through Dee Snider and John Denver and NWA, that I became politicized and took my first steps towards becoming anti -imperialist. It was because of the PMRC (Parent’s Music Resource Center, led by Tipper Gore) and “Tales of the Witch Trials”, cassettes by Jello Biafra on his political views and why pot was really illegal, it was because of “Injustice for All”, that I became a “revolutionary” in college. It was really because my sister bought “Back in Black” on vinyl when I was 11 that I would arrive with hungry eyes and narrow perspective in Havana 15 years later. To find other metal heads, despondent and discouraged by their own society’s shortcomings, just like me. Just like me.

Two years ago, visionary and metalhead, Yuri Max Avila rallied the Cuban government for support, and Maxim Rock, the premiere (and only!) metal venue was born in Havana. Every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, Escape, Combat Noise, Zeus, Agonizer, or Hipnosis play. Every Thursday, Friday and Saturday, the club closes and frikis trudge on down to the park at G and 23rd. Five or 6 people contribute towards purchasing a bottle of vodka and the night begins. Again. The same way it did the night before. A week before. Years ago.

You Don’t Have to Watch Dynasty

-Jan. 30th, 2011

“I have nothing for you,” said my doctor. “I’m not going to put you on addictive drugs at this point, and you’re already wired.” Last week, I finally admitted to myself that I have ADD. When I told my doctor, I could tell she wanted to say something quippy but then considered my feelings. Of course you have ADD, she seemed to say. Do you think everyone is like this?

I was about 20 when the medical establishment first started discussing ADD. I always assumed it was a pretext for public schools to drug the children of Mexican immigrants. My ADD was initially masked by the basic idiocy of being a young adult, and then I was a school teacher in Newark for 9 years. There, my ADD was like a superpower, like Wolverine. Because of the constant crisis and chaos, I was the best functioner. My rapid fire brain synapses were my friends, not my foes. Once my life assumed a semblance of normalcy, however, I realized I couldn’t think. I mean, I had to stop thinking so I could think.

Whatever you grow up with, you think is normal. Child abuse, ADD, Intellivision. Until someone you trust tells you differently. It is not ok for someone to hit you. It is not normal to stop what you’re doing every 5 minutes. Intellivision sucks. Coleco Vision has Ms. Pac-man. Sometimes you are ready to hear these things when you are 12, sometimes you are ready to listen when you are 37 years old.

On Tuesday, January 18th, the greatest Tuesday ever of my whole life, I heard? saw? experienced? Prince in concert.

Prince is responsible, not in a feminist text booky or predictable GQ kind of way, but in the coolest way, for revolutionary sex of my generation. The New Power Generation. The midwestern high heel wearing Puerto Rican do whatever you want generation.

How much of our sexuality is our humanity and how much of it is linked up to our personal struggles, our political struggles, and why in 2011 am I still writing it like a question?

THE SHOW: Glory god be whatever kind of churchtentpopuppraiseJesus testimonial whose parishioners are 35 year old bitches in spandex from Long Island. God Bless you Prince.  You bless you.

My accomplice Diana and I really did party like it was 1999 as I was wearing clothes my mother bought me, on sale, from TJ Max. A purple coat with ruffles, a matching Candie’s purse, a zebra-striped dress. People on the train on a rainy January night looked at me like, “Where the fuck are you going?” To which I looked back: “Prince,” pause, “clearly.”

THE SHOW: Cheap red wine, nose bleed seats. Sharon Jones was on stage relaying messages from her ancestors. “But, first, let me take off these heels,” she said.

I am putting my pen down momentarily and placing my palms up to the sky, closing my eyes. But first, let me take off these heels.

Ms. Jones proceeds to tell the story of America, which like all of mankind, has many beginnings in Africa. Dance. Drum. And the sax got something to say too. Dap Kings got something to say too. Sharon Jones dancing dances that got signals, warnings, messages, directions. Somebody’s holding onto something. Somebody’s remembering something. Telling us to remember.

Of course she brought up the Cherokee.

Welcome to America. Welcome to this story.

Sometimes when I am editing “They Will Be Heard”, I have to stop. I am working on a sequence and then I think about everything in the whole world at once for 45 seconds and I need to take a nap. Recently, I started taking 30 minute breaks. Recently my breaks included “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” starring Danielle Day Lewis.

I didn’t pick this movie on purpose. I remembered always, I mean always, seeing this book on a table at The Strand in New York City. And I remember always reading the back and thinking, Aha! Bourgeois propaganda!

THE SCENE: the Russian delegation is at the bar and there is a band playing rock music. One of the Czecks at the table with the Russians approaches the band and tells them to play an anthem. The audience grows despondent, and leaves the dance floor, moaning and groaning.

The band returns to rock and roll, and the people rejoice. Grinding, dancing, drinking. It struck me in a way I wouldn’t have understood before making TWBH. How salsa does not replace rock and roll. How rock and roll doesn’t belong to any region. How the roots of rock and roll come from the Blues and we all know where and why that started.

And so this expression, to say that rock and roll is a western influence, like it’s bad, like it promotes mindless consumption and pillaging and raping, to deny people access to something that flows from our breath. To condemn it is suffocating. Is smothering. Because the people who created this music were not bourgeois capitalists. Although, Elvis was a hero to most.

I can’t imagine not growing up with rock and roll. Without heavy metal. And what does it mean when you ban it? And here I am talking about right wing forces in the United States. About the PMRC. About Bible thumpers. Do they have anything in common with left wing forces abroad?

And now I am thinking of my friend who told me this story about her mother growing up in Argentina. Her mother was abducted in the Dirty War, and disappeared for three years. When she returned, my friend, her daughter, screamed when her mother returned. She was three, and wanted to stay with her grandmother. She didn’t know her mother, because her mother had been disappeared.

I have a Cuban friend who told me almost the same exact story when her mother returned from prison. Her mother was arrested for having dollars in Cuba.

I taught students who grew up in whole communities of families being ripped apart for unnecessary and unjust imprisonment.

When is it democratic to rip apart families?

When is it revolutionary?

THE SHOW: Diana and I drink overpriced red ripple wine waiting for Prince which is the best thing you can be doing at 8:45 pm on a Tuesday in January. Screens hung from the ceiling portray Tina and Ike cast in that awesome 70’s orange and green, dancing and singing and making some kind of revolution happen. Diana and I are trying to figure out if that’s Tina’s nipple. Is she just wearing a mesh shirt? It is. It’s just her nipple. When that was kind of revolutionary and cool. Part of some whole revolutionary free love thing people were trying to figure out. The body is beautiful. Black is beautiful. Tina is up there, is fierce. Lips pursed, shaking our heads. Tina! Welcome to America.

Prince is arriving. There is smoke. There is apprehension and screaming. Purple lights. There is a melange of songs beginning, never continuing…You don’t have to be beautiful… and the night begins.        To turn me on.

I am remembering being 12 at the Flanders roller rink. I am a little girl. A little tomboygirl. Visionary for my time, as in 7 years, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam will be dressing like me. My father has left. And now we are poor. Safe, but poor. He is gone, we aren’t forced to go to church anymore. Our prayers have been answered.

I am at the roller rink being 12, I want to skate around in a circle, over and over again. To look like I am not scared, that I know what I am doing. I will not look foolish.

The dj calls everyone out for the Kentucky Derby.

The Kentucky Derby is when the rink is divided in half, with boys on one wall and girls on the other. The skating referees, they have whistles and black and white striped shirts, skate around on a diagonal very quickly and whistle at attractive young men and women, selecting 2 boys or 2 girls to start out the natural selection, weeding out all the unattractive people.

According to Derby regulations, you select a partner to skate with until the whistle blows where upon you choose someone else. The point of the game is to confirm who belongs and leave out those who do not. You stand on the wall, waiting. After a while, you can all belong when the dj announces that the Kentucky Derby is over and it’s a free skate once again.

I am 12. America is not ready for Prince, but we all are. It has been 2 years since 1999 was released, but Prince has figured himself out and he is able to say what he was born to say very clearly so we can all understand. In 1984 “When Doves Cry” is released.

In 1985, when I am skating, relieved from my duty of standing, unpicked, in the Kentucky Derby, after being told, you don’t belong, we don’t want you, the couple’s skate is announced.

I have mastered skating backwards. There is a middle rink for practicing. I have taught myself to skate very fast, jump and turn. I always participate in backwards skate.

Now that couple’s skate is announced, I have made plans to wait on line for Ms. PacMan or buy a soda. Or look through my belongings in my locker. A boy approaches me. Do you want to skate he says. It is Purple Rain. During couple’s skate, the lights are dim, and people skate slowly. Although I am a master at backwards skating, it is our first time so we just hold hands. I am too young and my mother and her church won’t let me see Purple Rain. But here I am. Skating, occasionally slipping away from a boy since our hands are sweaty and our arms are outstretched. We do not look at eachother. We do not speak. I am relieved. I belong.

Welcome to America.