“Cubanos in Wisconsin” is the first literary work of Silvio Canto, host of the radio show “Canto Talk.” It is a memoir about growing up in pre-Castro Cuba, fleeing, and then having the fates settle Silvio and his family in far flung Wisconsin. You can tell Silvio has been meaning to write this memoir for a while, but unlike most people, he actually did, leaving not just his experience, but his wisdom for others to consume today and into the future.
I would be lying if I said the writing was grand. It’s not. But it’s not horrible either. However, his writing and prose is not the reason you should buy and read this book. It’s because of the account of history he provides, the message he conveys, and the lessons to learn from it, lessons his more modern day Latino and Hispanic immigrant counter parts today should listen to.
First it reminds you just what a wretchedly evil and disgusting ideology communism was and is. Everything from a rapid decrease in the amount of goods and services available in the economy, to people’s personal religions being outlawed, to the elimination of the individual. But the worst is the pure invasiveness of the filthy ideology. Within 2 years Silvio’s life as a child goes from playing baseball and visiting his relatives to having “Mr. Bello” a mindless thug of Castro’s “neighborhood watch” program interrogating his family why they have a “nice radio” and asking his mother for the children to work in the field. It provides a real, first person account of what the consequences are going from a moderately free capitalist system to one of tyrannical, but ideal, communism.
Second, what I found amazing in the book is how fast the changes took place, but the people were so slow to respond or even realize. At first, even before Castro takes over, people are already trying to ignore and dismiss the “bearded men playing rebel” or the high end department store being burned and nationalized. But soon enough communism rears its ugly head when baseball is outlawed, curfews enforced, Soviet troops are present, and Mr. Bello is in everybody’s lives.
Third, though not related to communism was the nearly identical parallels of a young Cuban boy and that of a young American boy. They both love baseball, neither one of them really wants to study, they are always outsmarted and outguiled by their mothers, and they will come up with a way to have fun no matter where they are. It converts “some guy named Silvio” into your best friend or even yourself, just in a far off island in 1959.
Fourth, are outstanding instances of economics. Noticeably people behaving in response to a conquer and confiscate communist economy. A richer fellow would adorn his nieces with incredibly valuable watches as he sent them off to Miami. Neighbors vouching for each other to undermine communist thugs. Even people throwing up their hands in defeat, quitting their day time jobs, and declaring themselves “communist” to play along and get a job. All the economic, social and psychological reactions of people to a vile system.
Finally, there is a great comparison to be made between Silvio’s education in Cuba vs. that of the US. Much like today, his teachers in Cuba were nothing more than socialist indoctrinators, putting political brainwashing first and education second (the “God vs. Castro and ice cream” bit is worth buying the book unto itself as it shows you just how disgusting communists are). But when he finally gets to the United States (unlike today) his teachers offer no political pressuring, review history, and aim to educate the children.
There are other pros (cute stories, it’s only 89 pages) and cons (sometimes unclear) to the book, but it should be purchased and read to every child (and adult) in America NOT because it rivals the works of Steinbeck, but because it is a mandatory example, lesson, and reminder as to where the path of socialism leads.