Whenever I touched on the issue of bilingualism in The Sun-Sentinel, the excellent and friendly Ft Lauderdale daily, a deluge of troubled missives and phone calls would follow. Broward County was where the notorious "Anglo flight" from the encroaching Latinamericanness of Miami headed some decades ago. And the Anglos -- in the literal sense of English-speakers -- were touchy. Boy, were they.
Whenever I wrote about just about anything in The Miami Herald, the also excellent but far less friendly daily where I worked later, a deluge of online comments -- by then we were fully into the digital age -- would follow that quickly degenerated into name-calling. And not just across the Anglo/Latino divide. Miami was far more contentious than Ft Lauderdale, perhaps because it was more urban, but mostly because it was, I must admit, more Latin American. The insult hurling took place among Latin Americans of various nationalities who were pissed off at Cubans. And among Cubans themselves who were, typically, pissed off at each other.
Unlike in the city north of Miami, where I tried to reason with my touchy non-Latino readers, in Miami itself I stayed out of the fray. My editors wanted me to exercise my privilege to delete the abusive comments, but I insisted that these folk came from countries, including my native Cuba, where freedom of speech was curtailed and I didn't have the heart to censor them. In the end, my editors did the censoring themselves.
We live in contentious times. I no longer write for dailies, though I read them online. But I don't follow the comments. I'm disturbed enough by the news, I imagine my Miami compatriots and fellow Latinos are still yelling at each other online, which I think is less harmful than firing squads and torture dungeons. On Facebook I tend to unfollow -- never unfriend since that would be unfriendly -- those who rant, either on the right or the left. But even those who don't are up in arms and I wonder if I should just get out of social media. Then again I wonder if I should just stop reading the news and devote myself to literature and hunting butterflies, like Nabokov (though literature is not nice, I know, killing and pinning butterflies seems just plain nasty).
Contentiousness is not with me. Probably old age, complicated treatments that keep old age keeping on, and simply the heartache, and the thousand natural shocks/that flesh is heir to. Though more probably the fact that contentiousness doesn't sit well on me. Oh, I've been contentious all right, but when I recall those incidents I am profoundly embarrassed by what a rogue and peasant slave [was] I!, to stay with the Dane. What a fool!
Am I then meek and humble like Assisi's Francesco? Hardly. More battered than saintly. St Francis was a reformer by lifestyle and, therefore, example. But he was a conservative with no desire to challenge anything or anyone. That came later at the hand of more contentious types, like Martin Luther. I don't challenge, but I'm no conservative. Until recently, Papal arrogance irked me. As does the arrogance of secular power. But reform and Reformation and revolution have a way of assuming arrogance. My suspicion is that it was always there, among the reformers and rebels. Perhaps it's congenital. And perhaps those who have the arrogance-of-power gene are the ones who gravitate toward reform or revolution, and those who don't, like the sweet Francesco, are happy to serve the Popes of this world, religious or secular, as long as they can pursue poverty and stigmata.
We live in the times of Counter-Reformation. La Contrareforma, a Spanish invention. A contrarreformista has taken the reins of this country -- a sloppy metaphor since he never took Stagecoach Driver's Ed -- and others are poised to do likewise abroad. In the Arab world the Reformation was so short-lived, a mere season, that it's likely to be forgotten, while the Counter-Reformation has been swift and merciless. And increasingly, other entities rage. Not hard to imagine a sci-fi scenario of corporations, crime cartels and savage theocracies waging apocalyptic war. Not to mention dynasties, that family value the Enlightenment supposedly ended and now it seems it's the Enlightenment that ended.
Should I pray for stigmata? Or would that be an act of rebellion, of contentiousness? I no longer live in South Florida, land of inter and intra ethnic name-calling, of dueling languages. I live among the rank and file of the Contrareforma. I go about incognito. Secret Agent Man. Nonviolent old ronin. Filling insurance forms in doctors' waiting rooms, under the English translation of my baptismal name, which for complicated reasons I've explained elsewhere is the one in my Social Security card. They've given me a number/and taken away my name.