(Published in The Record of Hackensack, NJ. on December 15, 1995)
Ever noticed how some people want to cast you into a mold — even if you don't fit? You express an opinion based on one of a trillion issues that concern you, and based on that single remark, you are either a liberal or a conservative. And when you express another opinion that breaks your assigned mold, they don't know where to place you.
It happens to all of us. But when a columnist expresses many opinions to thousands of readers, it happens practically every day. I'm either supposed to be a liberal or conservative columnist. I hear this even from some of my colleagues.
If I'm liberal, I'm expected to love higher taxes, abortion, burning the flag, and President Clinton — I don't. If I'm conservative, I'm expected to love bashing immigrants, cutting social services, and Newt Gingrich — I don't. Breaking the mold is my favorite pastime.
“Your flag column didn't fool me,” said a “conservative” colleague after I wrote against flag desecration. “You want to be a conservative and a liberal at the same time.”
I told him I'm a free-thinking human being who refuses to be defined or limited by the parameters set by those two words. On some issues, I fall into the strict definition of a liberal, and on others, I could be called a conservative. Living under communism, as I did in my native Cuba, taught me not to allow being molded by the party line.
More Americans should have had such an experience — not that I wish communism on anyone, but it does make you appreciate the freedom we enjoy here, including the liberty to be liberal and conservative on many different issues.
Yet those who had pegged me as a liberal, based on some of my columns in defense of the downtrodden, have been having a hard time dealing with some positions they do not expect me to take: condemning flag desecration, recognizing the need for immigrants to learn English, expressing gratitude on Thanksgiving Day for the privilege of living in the greatest country in the world.
When I wrote about how immigrants identify with the Pilgrims because many of us fled religious persecution, totalitarian regimes, economic privation, and other degrading conditions that pale in comparison to the hardships we suffer here, I broke the liberal mold.
When I called on Latinos to look in the mirror and accept some personal responsibility for child abuse, domestic violence, drug dealing, illegal weapons, and other social ills, some of my “conservative” readers wrote me to express surprise. “It was so refreshing to read this from you,” one of them wrote.
Even some of my Latino readers see a conflict between my criticism of Republicans on some issues and my knocks of Democrats on others. I see no conflict at all. I tell them that you are what your life makes you. My life has shown me the ruthlessness of a right-wing dictatorship, the repression of a communist regime, the struggles of U.S. immigrants, and the economic, social, and even violent discrimination suffered by minorities.
To some of my fellow Cubans who fall for the strong anti-Castro Republican rhetoric, my criticism of Republicans on domestic issues doesn't make me a liberal, but a communist. Of course, that argument would be readily disputed by pro-Castro radicals who are constantly writing letters abhorring my columns on Cuba.
“So are you liberal or conservative?” people ask me, as if those were the only options in a multiple-choice test. My answer is always the same: “It depends on the issue. I'm an equal-opportunity critic.”
“So are you a Democrat or Republican?” ask those who insist on pegging me to a party line and, with a smirk on their faces, trying to expose my liberal or conservative mold. “Oh, well, you got me there,” I say. “I'm a registered and loyal independent — and proud of it.”