Our Cuban Family Chat: A Microcosm of Our Democratic Republic
“The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the How opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.” –J.S. Mill
As I (Victoria) sat in my Political Science class this semester, in the midst of an election year, I found myself truly blessed with an immense yet intimate family to discuss and share ideas with – not only about my class, but also about what our entire nation was experiencing. Though we, our intimate family of 40, vary in age, education, and geographic location, each family member has the ability to succinctly and honestly express their personal convictions and perspectives in the safety of our family group chat. John Stuart Mill, in the simple quote above, encapsulated the very essence of our family group chat. My family values the power of conversation, especially about our social and political cleavages, rather than partaking in the societally practiced “cancel culture.” As I was studying Mill, who articulated that the only way in which a democracy can flourish and avoid mediocrity is through the celebration and vocalization of differences in perspective, I turned to my cousin (Janett) twenty years my elder, to continue these conversations. Coincidentally, Janett was re-reading Thurman’s Jesus and The Disinherited, and Sally Kohn’s The Opposite of Hate to strengthen her bridge-building efforts at Interfaith Youth Core, and she thought it would be constructive to celebrate the distinctiveness of our family chat and to focus on what we have in common. There is more that unites us in Christ than separates us. Although not an easy thing to recall in the throes of dissent and disagreement, it has reigned true.
My cousin and I are Christian, Cuban women imploring for conversation in an effort to present different perspectives, in order to develop our own identities in a society that only seems to value polarization and tribalism. As a society, we seem to have stopped listening to diversity in thought, remaining siloed in our in-group and exacerbated by digital algorithms, political elites, and the realities of a global pandemic. As we navigated a global pandemic, we have seen the simple act of wearing a mask become a polarizing and political topic, when in reality it should be viewed as the preservation of humanity having nothing to do with the two-party political system.
The divisiveness we experience in media and in civic society is not a possibility within our family - not because we do not disagree, but rather because we are anchored in our Christian faith, our common disgust of communism, and our genuine appreciation of one another - even when we vehemently disagree. Each of us, regardless of age, education, and geographic location, has had significant time with one another, cultivating real relationships between aunts and uncles, cousins, grandparents, moms, and dads. We have not and do not cancel, exclude, or shun anyone. We do, however, debate and discuss and cite various sources, all the while remaining active in the family chat, and when physically together, at the table. It is not easy to remain engaged, especially in a conversation where you might feel you don’t have the depth of understanding, political or religious aptitude, or temperament, but we have been doing it our whole lives – we have many years of practice. If one day you choose to engage with our family about religion and politics, be prepared to be challenged, but always heard.
Each of our family members, though sharing the familial trauma of the exodus from Communist Cuba, has created their own distinctive identity. Our family, Cordovés, has created a space, primarily in this family chat, where we do not have to conform to the national “one size fits all” mentality proliferated in the media. Cuban poet and author Richard Blanco stated, “To know a country takes all we know of love: some days better than others, but never easy to keep our promise every morning of every year, of every century, and wake up, stumble downstairs with all our raging hope, sit down at the kitchen table again, still blurry-eyed, still tired, and say: Listen, we need to talk.” The beauty of this country is found in the multitude of passions, cultures, and perspectives that each individual brings to the table; it should be celebrated, not diluted and generalized.
We are a Cuban, Jesus following, mostly Republican, conservative family, living in dispersed areas connected and interconnected to one another by faith, love, and this family chat. This year has, quite literally, isolated individuals, which was uncommon and disheartening for this family. We’ve been disjointed, watching and consuming hateful and divisive rhetoric like most of society, yet with the ability to analyze our own beliefs, passions, and ailments. Our hope, as a family, is that this period of introspection that has come with social distance lasts longer than the pandemic and becomes a way of life. As a senior at Colgate (Victoria) and a working professional (Janett), this group chat minimizes our separation and serves as a window into the current social, political climate but is also distinctive because of our collective love of Christ. Jesus calls us, as Christians, to lead by example and to lead a life of compassion. That message often gets lost in the dilution of the faith when coupled with political pressure and conflated and stereotyped. Our family strives to emulate Christ both within and beyond our family circle, always choosing to love the opposition. Our society is losing the ability to have difficult conversations and often chooses to generalize the opposition without listening to why others vote the way they do. Much like every Christian having their personal testimony, each individual in this grand society has a past that has shaped their present and impacts their future. We owe it to one another to listen to those stories.
As we move into 2021, we leave you with this piece of scripture and ask that you prepare your heart, reflect and listen with intention. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:3-5).
Janett I. Cordovés is on staff at Interfaith Youth Core. Victoria Pino is a senior at Colgate University where she is president of both the Sigma Delta Pi Honor Society and the Colgate University Church.
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The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.