Elian Gonzalez, during his fateful voyage across the sea, was gently carried to safety by a gaggle of ageless dolphins after his virgin mother died delivering him to this New World. Elian, now being produced in plastic form as an action figure and in commodity form as a Beanie Baby, was never real in the first place. Never a real citizen, though he did receive a real welcome to America and was carried ashore and given temporary accommodations, as any real non-citizen has the right to. Never a real Cuban, because he was a harmless, pure babe, uncorrupted by the scourge of Castro’s communist fascism and not yet so spoiled as to ignore the fruits of this new land. Never a real child, though his childhood and the quality of it were the focus of thousands of lines of AP line-feeds. Never a real human because he is contained in an image that is bounced from satellite to web site and into your cranium. An image that is constructed of electrons and carbon residue, burn marks that never show up on the flesh of young Elian.
Elian was a bifurcated entity from the beginning. It’s only appropriate that his family, those who cared most if you believe the latest lead out of Miami, resorted to breaking their own laws and consuming Elian’s freedom in order to defend his freedom and their laws. On one side is Cuba, always the other, always a side. Cultural discourse on Cuba has taken a dualistic edge since the revolution in 1959: those who claim that Cuba is an island of lost souls perishing at the hands of an evil communist tyranny embodied in Fidel Castro, and those who claim Cuba is a socialist paradise endlessly bullied by the colossus up north. Unsurprisingly, Elian himself became the rope in the tug-of-war between these two sides. His loving Miami relatives (and their wealthy contributors) beseeched U.S. officials to grant them an exception to their own laws (laws that, in the same sentence, protect freedom) in order to save Elian from the oppressive communist wasteland, Cuba. Castro and the Cubans similarly beseeched U.S. officials to end their overt imperialism, follow their own laws and give Elian back.
Title VI of the Helms-Burton Act places specific sanctions on Cuba for the return of stolen property to the largely white, wealthy Miami exiles. On one level, the battle over Elian is another chapter in the property battle between Cuba and the United States. Property is theft, property rights are absolute (meanwhile, Elian fights Webster on Celebrity Deathmatch and endorses “Stone Cold” Steve Austin on tonight’s Monday Night Nitro).
Indeed, one may question the proposition that Elian ever arrived in America in the first place. Through endless media reproduction, he was certainly assimilated into the media tapestry that is history. Through generous donations by the paternal Cuban American National Foundation, Elian consumed America while doing strategic photo “opportunities” outside his relatives’ Miami compound. Physically, Elian stood in America, but he never saw America. The America that the CANF tried to provide Elian was a third-order simulation: a reality that masks the absence of reality. Surely, in America all children have two cellular phones, every toy, more clothes than your local department store! The freedom that Elian enjoyed was financial freedom – everything was there. That financial freedom doesn’t exist in America or in Cuba, but good citizens would like it to exist here. For if there were some fantastical difference, it would make us different from Cuba. It would make our political system somehow more legitimate, our beliefs somehow superior, theirs mystically wrong. Yet when Elian returns to Cuba, he won’t really go back to Cuba. He’ll go back to the prepaid mansion with private tutors and a swimming pool, thanks to Castro. Certainly, Castro doesn’t want to be one-upped by the CANF, he’ll show them just how horrible Cuba really is by lavishing Elian with riches and photo-shoots. It’s a race to the bottom, each side trying valiantly not to prove itself wrong.
Elian Gonzalez will live out his life in hyper-space. With no reference to anything real anymore, the media bubble that arose out of concern for his well-being has consumed him entirely. The armed removal of Elian from his Miami compound was exactly what the CANF wanted. No more poorly scripted videotapes to update the anxious watchers on Elian’s condition, no more hiding and waiting for that which is inevitable. Elian’s physical removal is all that is important: get rid of the carcass. With the mere mention of “Elian” the CANF has all it needs – mental constructions of images and data and situations – and can then trumpet his absence as a warrant for their indignance and proof of their righteousness.
Rest in peace, Elian Gonzalez, for the embargo will soon fall and you will be reunited with Disneyland once again. It’s a safe bet that this time he might run into an enormous costumed version of himself – I bet he steps on his own tail.