On one extreme, I have some Cuban-American friends who are sooo conservative that they sound like reruns of FOX News. They are so anti-communist and feel so betrayed by Democrats that they behave as if they had sold their souls to the Republican Party, even if all they get from the GOP is cheap lip service. They fled Cuba to avoid being "indoctrinated" by the left and ended up being "programmed" by the right!
But on the other extreme, I have some Latino friends who are sooo leftist that they distribute propaganda from communist "news" agencies. They live in the United States, and yet they feel resentment for this country and see the CIA even in their soup. They enjoy our precious civil liberties — some even claim to be civil rights activists — and yet they blindly support socialist regimes that deny those liberties to their people.
Amazingly, while I think I stand somewhere in the middle of these two extremes, the extremists don't agree. They all think I'm on the other side! Regardless of how much I take swings in both directions, they all think I'm the enemy. That's the way it is with extremists; you may agree with them on most issues, but if you disagree on any of their obsessions, you become the enemy.
In just the last week, chatting with friends on Facebook, I've taken hits from both extremes. Based on a column I wrote on U.S. immigration policy, a Cuban-American extremist categorized me as, "Not only a liberal, he leans left with the balance tilted touching the ground."
Isn't that special? Curiously, I know some people who think I'm exactly the opposite. They think I lean so far to the right and tilt so close to the ground that they call me a "gusano" or worm — Fidel Castro's term to describe Cuban-Americans.
The immigration column had absolutely nothing to do with Cuba, but if I disagree with Republicans on any issue, some Cubans assume I must be a socialist. I've spent nearly three decades writing columns thrashing the Castro dictatorship, perhaps with much stronger language than any other Cuban-American writing in English, but if I ask for compassion for undocumented immigrants, to the extremists, I must be a commie!
Frankly, if it weren't so crazy and scary, it would be funny! And the same can be said for the other extreme.
A few days later, a leftist ideologue called me a gusano, and another one suggested I was defending fascism because I jumped into an online dialogue where several of my liberal friends were discussing their absurd theory that all the recent anti-government protests in Venezuela were orchestrated by the CIA.
It was asinine. There were widespread reports that government goons had shot and killed several peaceful student demonstrators in Venezuela, and yet one of these ideologues had the gall to suggest that more goons should be armed by the socialist and corrupt government of President Nicolas Maduro.
"Maduro, arm the revolutionary people of Venezuela so they can defend the Bolivarian Revolution," he wrote, clearly calling for bloodshed. He even rephrased the famous leftist chant, "The people united will never be defeated," and came off as if he were an National Rifle Association fanatic: "El pueblo armado, jamas sera aplastao" ("The people, armed, will never be crushed"), he wrote.
What? Really? I wanted to scream at my computer.
Instead, I chose sarcasm. "Yes Maduro," I wrote in Spanish. "Arm the revolutionaries so they can establish another dictatorship like Cuba's." Using a very Cuban phrase, not meant to be taken literally, I also questioned why they were consuming so much excrement, which is our way of asking why they were being so foolish.
Yet one of them apparently took it literally and charged that I was the "comemierda," or excrement eater, that I want to "arm right-wing fascism that comes from the CIA," and that I want rich Venezuelans to control the country's oil resources, "which is ultimately what the gringos want."
Wow! Really? I support thousand of young Venezuelans who are demonstrating peacefully, pleading for freedom, trying to stop their country from becoming another dictatorial Cuba, and that makes me a fascist?
The Venezuelan economy is in the gutter while crime and corruption are rampant and thriving. But the long distance revolutionaries are willing to subject the Venezuelan people to all kinds of sacrifices, as long as they can keep living their leftist fantasies, supporting a failed ideology and pretending they are champions for the poor.
They fail to see the TV images of young people getting killed by government goons on the streets of Caracas, but somehow they are able to see all kinds of CIA conspiracies.
And just as frequently, on the other extreme, conservative Cuban-Americans see all kinds of communist conspiracies.
They are a small minority, but some can't separate Cuba from other issues. If you are a liberal on U.S. domestic policy, to them, it means you must not care about Cuba's freedom; you must be an "infiltrated" commie and a Castro sympathizer.
Their hatred of communism makes them so blindly Republican that some end up joining the tea party and discriminating against other Latino immigrants. Because Cubans are granted political asylum and allowed to stay here legally, some Cubans turn that privilege into an entitlement. They act as if they have rights that no other immigrants should have. Sometimes they behave as if they have forgotten they are also immigrants, as if they were more American than George Washington!
Frankly, it pains me to see how some of my fellow Cuban-Americans look down on other Latino immigrants, as if political asylum makes them superior to those who came for economic reasons.
It doesn't. It only gives fodder to the other extremists who call us gusanos. They don't realize that if we Cubans had not been granted political asylum, they too would have found a way to come here as the illegal immigrants.
Nevertheless, as if he had been living on another planet for the past few years, my conservative Cuban friend asked how anyone could blame Republicans for the failure of immigration reform. How do you even argue with someone so removed from reality?
Republicans keep introducing draconian, anti-immigrant measures and putting up roadblocks to comprehensive immigration reform, but my friend recites Fox News talking points. He says Democrats are to blame because they didn't do it when they had a majority in Congress in the first few months of the Obama administration — as if we all forgot that this was the time when the president was rushing to pull the world economy out of the gutter.
Amazingly, when I asked my Cuban friend what gives him the right to discriminate against those who didn't have our asylum privilege, his motive turned out to be vindictiveness. Apparently, he feels a need to punish undocumented Mexican immigrants because the Mexican government mistreats Cuban immigrants.
"Illegal Cuban immigrants are treated like dogs in Mexico, and are sent back to Castro's island prison," he wrote, proving my point that Cuban conservative extremists always find a way to tie all issues to Cuba.
And if you differ from them on any issue, they call you a commie as quickly as the leftist demagogues call you a gusano.
I must be doing something right.
To find out more about Miguel Perez and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.