My grandmother came to visit from Cuba the same week Ron DeSantis introduced the “Stop Woke Act”—a bill in which “concerned parents” could sue teachers who taught “critical race theory” in their classrooms—to the Florida Legislature. She wasn’t happy when she learned about the bill, swearing in Spanish as we drove two hours full from the Orlando airport back to our home in Port Saint Lucie.
She didn’t even like “wokeness”, not that she knew what being “woke” was, only that Facebook said it was something that leftists were—and leftists in her mind were synonymous with communists. She did not like “SJWs” either, but that was quickly abandoned; similar to all the other buzzwords as they waned in popularity when people realized they were vague accusations. They had no substance, and that served as an ineffective, anti-intellectual substitute for a genuine good-faith political debate. And yet, the lesson learned was never to stop using random Facebook buzzwords that really originated on 4Chan. The lesson was to move on to the next buzzword.
Or, to go back to calling everything and everyone who was bad a communist. That would never die.
DeSantis held a press conference on the bill later that week, which was covered on NPR. While the press conference hummed on the radio in the background, my grandmother chopped guavas in the kitchen, sighing as she did.
“And, you children wonder why I whisper-speak about politics even outside Havana,” she said.
I rolled my eyes. “It’s just political posturing, Abuela,” I said in broken Spanish. “He’s just trying to get people angry to win votes.”
She chopped another guava in half, the knife slicing through in one fell swoop. “It’s a slippery slope regardless,” she said. “It’ll turn neighbor against neighbor, give greater control to the government, and turn America communist.”
“The people that are trying to pass the bill are conservatives,” I said.
“Well, they’re acting like communists!”
“Not in every bad person doing bad things is a communist, Abuela.”
“Then why were the Nazis communist?”
I shook my head. “They weren’t communists, they were fascists who called themselves socialists, and they locked up communists.”
My grandmother huffed. “Fine! Maybe they weren’t communists! And maybe these ‘conservatives’ aren’t either! But passing this law will still bring communism to America! You’ll see once the lawsuits start!”
I groaned. “Nobody is gonna sue anyone,” I said. “The law won’t pass. Even if it does, the Supreme Court will shut it down—“
“Why are you so convinced the law won’t make it?” my grandmother asked. “What makes you think they won’t instead pass more?”
I looked at her eyes, looked at the knife in her hand, at the half chopped guava, at the radio where Ron DeSantis’ stupid voice still poured out. Even now, my grandmother was whisper-speaking. Every time his voice pierced her ears, she drew away from the radio like it was a security camera and she was a thief caught red-handed with stolen goods. Did she think he was listening to her? From her bedroom, from the cracks in the walls: the way they did in Cuba? The way they still did? Was she seeing the flashes of a revolution from over sixty years ago?
I sighed and sat back in my chair, “Abuela… not everywhere is Cuba,” I said. “Here, you don’t have to whisper-speak politics or risk being jailed for ten years or risk being fined for ten thousand pesos.”
She laughed, then pointed at the radio. “If this law passes, then teachers will certainly be fined ten thousand dollars,” she huffed. “Typical! They always start with the intellectuals!”
I bit my lip. “Abuela… please, calm down. I don’t like seeing you so scared by our estúpido gobernador (stupid governor) when all he’s doing is throwing a media tantrum.”
“Scared? I’m not scared!” she scoffed. “I’m used to whisper-speaking around políticos y cobardes (politicians and cowards) like him, but I didn’t send your mother here with your aunt so she and now you could do the same.”
“The law won’t pass and we won’t have to whisper-speak. The law won’t pass!”
“And if it did?”
I was about to retort, then remembered the bill that allowed drivers to ram protesters with their cars for the mortal sin of blocking the road. This law wasn’t the most absurd thing to come out of the legislature, even just this year. And that was fine! The ACLU would be on the case faster than the first lawsuits could reach judges! Then the Supreme Court would probably rule the law unconstitutional and the escapade would be over! Even though they ruled favorably on a similar bill from Texas! That was just because of the abortion issue! This Florida law directly targets free speech! Surely it won’t last long!
And; even if they did rule favorable for it; it only bans critical race theory! Which wasn’t even being taught in Florida public school! What the grifters pretended was “critical race theory” was actually just basic American history most of the time. Nobody could be sued over that! And even if they were, the judges would know the difference. The Florida judges — the ever so dependable Florida judges — would surely never let a law like this be abused to crackdown on free speech.
We weren’t Cuba. We would never be Cuba. It can’t happen here. We were different! We were better! We weren’t a bunch of authoritarian communists!
The press conference ended. The NPR station moved on. Instead of answering my Grandma, I’d been hyperventilating for the past five minutes. She had cut up eight more guavas during that time, shaking her head.
“Mark my words,” my grandma said. “When it starts with this, it won’t stop. It’ll only get worse, and worse, and worse until you realize you’ve forgotten how to talk politics without whisper-speaking.”
I shook my head. “That’s not true,” I whispered, then gasped when I realized how little air left my throat as I said it. I was leaning as far away from the radio as I could manage.
And I was whisper-speaking.
My grandmother sighed and stuffed the radio in a drawer. “Just a precaution,” she said. “You never know who is listening.”
After that, she continued to chop guavas, occasionally muttering something about “communists” going after “other communists.” I didn’t listen to the news for the rest of the day, tried not to think about the bill, or about my teachers being sued. I didn't think about more bills coming out like it turning America into a police state as neighbors spied against neighbors. That night my grandmother prayed to Santa Maria. That night she covered up her room’s cracks with duct tape. That night I did the same. That night, I snuck into the bathroom and practiced whisper-speaking in the mirror.
Currently, Florida is facing a reform in the instruction of American History. The Republican governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis is pushing a new bill that would allow parents to sue school districts if their children are taught critical race theory in classrooms. Read more about this bill here.