There were signs all over the International Affairs Building last week for a symposium called Remembering Gauntanamo, and every time I saw one I thought how silly it was. Remembering? It hasn't even gone anywhere yet, despite our naive 2008 hopes that it would have been shut down by now.
But of course I was missing the point, and of course that was exactly their point. Guantanamo has existed in some form or another for more than a hundred years, and has an entire history before its transformation into this controversial current incarnation. I, of all people, should have remembered that.
I grew up with Guantanamo. My father was stationed there in the early '70s, after he got himself into a bit of trouble on the Coral Sea for helping to draft a letter to President Nixon outlining why the United States had no business being in Southeast Asia, signed by himself and his fellow officers. Of the fourteen signatories he got off relatively easily, or so I remember the telling. Several ended up in military psychiatric hospitals. Several ended up dishonorably discharged. He ended up at Gitmo, and my mother went along for the ride.
It wasn't a prison camp back then, of course, but rather a (strangely) more innocent-sounding naval base, strategically positioned to hold off those dastardly Commies.
What I remember about Guantanamo, never having been there myself, are my mother's stories of attending dances and preserving mangoes and sipping gin & tonics in the late afternoon light and having to shake enormous flying palmetto bugs out of her shoes in the morning.
What I got from Guantanamo is Jill, one of my closest and dearest friends, whose parents were also stationed on the base and who became good friends to my parents despite coming from such different worlds: my parents from the ruggedly hippie western rim of Oakland and Berkeley and Washington State; her parents from the Bronx, with all the strength of character and attitude and accent that that implies.
Today is Jill's birthday, and it makes me think about all our years of drifting apart and then tangling all over again, going back to (and somehow shaped by) those days before we were even born. It makes me think about how I never got to talk to my father about his experiences on the Coral Sea or in Guantanamo, and so am left with a forty-year-old letter and my mother's rose-colored fragments of memory. And it makes me think about how Jill -- big sister that I never had, with all the sibling rages and frustrations and love that that implies -- has always been woman enough to share her history, her particular stories, and share mine, and how lucky I am for that.