By John Hughes
Daisy Cubias, poet, activist and educator, sat in her cozy Milwaukee living room and, amidst her tumble of heavily accented words, told me of murder in her native El Salvador.
“They Just Vanished.”
“My family was killed; my brother, my sister, my brother-in-law. This was during the 1980s. We didn’t see the murders, but Duarte’s death squads were torturing and killing at that time. Duarte was the puppet President installed by the United States, propped up by Mr. Reagan. And Duarte had a push against the Catholic Church back then, because the Church was teaching liberation theology, the revolutionary liberation of the people. Duarte and Reagan didn’t want the people to learn their rights.
“My brother and his friends were kidnapped, tortured, and murdered. They just vanished. Over 100,000 people were killed like that during the Duarte regime. And then my sister and her husband were driving to an embassy to try to appeal to get out of the country, and they were gunned down. El Salvadorans, Americans, I don’t know.”
Having immigrated to the United States in the mid 60s, Daisy wasn’t always certain of what was happening in the country of her birth. And worse yet, she was helping to foot the bill of the slaughter of thousands back home with her tax dollars.
“That whole time was very hard for me, because I didn’t know what was going on exactly. I had moved to New York in 1966, and then to Milwaukee in 1970. But I was in Milwaukee, and my tax money was killing my own family.
“So, my job was to educate the American people. I was in an organization, oh, I can’t remember the name of it. We were advocating to senators, congressmen, everybody who wanted to hear. Schools, colleges, churches. I am against war. It destroys people, dreams, families. It is the desire to have power over you, to grab wealth. And so I talked about that.”
She speaks these words in a matter-of-fact tone. Before addressing this subject, she has been exuberantly cheerful and warm. Now she is slightly hushed, neither melodramatic nor noticeably angry. I ask Daisy if she feels rage against America, for having taken her tax money to kill her family.
“No. The people of America didn’t do it. The U.S. government doesn’t listen to its own people. America, with all its faults, is the best country to live. We could do better. During that time, the El Salvadoran people were killing each other, with the help of the Americans. But, that is all in the past, and I live in the present.
“Now, in El Salvador, it is a mixed government. It’s okay. Not as bad as before. At least we’re not killing each other.”
Daisy’s Labor of Life.
Daisy has dedicated much of her life to the service of others. For several years she worked with Cuban immigrants, helping orphaned young people from ages 17 to 21 settle in Milwaukee, and adapt to the difficult process of adapting to new circumstances. She has been Immigrant Specialist for the State of Wisconsin, helping new arrivals to the state learn about the laws.
An accomplished poet and writer, she is co-author of a children’s book called Journey of the Sparrows, and one for adults entitled I Didn’t Know There Were Latinos in Wisconsin. She has had poems published in various anthologies and one of her poems, “Why Women Wear High Heels,” is permanently displayed at the Midwest Express Center. With pride, Daisy shows me her “revolutionary poetry,” self-published in a collection called Children of War. She has read readings at UWM, Marquette, UW-Whitewater, Alverno, the Harry W. Schwartz Bookstore and Woodland Pattern. She plans to soon teach poetry at the United Community Center, to 7th and 8th graders after school.
It’s a life rich in meaningful activity, and still going strong, undaunted or tainted by resentment.
I leave with a poem called “Wisconsin” in hand:
With a warm embrace/you welcome me/a perennial traveler/my callous torn feet/dragging the dust of many countries/found rest in your soil./My heart heavy/with the sorrow of wars/encounters solace and peace/among your people./Souls of many cultures/a brilliant quilt/of distinct languages/habitat in your cities/snowed in cold winters/of hope./For spring flowers/warm musical/summer festivals/crush the fall leaves/of my barefoot heart/who bless you/everyday for welcoming/my soul.