Isthmus has interviewed Ricardo Gonzalez any number of times over the decades on the subject of Cuban-American relations. George Vukelich, who wrote the paper's "Listening In" column, recounted Gonzalez's life story for his May 6, 1983, column.
Vukelich began with this introduction, and followed with Gonzalez's comments:
Ricardo Gonzalez was born in Camaguey, Cuba, in 1946. His family -- "middle, upper middle class with servants" --fled to Miami when Fidel Castro overthrew Batista. Gonzalez attended High school in Miami for three years, finished his senior year in Oklahoma, then majored in political science at Murray State and Central State in Oklahoma. He has been a personnel manager for Green Giant in Ripon and affirmative action officer for Wisconsin. He now operates the Cardinal Bar.
"If there's one year I could erase from my life, it would be 1961. It was all hardship and suffering. There were four of us in a one-bedroom apartment in Miami. It used to break my heart to see my mother work. My brothers were typical Latin American guys who wouldn't help around the house.
"My mother was a professional woman. In Cuba she had been principal of a home economics school. She had a doctor's degree in pedagogy -- now it would be 'education'. In this country she became a housewife. She never taught again, and as my brothers married and had kids, my mother kind of mellowed into being grandmother.
"As you could imagine, my view of Fidel Castro during this period was a pretty negative one. In 1964 I supported Barry Goldwater because I thought if he was president he would get rid of Castro. I wanted Cuba to be the 51st state. That's the same year I went back to college, and in four years I went from archconservative to ultraliberal.
"One of the turning points in my political thinking came when I was at Murray State. I was doing a paper on the SpanishAmerican War. It was the first time I could compare American history to Cuban history. I came across a reference to President William McKinley calling him 'The Liberator of Cuba.'
"I was outraged! I thought: 'The Liberator of Cuba was Jose Marti, or Antonio Maceo, or Maximo Gomez' -- the three great patriots of the Cuban revolutionary struggle. I did a lot of reading for that term paper. I ended up calling it the 'Cuban American War.'
"I really became radicalized in Ripon, Wisconsin. I was working for Green Giant as personnel manager and coming face to face with the problems of migrant workers and how the company was dealing with them. The company was developing a new 'corporate consciousness' approach. They knew if they didn't do something, they'd be unionized and all that, so we really pushed for the workers.
"All this time I was going through changes. I began to experiment with pot, I came out as a gay man. I had to work out my homosexuality, and I couldn't do it in Ripon.
"To get out of Green Giant I ran for the Assembly and lost. To get out of Ripon I accepted an offer from the Lucey administration to be the affirmative action officer for the state. A year later the opportunity to buy the Cardinal bar came up.
"The whole idea was to open a gay bar, and it opened that way. But after about six months I saw that both gays and straights came to the place. Then the gays began dropping off and the straights began taking over.
"I realized that if the bar became a straight place without 'character', it could very well become just another pick-up joint. That's when I made the conscious decision to make the Cardinal a political bar, about the middle of 1975.
"I would say that for about a five year period, say 1976 to 1978, it wasn't really a gay bar. It was all political activists meeting here.
"In 1978 I finally went back to Cuba to visit. I went four times in one year and spent 64 days. I think Cuba is much better off than before the revolution.
"It's better off than its sister countries in Latin American. Go visit Mexico -- the poverty, the unemployment is horrendous. I was in Puerto Rico -- 60% of the people there are on food stamps. The kids with the bloated stomachs, you can see them in all the barrios of South America, but you don't see them in Cuba.
"I wouldn't want to, but I could live in Fidel's Cuba. Of course I'd have to stand in line for food and go back into the closet."
Gonzalez comments on the retirement of Fidel Castro and the opportunities for a new relationship between the U.S. and Cuba in this week's edition of Isthmus.