Saturday, May 26, 2012

Is the New York Public Library protecting Mariela Castro?

Like most academics working in New York, I believe that the New York Public Library's research branch on 42nd and 5th Avenue is a pretty special place.  It isn't just the amazing collection of materials housed at the library that makes it one of New York City's most valuable treasures.  I have always thought that what makes the library truly special is how democratic it is.  Sitting at one of the long tables in the Rose Reading Room you are likely to see people of all different races, genders, ages, and classes.  In short, the NYPL is a microcosm for the diversity that makes New York itself so great.  I wasn't surprised, then, when I learned that Mariela Castro, the daughter of Cuban dictator Raúl Castro, would be speaking at the library on the subject of LGBT rights.  The younger Castro has emerged as a leading voice for LGBT rights in Cuba.  Of course, she is also a leading voice in defending her family's more than fifty-year grip on power in Cuba.  I was looking forward to hearing Ms. Castro and also hearing her answer questions from a wide variety of New Yorkers eager to learn more about LGBT rights in Cuba but also eager to challenge Ms. Castro about her family's rule.  The NYPL had announced on its website that the event would be open on a "first come, first served" basis.  I was planning to be there early.  But in checking the time of the event earlier this week I discovered that the NYPL had changed the nature of the event, instead of being an event that was open to all based on time of arrival, the library's website now declared that attendance at the event required advance registration and that registration was now closed.  I'm not sure what the Library's reasons were for changing the access policy to Ms. Castro's talk.  Could it be that NYPL feared that Ms. Castro would have to answer questions about her family's human rights record in Cuba?  Could it be that the NYPL, that beacon of ideas and debate in Midtown, had decided that when it came to Ms. Castro, too much debate isn't a good thing?  I don't know the answers to these questions.  What I do know is that this change of plans appears to show that the library that I love so much isn't quite all I thought it was.  If the NYPL really cares about ideas and free debate it will honor its original commitment and open its doors to everyone on Tuesday night.