Percussionist Pedrito Marinez Plays Live On 'Morning Edition'
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
And I'm Steve Inskeep in Providence, R.I. We're getting the view from the Northeast. We're talking about the presidential campaign, which leads to issues like immigration. So it is fitting that the man playing music before this live audience is himself an immigrant, percussionist Pedrito Martinez of Cuba, who now lives in Jersey City, N.J. Folks, will you welcome this man once again?
INSKEEP: He's got an album called "Habana Dreams." How long have you been in the United States?
PEDRITO MARTINEZ: Seventeen years.
INSKEEP: Seventeen years. How old were you when you came?
MARTINEZ: I came - when I came here, I was 25.
INSKEEP: Twenty-five, and you'd already been a musician in Cuba, right?
INSKEEP: How's - how's the music market different in Cuba than in the United States?
MARTINEZ: Well, actually, when I used to live in Cuba it was very tough, very hard to survive in there and to make...
INSKEEP: This is before things were quite as open as they have...
MARTINEZ: Yeah, definitely...
INSKEEP: ...Become today.
MARTINEZ: Way before.
INSKEEP: What did you get paid for a gig in Havana?
MARTINEZ: Oh man, I used to work in this hotel called Cohiba (ph) for $1 a month.
INSKEEP: One dollar a month?
MARTINEZ: Yeah, yeah.
INSKEEP: One dollar - tips? Were there tips involved or anything like that?
MARTINEZ: Not at all.
INSKEEP: One dollar - how - does a dollar go very far in Havana?
MARTINEZ: Say that again?
INSKEEP: Does a dollar go very far in Havana? No. I think the answer to that is no.
MARTINEZ: There's not much to do with $1, nowhere.
INSKEEP: OK, so tell me - you've come from the outside to the United States, become an American. When you come from outside sometimes you notice things that people who are from here don't notice. Is there something about the United States you've noticed that it's just really distinctive that you think maybe Americans don't themselves realize or native-born Americans?
MARTINEZ: Well actually, you know, when I got here, I just - I was sure that all my dreams and opportunities were open for me. And that actually happens, you know? I never thought I was going to play with Sting, Elton John, Paul Simon, so many great artists, so...
INSKEEP: So America - the place where you find Sting, the place where you find Paul Simon. That's great. That's awesome. Could we get a little bit of music on those conga drums - the rented conga drums - we have in front of you there? We rented them here in Providence - just about a minute. Let's listen. Pedrito Martinez.
MARTINEZ: (Playing drums).
INSKEEP: Wow. Pedrito Martinez, ladies and gentlemen. Using his hands. And his elbow at times. His album is called "Habana Dreams." Now, we are getting the view from the Northeast. And one place we heard the view from the Northeast was on the Delaware River in Pennsylvania - the border between Pennsylvania and New Jersey. It's a park where George Washington crossed the Delaware, leading his troops to defeat British mercenaries - Hessians - back in 1776. Now by that river, and by the boats that they use every year to re-enact the crossing, we met some tourists, the Bartel family, six people, and I'd like you to hear them. Some of them live in New Jersey, the others now in California and in Florida. The parents, Gussie (ph) and Jerry Bartel, are conservative, voting for Donald Trump this fall. Their twin sons and their wives favor Hillary Clinton.
I don't want to start a family argument. Well, I do. But this...
INSKEEP: I don't mean to start a family argument. What concerns do you have about things right now?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: In California, I think we're just, you know, I don't know. I think we're more concerned about, you know, keeping good jobs and... I own a business. In 2008, when the whole thing came down, my business lost at least 40 percent. And I would...
INSKEEP: What's your business?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: I own an optical shop.
INSKEEP: Oh, OK.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: I make glasses.
INSKEEP: So everybody was waiting an extra six months or a year to get their glasses or not getting them at all for a while there?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Yeah, you know, generally it's been a two-year wait for people. And then they moved it up, I think between two and four years more than that. And, you know, we went from five people down to - all the way to one and a half people. Now I've got three.
INSKEEP: And let me ask you guys, what concerns do you have, you know...
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: I am extremely concerned about the last seven and a half years. I think the country has been divided much more than it ever has been. And I think it has been not necessarily intentional, although it could have been. And I'm concerned that that will not mend as well as it could. And I'm not sure that Trump is the right person to do it. But somebody has to step forward and stop dividing us. We're Americans. We have to gather together as Americans with a unified language, with a unified culture. And if you come here to the United States, you need to assimilate into the culture that's been keeping us together since we started.
INSKEEP: Does anybody want to argue with anything?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Yeah, I would.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: I would just say - I would say...
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: I would.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: ...That, I mean, I think that's just it. As you're here a generation, second generation, third generation, you - people do assimilate into our culture. It just takes some time. The first generation, it's not so easy to pick up the language and to pick up...
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: I understand that. But I don't think that it's been encouraged as much. I think it's been...
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Now, can - so I'd like to say here's the generational divide showing that the country has changed. I think if there's been divisiveness, it's because there is a - if you want to call it a rear-guard action of people saying we don't want to continue to change as it is going to inevitably do.
INSKEEP: One other question before I completely destroy your family.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Oh no, we'll be OK.
INSKEEP: We're at the spot where George Washington crossed the Delaware...
JENNY BARTEL: Right.
INSKEEP: ...To win the Battle of Trenton, Christmas in 1776.
J. BARTEL: Right.
INSKEEP: When you think about this historic place, does it make you think anything about now?
J. BARTEL: Our family's had people fight in every American war - Revolutionary, Civil, Vietnam, all of them. And it's the bravery, the commitment to the concepts of liberty and freedom, that inspire you when you come to a place like this. And you are proud to be an American. And I think that people on the far right and people on the far left are proud to be American. And it would be great if there was some way to talk about it that's not so divisive.
INSKEEP: All right, that's Jenny Bartel (ph) of New Jersey, part of a family conversation with her husband Dan, Francesca Bartel with her husband Eric and family matriarch and patriarch Gussie and Jerry Bartel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.