Jon Hillson 1949-2004  
Selected writings by and about Jon Hillson

Jon Hillson spent his entire adult life active in the struggle for a better society, a socialist society. We first met in the 1970s, when we were both members of the Socialist Workers Party in the United States. He was a journalist, a trade unionist and a revolutionary socialist activist. Here you will find a broad selection of Hillson's writings, and of the many tributes to and observations which have come out about his life and activities.

Many of Hillson's years were devoted to a tireless defense of the Cuban Revolution. He had many other interests as well. Cuba was the central focus of his work in recent years as most of the linked messages below make clear. Please send additional ones to:  Thanks!

Walter Lippmann, March  2006

Jon Hillson at a Cuba solidarity meeting
held in Los Angeles, California 2001.
Photo by Walter Lippmann

Tributes to Jon Hillson

John Johnson, Los Angeles, California

Walter Lippmann, Havana, Cuba

Karen Lee Wald, San Jose, California

CISPES Los Angeles, California

Chuck Anderson, Anaheim, California

Harry Nier, Denver, Colorado

Jose F. Charon B, Havana, Cuba

Cal State LA Latin American Society

Fred Feldman, New York City

Eric Gordon, Los Angeles, California

Robin Maisel, Waco, Texas

Paula Solomon, Los Angeles

Lisa Valanti, US-Cuba Sister Cities Association

Nelson P. Valdes, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Jim Smith, Venice, California

Cuban Inst. for Friendship with the Peoples (ICAP)

Arleen Rodriguez , En Memoria de Jon Hillson

Arleen Rodriguez, In Memory of Jon Hillson

Louis Proyect, New York City

Sandra Levinson, New York City

Ike Nahem, New York City

Fred Burks, Berkeley, California

Granma Diario (Spanish)

Mi Socio de la Yuma (La Jiribilla)

Breve biografia de Jon Hillson 

Los Angeles "Right to Travel" Forum (The Militant)

CubaNow digital magazine

Jose G. Perez

National Comm. to Free The Five

Jon Hillson: The American Friend (CubaNow)

Paula Solomon: My Friend Jon

John Johnson on the memorial meeting

National Network on Cuba

Stan Smith (Chicago)

Barry Schier (Los Angeles)

Barry Schier (Continued)

Steve Eckardt and others

Jon Hillson's writings - a short webliography

The Sexual Politics of Reinaldo Arenas (2001)

Exposing the big lie of Cuba's "repression" of the Internet

Orange Alert vs.Civil Liberties (2004)

Repression and Resistance (2004)

Chronicle of a Farce Foretold (2003)

Letter to The Militant re: Elian Gonzalez (2000)

What I Think About Suicide Bombers

May Day in Cuba 2002

Argentina Reporter's Notebook #1 (2002)

Argentina Reporter's Notebook #2 (2002)

Interviewed by Saul Landau on Argentina

Does the Cuban Revolution Exist?

Chomsky, Galeano and Zinn on the anti-Cuba train

Cuba treats Chernobyl children

Lo malo, lo feo y lo previsible

La Jiribilla - 130 articles

The Militant - 39 articles

CubaNow digital magazine - 10 articles

CubaDebate website

Anti-terroristas website

Minnesota 1994 gubernatorial debate

Turbulence increases at United Air Lines

LA Airport protest (Letter to The Militant 2002)

Supporting immigrants' rights (Granma, Spanish) 2003

Beware the Wolf in Sheep's Clothing (2001)

Anti-war tactics debated (2001)

Hands Off Iraq (1994 SWP election brochure)

Crece Solidaridad con Los Cinco (2003)

Duras Lecciones del Capitalismo (2003)

With Director Humberto Solas in Los Angeles (2002)

Free the Cuban Five meeting in Los Angeles (2003)

Free The Five event in Los Angeles (NY Transfer)

First Japanese-American Delegation to Cuba (2001)

Against "Theories of Homosexuality" - A Necessary Debate (2003)

The Battle of Boston,
Pathfinder Press (1977)
286 pages An account of the school
de-segregation struggle. ISBN: 0873484703 

Bienvenidos a LA JIRIBILLA
("La Yuma" is Cuban slang for the United States)
His writing was a political weapon, a means to reach and mobilize the workers, of creating their consciousness.  I saw him write several times and he took on this task as if he had an urgent need to bring out that part of the US reality that the great mass media and, of course, Hollywood silenced.

by M. H. Lagarde| La Habana
From left to right: Jon Hillson,
Rolando Pérez Betancourt
y M. H. Lagarde

Recently arriving at the First Meeting of Cuban Venezuelan writers in
Caracas I received terrible news:  Jon Hillson had died.  

First I thought that it was a joke in bad taste and to confirm what was still unbelievable I questioned, via e-mail, several common friends.  All of a sudden the phone rang and I recognized the voice of Hilda, a Salvadoran who lived in Los Angeles.  “Yes, It’s true, she assured me, Jon is dead”.  She told me that when she was participating in a Solidarity with Cuba event someone said:  “It is a shame Jon is not here with us”:  “And where is he?” she asked, thinking that Hillson was on one of his trips he used to make to support some strike or protest of the US workers.  But the person she was talking to said that Jon had died a few hours ago of a sudden heart attack.  Hilda explained more: Hillson was preparing a barbecue for an act in defense of the Cuban Revolution.  He had gone to the market to buy some chickens and on his way to the parking lot where his modest convertible VW was parked, he fell to the floor.  

There is no doubt that La Jiribilla has lost its best collaborator, the Cuban Revolution one of its most faithful defenders in the US and I -- who doesn't have many -- my buddy from La Yuma.

I met Hillson in September, 2001, due to the trip of the Cuban delegation of musicians to the Latin Grammy that would be held in Los Angeles.  Before leaving, I had written him an e-mail saying that in a few days we would be in that city and that, of course, I counted on his help.  In response, Hillson, whom I had never met – merely read his chronicle on Reynaldo Arenas – answered something like “Not to worry, My house is your house”.

I saw him for the first time in one of the exits of the Los Angeles airport.  He was of medium height, gray hair and appeared to be in his forties.  His earring, four days beard, his sandals, shorts and bleached T-shirt, did not give the appearance of the bespectacled professor that, in my imagination, was the author of that objective and serious essay on homosexuality in the Cuban Revolution.

The coordinator of the Solidarity with Cuba Coalition of Los Angeles was standing among many US friends of Cuba who held up posters demanding an end to the blockade and Cuban flags.  In Los Angeles accented Spanish he said words of welcome to the brother and sister artists of the Island who had just arrived in the US in spite of the strong pressure of the Miami Mafia to prevent it.

Luckily for Rolando Pérez Betancourt, the Granma critic and journalist. who was also reporting the event and me, Hillson and his kind wife, Beverly, offered to serve as guides around Los Angeles. At times, Jon had a shift in the airport where he worked as a porter and then Beverly was the driver.  But every spare moment Jon had he would show up early at our hotel room.

That is what happened that September 11, 2001.  While Rolando and I were watching the television, surprised and in disbelief, as each of the twin towers of the World Trade Center crumbled, Hillson arrived.  Like everyone in Los Angeles – the city was paralyzed and the congested avenues suddenly became an asphalt desert – we spent the whole morning commenting on the events.  Jon did not seem too affected by the images of the planes crashing into the skyscrapers or of the people jumping out into space to escape the flames and, every once in a while, he would make a call on his cell phone or compare opinions with us.  The three agreed that, undoubtedly, those images taken from a film of the worst Hollywood style marked the beginning of a new imperial era.  “The Americans – I said –, in vengeance are going to ravage other Guernicas in the world”. Hillson, for his part, forecast the so-called Patriot Act and noted that the attack in New York would serve as a pretext to curb the struggle for workers’ rights and other civil rights.

After spending the whole afternoon speculating on the possible persons responsible for the crime against the towers we concluded that, neither the Palestinians -- the first accused, according to the false television images that showed some children jumping for joy -- nor the backward Arab nations had anything to do with such a carefully-planned terrorist operation.

Hillson invited us for dinner.  With Beverly and two other Ecuadorian friends, we crossed the ghost city of Los Angeles to Santa Monica Beach.  In a Mexican restaurant on the pier that extends over the Pacific, our conversation took other turns and Hillson talked of several historical and political subjects on which he proved to be very well informed.

Jon was more than a porter and union leader of the Los Angeles Airport .  One of the days, when we visited him at home in the Inglewood neighborhood, commenting on his magnificent essay on Reynaldo Arenas, I asked him:  “Why don’t you work for a newspaper?”.  “And do you think that with my ideas they are going to let me write anywhere”, he answered.  He was right, in part, but apart from the obvious censure, the real cause that a man of his intellectual capacity would work as porter in the airport was due to his union activism that was like a religious mission.  “A true militant – he told me once while we ate in my home in Havana – should work at the base”.  For this reason he had worked many years in a textile factory.  He was proud of being a worker.  In two conferences he gave to young Cuban persons on the reality of the US, I presented him as an intellectual who collaborated with La Jiribilla.  But whenever he spoke he first pointed out that, for him, his greatest virtue was his proletarian condition.

At the same time he was not one of those purists who use a word for its simple esthetic quality.  His writing was a political weapon, a form of reaching and mobilizing the workers, of making them become aware.  I saw him write several times and he did it as if he had an urgent need to bring up that part of the US reality that the great mass media and, of course, Hollywood silenced.

We often asked ourselves in La Jiribilla how that man could fulfill his work hours in the airport, how he could write those long reports that he always sent, almost always, at the critical hours of closing.  According to his stories, he visited several cities in the span of a week.  He seemed to be several places at the same time.  At times, it is true, his texts, primarily those of union matters, covered much more than the political or cultural subjects of the editorial line of the magazine.  However, you did not need to be well informed to realize that Hillson wrote about something totally new.  His reports about the struggles of the US workers, at least in Spanish, were unique.  He reported of the most recent US workers movement in a language that was not native to him.

Beverly had introduced him to the secrets of Spanish during the Sandinista Revolution.

Instead of the professor I expected to find upon my arrival to Los Angeles, Jon, the journalist did not wander about nor change the meaning of words.  Since he was an unpretentious intellectual, he called things by their name.  The class struggle was simply that and the main protagonists of his stories were the workers and the capital bourgeoisie, humanity and the empire, justice and injustice, truth and lie. In reality it was lucky for any magazine to count with a collaborator like Hillson.  We never paid him a cent.  He wrote simply out of his faith that his charges could help to improve the world.

Under these same principles, the defense of Cuba had a special place.  Hillson, since his studies in junior high during the 60s in the New York suburbs, had become a political activists and a strong supporter of the Cuban Revolution after reading the essay by Che Guevara:  Man and Socialism in Cuba.

Cuba not only appeared in his articles or constant activities he organized in Los Angeles in favor of the Island, but his examples served his mission as a union activist in the airport.  He always had Cuba present in his union speeches that his comrades use to jibe him with “Be quiet, Fidel!”  Be quiet, Cuban!”  Always at the service of the Revolution, his latest activities were in the struggle for the freedom of the Five Cuban heroes, prisoners of the empire, as well as, for the rights of the US citizens to travel to the Island . 

His last visit to Havana was as the organizer of a delegation of one hundred US youths eager to learn for themselves, about the Cuban reality.

The last time we met was at the entrance of the Palacio del Segundo Cabo.  “When you return – I said in leaving – we will go with Beverly to the carnivals”.  “I don’t like them”, he explained.  “You will – I insisted – just wait and see”.

About a week before his death, two days before my departure for Venezuela, he called me up as he was used to doing every Friday, to ask me if I had read the e-mail he sent with some of his comments on the liberal intellectuality of the United Sates.  I had not had time to read it but, nonetheless, we spoke for 20 minutes about the coming elections, the possible Democratic candidates and the event he was preparing to fight the new restrictions of the present administration to prevent travel to Cuba.  He said he would participate in an act where Bush’s Thai translator, recently penalized for traveling to the Island , would speak.  “A good guy”, he added.  He also mentioned a protest that would be the largest of all time in Los Angeles and where, somehow, the Five would be present.  As usual, I asked him to send a good article on all of that.  Later, I asked when he planned to return.  “By the end of March, he said, I’ll go with the last delegation to travel with a license.

His death prevented his return on that date.  But if, as I believe, Jon Hillson is reading these lines somewhere, he knows as well as I that he will return again to the island the day that the barriers of deceit are no longer an obstacle to the friendship between our two peoples.

He was a political activist since 1965, when he was in junior high school in the New York suburbs. At that time he began to participate in the movement against the war in Vietnam and for the civil rights of black people. He was also a radical student leader at Colorado University where he was the director of the Colorado Daily, a politically-influential newspaper favoring the development of the Chicano nationalist movement. He became a passionate supporter of the Cuban Revolution after reading an essay by Che Guevara: Socialism and Man in Cuba.

Later he joined the Young Socialist Alliance and was a member of its national committee. He participated as an activist and journalist in the last battle of the movement for civil rights in Boston (1974-1976) for equality in the public education system and wrote The Battle of Boston, a book that was published by Pathfinder Press.

He participated in the defense of the Sandinista popular revolution as a union activist in a textile factory and led three contingents of US citizens to work in the coffee bean harvest in the Nicaraguan mountains. He gathered and edited a leaflet in 1987 on the continuity of the Sandinista Revolution what was published by the New Central American Institute. As a textile union leader he organized protests against the first war in the Persian Gulf. He was a picket captain in the Canadian Pacific/Soo Line railroad strike in 1974, the longest in the past 26 years and was candidate for governor of Minnesota for the Socialist Workers Party.

For years, Hillson wrote articles on a variety of subjects for national and international publications. Some were: American Writer, Barricada International, Central American Reporter, Change-Links, CubaNow [digital magazine], Granma, The Guardian, The Militant, Juventud Rebelde, La Jiribilla, La Opinion, NY Transfer News, Reporter on the Americas, Seeing Red, Ventana, and other publications. He is the author of The Sexual Politics of Reinaldo Arenas: Reality, Fiction and the Real Record of the Cuban Revolution which has been read by thousands of people in Internet versions in several languages in North America, Europe and Australia.

Hillson, who was coordinator of the Coalition in Solidarity with Cuba in Los Angeles, helped organize several delegations of hundreds of persons to visit to Cuba to collaborate with the Cuban youth. Due to his efforts,, thousands of people from Los Angeles heard many representatives of the Cuban Revolution on tours organized by the Coalition in Solidarity with Cuba of Los Angeles, California.

Before his death, a tireless leader for workers' rights, he was a member of the International Association of Machinists (IAM) (and was a ramp worker at Los Angeles International Airport where he promoted the example of Cuba among his workmates.

He was an invaluable collaborator of La Jiribilla where he published a weekly column, Notes from the North, an updated and detailed analysis of US reality. His death caught him at a time when he was preparing what was, undoubtedly, one of his great passions, an event in defense of the Cuban Revolution.

(Translated from La Jiribilla for CubaNews by Ana Portela.)

February 12, 2004

The American Friend 
By Rolando Peréz Betancourt 
Jon Hillson and Beverly, his wife and
collaborator, at their house in Los Angeles

M.H. Lagarde tells us, in his great piece in La Jiribilla, that while Jon Hillson watched the fateful events of September 11, he predicted the renewed will of the U.S. administration to dominate the world.

With the serene insight of a prophet of doom, he forecast almost all that would now follow, from wars to the repressive role of the government against U.S. society. At the time, three days after the event, it was easy to see that Jon was one of those simple men whom life has made a personality.

He had appeared and made his dynamic mark that night in September when a Cuban delegation to the Latin Grammys arrived in Los Angeles, after a change of venue as a result of threats by the hard-line Miami right. Heading a welcoming group with signs and cheering Cuba, he spoke warm words and clearly stated that at not time were the Cuban to be left alone. That's the way it was. As the coordinator of the Los Angeles Coalition in Solidarity with Cuba, he became indispensible. He organized events, good food and cooks for those meetings. And the next day he was back at work at the airport ramp, carrying baggage. And from that he ran in each time for the welcome. 

On September 10, days before the Grammy awards that would eventually be cancelled, Jon Hillson took Lagarde and this author to the site of the planned ceremony to explain where the stubborn people of Cuban origin, opposed to the presence of artists from the island (as they had announced to the press) would be standing. He further explained where the members of the Coalition in Solidarity with Cuba would be. Looking taller in his cowboy boots and earing, and with a broad smile, he said, "of course, we are going to win." 

On the 12th, in view of the grief gripping Los Angeles, Jon proposed hopping over to Hollywood. The mecca also seemed terrified with only a few tourists in the streets and a flickering image of Marilyn Monroe dressed in black, looking up at the sky most of the time - as if expecting something terrible - and with no wish to earn a few dollars, as a lady-in-waiting for the photographers. 

In Hollywood, Jon Hillson demonstrated that he knew as much about films as he did about politics and ideologies. Since his youth, back in the golden sixties, against the Vietnam war, he committed himself to the cause of the humble and embraced Marxmsm as the best basis to become an active anti-imperialist in his country. It was a long, hard struggle for which he prepared himself with enviable fortitute. Without giving up his hard work, years as a textile worker, days of dedication and dsily studied changed the worker into the solid intellectual he always denied being. (I was able to browse through his books scattered helter-skelter in the inglewood garage that was his office.) 

In his column, Notas del Norte (Norte from the North), published in La Jiribilla, he gave proof of the persevering clarity and excellent style which was also seen in his articles and small news items which were published in Juventud Rebelde and Granma. Other publications in the world knew of Hillson's free collaboration. He also published essays on different subjects and a book. Always defending the Cuban Revolution, in recent years he traveled to cuba with groups of students from the United States. He cleared the way in his country so that voices could be heard of the hidden truth behind the imprisonment of our five companeros

Just a few days ago, while walking to his car after making some arrangements to hold a Solidarity with Cuba event, his still-young heard played a dirty trick on him.

Personally, I will always remember him with his impish smile, that September night in 2001, when he took us to the Los Angeles Observatory [in Griffith Park] where the high point of Rebel Without A Cause was filmed. After talking for a long time about James Dean and the importance of this film for its time, we silently looked up at the sky, for the first time in many years without criss-crossing planes, watching from that height as the stars shown large and eternal.

Translated for CubaNews by Ana Portela from the original:   

El amigo americano

Como cuenta M.H. Lagarde en un formidable trabajo aparecido en la edición electrónica de La Jiribilla, el mismo 11 de septiembre del 2001, de pie frente al televisor de la habitación del hotel de Los Ángeles que reproducía las imágenes del derrumbe de las Torres Gemelas, Jon Hillson predijo buena parte del vuelo dominador de mundos que desde entonces renovaría con mayor vigor la Administración norteamericana.

Jon Hillson y Beverly, su esposa y
 colaboradora, en su casa de Los Ángeles.

Con los tonos de un sereno agorero, anunció casi todo lo que vendría, desde las guerras hasta el papel represivo del Gobierno en contra de la sociedad norteamericana. Ya para entonces, con solo tres días de haberse presentado, no resultaba difícil barruntar que Jon era uno de esos hombres simples a los que la vida convierte en personajes.

Había aparecido con su impronta dinámica aquella noche de septiembre en que la delegación cubana a los Premios Grammy latinos llegaba a Los Ángeles tras el cambio de sede ocasionado por las amenazas del Miami recalcitrante. Al frente de un grupo de bienvenida que alzaba cartelones y daba vivas a Cuba, pronunció unas calurosas palabras y dejó claro que en ningún momento los cubanos estarían solos. Así fue. Como coordinador de la Coalición de Solidaridad con Cuba en Los Ángeles, se convirtió en un imprescindible. Organizaba actos, hablaba en ellos, buscaba comida y cocineros para aquellos encuentros. Y al otro día a trabajar en la rampa del aeropuerto, en la que cargaba equipajes y desde donde había tenido que correr la noche de nuestra llegada para llegar a tiempo a la bienvenida.

El 10 de septiembre, el día anterior de la entrega de los Grammy, que finalmente sería suspendida, Jon Hillson llevó a Lagarde y al autor de estas líneas frente a la edificación donde tendría lugar la ceremonia para explicarles dónde estaría situado el grupito de obcecados de origen cubano que se opondría a la presencia de los artistas de la Isla (según lo anunciaran en un periódico), y en qué lugar se situarían los miembros de la Coalición de Solidaridad con Cuba. Luciendo más alto desde sus botas de cowboy, un pendiente en la oreja izquierda y a flor de labios su inefable sonrisa, dijo: "Por supuesto que vamos a ganar".

El día 12, ante el aspecto de desolación que ofrecía la ciudad de Los Ángeles, Jon Hillson propuso dar un brinco hasta Hollywood. También la Meca parecía estar aterrorizada con solo unos cuantos turistas en las calles y una trémula copia de Marilyn Monroe vestida de negro, la mayor parte del tiempo mirando ella hacia el cielo —como si esperara algo terrible— y sin ningún deseo de ganarse unos dólares en función de dama de compañía frente a las cámaras fotográficas.

En Hollywoood, Jon Hillson demostró que sabía tanto de cine como de política e ideologías. Porque desde muy joven, allá en sus dorados sesenta en contra de la guerra de Viet Nam, se había comprometido con la causa de los humildes y abrazó el marxismo como la mejor vía para convertirse en un activo antimperialista en su tierra. Una larga lucha para la que se preparó con envidiable empeño. Sin dejar de trabajar en duras faenas —años como obrero textil—, aquellos días de dedicación y los estudios que a diario hacía (tuve la oportunidad de curiosear en sus libros en el algo revuelto garaje de Inglewood convertido en oficina) hicieron del trabajador el sólido intelectual que siempre negó ser.

En su columna Notas del Norte, publicadas en La Jiribilla, dejó constancia de la lucidez y del excelente estilo que resaltan igualmente en artículos y hasta en acontecimientos de corte noticioso publicados en Juventud Rebelde y Granma. Otras publicaciones del mundo conocieron de la colaboración gratuita de Hillson, quien también publicó ensayos sobre diversos temas y un libro. Desde siempre fue un defensor de la Revolución cubana y, en los últimos tiempos, viajó a Cuba con estudiantes norteamericanos y abría caminos en su tierra para que pudieran llegar voces que hablaran de la verdad oculta tras el encarcelamiento de los cinco compañeros nuestros.


Hace unos pocos días, mientras caminaba hacia su auto después de hacer unos preparativos para celebrar un acto de solidaridad con Cuba, su todavía joven corazón le jugó una fatal trastada.

En lo personal, siempre lo recordaré con su sonrisa de muchacho pícaro, la noche de septiembre del 2001 en que nos llevó al observatorio de Los Ángeles donde en los años cincuenta se filmara una escena cumbre de Rebelde sin causa. Y luego de hablar largo sobre James Dean y la significación que para la época tuvo el filme, nos quedamos un rato en silencio en el mirador, contemplando un cielo por primera vez en largos años sin aviones, y las estrellas, principalmente las estrellas, que desde aquellas alturas se hacían más grandes y eternas.

Bienvenidos a LA JIRIBILLA


Su escritura era un arma política, una forma de llegar y movilizar a los trabajadores, de crearles conciencia. Lo vi escribir varias veces y lo hacía como si tuviese una necesidad urgente de sacar a flote aquella parte de la realidad norteamericana que los grandes medios y, por supuesto Hollywood, silencian.

M. H. Lagarde| La Habana

• Breve biografía de Jon Hillson

De izquierda a derecha, Jon Hillson, Rolando Pérez Betancourt y M. H. Lagarde

Recién llegado del Primer Encuentro de Escritores Cubanos Venezolanos que tuvo lugar en Caracas, encontré un correo con la infausta noticia: Jon Hillson ha muerto.

Al principio pensé que se trataba de alguna broma de mal gusto y para confirmar lo que aún me resulta inconcebible me dediqué a indagar, vía email, entre varios amigos comunes. De pronto, sonó el teléfono e identifiqué la voz de Hilda, una salvadoreña que reside en Los Ángeles. “Es cierto, aseguró, Jon ha muerto”. Según contó, ella estaba en un acto de solidaridad con Cuba cuando alguien dijo: “Es una pena que Jon no esté con nosotros” “¿Y dónde está?” preguntó, creyendo que Hillson andaba en uno de esos viajes que solía realizar para apoyar alguna huelga o manifestación de la clase obrera norteamericana. Pero su interlocutor le respondió que, hacía solo unas horas, Jon había muerto de un repentino ataque cardiaco. Hilda me especificó aún más: Hillson preparaba una barbacoa para una actividad en defensa de la Revolución cubana. Había ido al mercado a comprar unos pollos y al salir del establecimiento, camino al parqueo donde se encontraba su modesto VW descapotable, se desplomó en el suelo.

No cabe duda de que La Jiribilla ha perdido al mejor de sus colaboradores, la Revolución Cubana a uno de sus más fieles defensores en los EE.UU. y yo —que no tengo muchos, por cierto— a mi socio de la Yuma.

Conocí a Hillson en septiembre de 2001 a propósito del viaje de la delegación de músicos cubanos a la premiación de los Grammy Latinos que se celebraría en Los Ángeles. Antes de partir, le había escrito un correo diciéndole que en pocos días llegaría a esa ciudad para cubrir para La Jiribilla el evento y que, por supuesto, contaba con su ayuda. Por la misma vía, Hillson, a quien nunca antes había visto —sólo había leído su conocido ensayo sobre Reynaldo Arenas—, me respondió algo así como que me despreocupara: “Mi casa es tu casa”.

Lo vi por primera vez en una de las salidas del aeropuerto de Los Ángeles. Era un hombre de mediana estatura, cabello entrecano, que aparentaba unos cuarenta y tantos años. El zarcillo que llevaba en una oreja, la barba de cuatro días, sus sandalias, el short y camiseta desteñidos, nada tenían que ver con el catedrático de espejuelos y levita que, en mi imaginación, debía ser el autor de aquel objetivo y serio ensayo sobre la homosexualidad en la Revolución cubana.

El coordinador de la Asociación de Solidaridad con Cuba en Los Ángeles estaba de pie ante una docena de amigos estadounidenses de Cuba que portaban carteles en contra del bloqueo y banderas cubanas, y pronunciaba, en su español angelino, una arenga de bienvenida a los hermanos artistas de la Isla que, a pesar de las muchas presiones de la mafia de Miami para impedirlo, acababan de arribar a los EE.UU.

Para suerte de Rolando Pérez Betancourt, el crítico y periodista de Granma que también reportaba el evento, y mía, Hillson se brindó, junto a su esposa, la amable Beverly, para servirnos de guía por Los Ángeles. A veces, Jon tenía turno en el aeropuerto donde trabajaba como maletero y entonces ella nos servía de chofer; pero siempre que Jon tenía un rato libre se aparecía temprano en nuestra habitación del hotel.

Así ocurrió aquella mañana del 11de septiembre del 2001. Mientras Rolando y yo contemplábamos en la pantalla del televisor, entre sorprendidos e incrédulos, desmoronarse una y otra vez las torres del World Trade Center, llegó Hillson. Como todo el mundo en Los Ángeles — la ciudad se paralizó y las congestionadas avenidas de repente se transformaron en señalizados desiertos de asfalto— pasamos la mañana entera comentando lo sucedido. Jon no parecía muy afectado por las imágenes de los aviones estallando contra los rascacielos o de las personas lanzándose al vacío para escapar de las llamas y, de vez en cuando, realizaba una llamada por su celular o confrontaba con nosotros sus criterios. Los tres coincidimos en que, sin duda, aquellas imágenes sacadas de algún filme del peor Hollywood, marcaban el inicio de una nueva era imperial. “Los americanos —dije—, en venganza, van a arrasar con alguna que otra Guernica del mundo”. Hillson por su parte, como si presagiara el decreto de la llamada Acta Patriótica, apuntó que el atentado de Nueva York serviría como pretexto para frenar la lucha por las reivindicaciones de los trabajadores y otros derechos civiles.

Después de pasar toda la tarde especulando sobre los posibles ejecutores del crimen de las torres, concluimos que ni los palestinos —los primeros acusados según unas falsas imágenes de televisión que mostraban a unos niños saltando de regocijo—, ni los atrasados países árabes, tenían nada que ver con una operación terrorista tan meticulosamente planificada.

Hillson nos invitó a cenar. Junto a Beverly y otros dos amigos de origen ecuatoriano, atravesamos en sendos autos parte de la fantasmagórica ciudad de Los Ángeles hasta la Playa de Santa Mónica. En un restaurante mexicano situado en la punta del muelle que se extiende sobre el Pacífico, la conversación tomó por otros rumbos y Hillson abordó varios temas históricos y políticos sobre los que demostró tener una vasta cultura.

Jon era algo más que un maletero y dirigente sindical del aeropuerto de Los Ángeles. Por esos días, en una ocasión que vistamos su casa en el barrio de Inglewood, mientras comentaba su magnífico ensayo sobre Reynaldo Arenas, le pregunté: “¿Por qué no trabajas para algún periódico?” “¿Y tú crees que con mis ideas me a van a dejar escribir en alguna parte?”, respondió. En parte tenía razón pero, más allá de la consabida censura, la verdadera causa de que un hombre de su capacidad intelectual trabajara como maletero en el aeropuerto se debía a que asumía su quehacer de activista sindical cual una suerte de misión religiosa. “Un verdadero militante —me dijo una vez mientras comíamos en mi casa en La Habana—, debe trabajar en la base”. Por esa razón había trabajado también durante muchos años en una fábrica textil. Vivía orgulloso de ser un obrero. En dos conferencias que impartió ante jóvenes cubanos sobre la realidad en los EE.UU., lo presenté como el intelectual norteamericano que colaboraba para La Jiribilla. Pero él nunca comenzaba a hablar sin anteponer la aclaración de la que era, para él, su mayor virtud: su condición proletaria.

Al mismo tiempo, tampoco era uno de esos escritores puros que abordaba la palabra por simple pretensión estética. Su escritura era un arma política, una forma de llegar y movilizar a los trabajadores, de crearles conciencia. Lo vi escribir varias veces y lo hacía como si tuviese una necesidad urgente de sacar a flote aquella parte de la realidad norteamericana que los grandes medios y, por supuesto Hollywood, silencian.

En La Jiribilla muchas veces nos preguntábamos cómo era posible que aquel hombre, que tenía que cumplir con un horario de trabajo en el aeropuerto, pudiera escribir aquellos largos reportes que casi siempre enviaba a la crítica hora del cierre. Según sus relatos visitaba, en una misma semana, varias ciudades diferentes cual si poseyese el don de la ubicuidad. A veces, es cierto, sus textos, principalmente los de carácter sindical, se iban más allá de los temas políticos o culturales de la línea editorial de la revista, sin embargo no había que estar muy informado para darse cuenta que Hillson escribía sobre algo totalmente inédito. Sus crónicas sobre las luchas de los trabajadores norteamericanos, por lo menos en español, eran únicas. Reportaba la historia más reciente del movimiento obrero norteamericano en un idioma que no dominaba completamente.

Beverly lo había iniciado en los secretos del castellano en los días de la Revolución sandinista.

A diferencia del profesor que yo esperaba encontrarme a mi llegada a los Ángeles, Jon, el periodista, no se andaba por las ramas ni cambiándole el significado a las palabras. Como era un intelectual sin ninguna pretensión de serlo, llamaba a las cosas por su nombre. La lucha de clases era simplemente eso y los principales protagonistas de sus relatos eran los obreros y los burgueses capitalistas, la humanidad y el imperio, la justicia y la injusticia, la verdad y la mentira. En realidad, era una suerte para cualquier revista contar con un colaborador como Hillson. Nunca le pagamos un centavo. Escribía simplemente por su fe en que sus denuncias podían ayudar a mejorar el mundo.

En esa misma convicción, la defensa de Cuba tenía un lugar destacado. Hillson, quien desde que estudiaba allá por mediados de los años 60 en una escuela secundaria en las cercanías de la ciudad de Nueva York se había iniciado como activista político, se convirtió en un apasionado partidario de la Revolución cubana tras leer el ensayo del Che Guevara El hombre y el socialismo en Cuba.

Cuba no solo aparecía en sus artículos o en las continuas actividades que organizaba en Los Ángeles a favor de la Isla, sino que su ejemplo le servía para su misión como sindicalista en el aeropuerto. Tenía tan presente a Cuba en su prédica sindical que sus compañeros de trabajo le replicaban en tono de sorna: “¡Cállate, Fidel! ¡Cállate, cubano!” Siempre al servicio de la Revolución, sus últimas actividades a favor de Cuba estuvieron relacionadas con la lucha por la libertad de los Cinco Héroes cubanos prisioneros del imperio, así como por los derechos de los norteamericanos de viajar a la Isla. Su última estancia en La Habana, fue como organizador de una delegación de un centenar de jóvenes norteamericanos deseosos de conocer, por ellos mismos, la realidad cubana.

La última vez que nos vimos fue en el portal del Palacio del Segundo Cabo. “Cuando vuelvas —le dije a modo de despedida—, nos vamos con Beverly a dar una vuelta por los carnavales”. “No me gustan”, aseguró. “Ya verás que sí —insistí—, tú no sabes nada de eso”.

Casi una semana antes de su muerte, justo dos días antes de salir yo para Venezuela, me llamó por teléfono, como solía hacer casi todos los viernes, para preguntarme si había leído un correo que me había enviado con algunas consideraciones suyas sobre la intelectualidad liberal norteamericana. No había tenido tiempo de leerlo, pero de todas formas hablamos como 20 minutos sobre las próximas elecciones, los posibles candidatos demócratas y el acto que estaban preparando para combatir las nuevas restricciones de la actual administración para impedir los viajes a Cuba. Me dijo que participaría en un acto donde hablaría el traductor de tailandés de Bush recientemente sancionado por viajar a la Isla. “Un buen tipo”, agregó. Mencionó también una manifestación que sería la más grande de todos los tiempos que se realizaría en Los Ángeles y en donde, de alguna manera, estarían presentes los Cinco. Como siempre, le pedí que me mandara un buen trabajo sobre todo eso. Después, le pregunté para cuándo volvía. “Para el 26 de marzo, dijo, viajaré en la última delegación con licencia”.

La muerte le impidió el regreso para esa fecha. Pero si como yo creo Jon Hillson está leyendo estas líneas en alguna parte, sabe, también como yo, que regresará nuevamente a la Isla el día que las barreras del engaño dejen de ser el obstáculo que impide consumar la amistad de nuestros pueblos.


Jon Hillson was a talented poet and journalist whose work was always enthusiastically received by our readers. He was also a tireless and steadfast revolutionary whom we all admired for his energy and commitment. Jon's death is a loss to the Cuba solidarity movement and the US struggle for peace and social justice. He left us much too soon, and he will be greatly missed.

Kathleen Kelly
Editorial Director
NY Transfer News

The following links provide a small sample  of Jon's many talents and interests, as published by NY Transfer News over the last few years:  

His The Sexual Politics of Reinaldo Arenas  essay on the film "Before Night Falls" is a piercing commentary  on the sexual politics of Reynaldo Arenas and a compassionate  analysis of the history of Cuban social policy after the revolution. When the World Trade Center was attacked  on Sept 11, 2001, Jon wrote Blowback Blues (a poem)

Jon covered a wide variety of issues  as a journalist, from foreign policy to the  struggles for labor rights and civil liberties  in the US. Here are just a few examples:

Castro in Teheran: The Imperialist King Will Fall (2001)

May in Cuba: The Atmosphere is Militant (2001)

First Japanese-American Delegation Heads for Cuba

Airline Workers Hit By War At Home...on Labor (2001)

60th Anniversary of Japanese-American Internment (2002)

Japanese-Americans, Muslim-Americans, Arab-Americans Say "Never Again"

US Airlines, Government, Declare War on Workers (2002)

Dockworkers Denounce Bush, Demande Decent Contract (2002)

Los Angeles: Jewish Activist Denounced Israeli Brutality (2002)

Shaking Down American Travellers (2002)

Cuba Winning the Battle of Ideas (2002)

Passengers Sue Airlines for Post-9-11 Discrimination

Broad Condemnation of Bush Anti-Cuba Policies (2002)

Victory for Free Speech in Miami (2002)

Program for the Hillson Memorial Meeting
Los Angeles, California - March 7, 2004
Memorial meeting notice and obituary in PDF:  here

Beverly Truemann

Thabo Ntweng
Los Angeles airline worker and longtime friend

Betsey Stone
Socialist Workers Party 
L.A. Coalition in Solidarity with Cuba

Paula Solomon
Co-coordinator, Los Angeles Coalition in Solidarity with Cuba
Messages from Cuba and South Africa

Geoff Mirelowitz
Seattle railroad switchman and friend for over 30 years

Ted Hillson and Deb Kissinger
Brother and sister-in-law

Aaron Ruby
Translator, friend and political collaborator
since meeting Jon in Nicaragua in 1983

Dr. Marjorie Bray
Coordinator, Latin American Studies Program
California State University, Los Angeles

Eddie Torres
LA co-coordinator, U.S.-Cuba Youth Exchange 2003
Youth and the Future Seminar 2004

Pasquale Lombardo - Dana Markiewicz
Immigrant rights lawyer & activist
Latin American historian and interpreter

Oriel Maria Siu
Steering Committee, Youth and the Future Seminar
(Havana, Cuba March 2004)

William Chavez
Steering Committee, Youth and the Future Seminar
(Havana, Cuba March 2004)

Updated April 29, 2005