Voices From the Island
- From: PL <pl.nospam@xxxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Tue, 01 Dec 2009 15:38:28 +0100
INSIDE CUBA: Voices From the Island
Welcome to Cuba.
By Achy Obejas
"The truth can not be blockaded."
Americans—especially on the left—love to ask Cubans living abroad if we're for or against Cuba. I always say the same thing: It's complicated.
When my family escaped from Cuba in 1963—on a boat in the middle of the night—we thought the Cuban Revolution wouldn't last. Soon, we believed, we'd be back home, in Cuba—brief sojourns in the U.S. having been practically a ritual for dissenting Cubans after any change in government.
My family wasn't rich—we owned nothing—but we wanted to go back to our country, to live in our homeland. Like so many others, my parents were counting on the revolutionary government to be like the many other administrations since Cuba freed itself from Spain at the end of the 19th century: ephemeral, propped up or dismissed at the whim of the United States.
So many years later, the Cuban Revolution has proven itself remarkably durable. This year marks its 50th anniversary.
* * * * *
As a child of exiles, I grew up with very particular mantras about Cuba and the Revolution. Because these came from my parents, I believed them whole-heartedly.
Later, in college, and especially as I met young Cubans who traveled to Cuba in defiance of familial objection and U.S. policy, I began to hear other stories about the island and the revolution. And I began to question many things.
I met Cubans who lived in Cuba and were in the U.S. on scholar or artist visas. I argued about how gays were treated in Cuba with singer Sara Gonzales. There was much praising of the revolution, or sober and measured commentary—in such contrast to exiles' extreme. But sometimes, especially if there was too much drinking, there would be dark confessions, especially from closeted gays, about things that weren't right.
In 1995, I went to Cuba for the first time, attending a conference on national identity. It was a strange and enchanting trip, though the transcripts of the conference will reveal I said not one word. Instead, I watched, I listened. I did all the things returning Cubans do—I visited the tiny apartment in which I was conceived, I walked up the steps of the University of Havana, I strolled the Malecon. I cried a lot. I was fawned over, the prodigal daughter returned—because in Cuba, I never left: my parents "took" me.
When, two years later, I fell in love with a Cuban artist who would go on to do some of the most challenging work seen on the island since the Revolution, I began a seven-year process of going back, often for months at a time—of, in fact, living in Cuba, having a home and neighbors and daily rituals, of having my ideas challenged and sharpened, of constantly discovering new and unexpected aspects of Cuba and its Revolution.
Americans—especially on the left—love to ask Cubans living abroad, especially Cuban-Americans, if we're for or against Cuba, if we're pro or anti-Fidel, if we're revolutionary or anti-revolutionary. It's a hateful and ignorant question because it assumes our situation is black and white, binary, oppositional.
I always say the same thing when I'm asked: It's complicated. Part of the problem is that, well, it's our problem—that is, it's a Cuban problem. I know few Cubans, and not just in Miami but in Havana too, who want intervention. The vast majority of us—here and there and everywhere – want reconciliation, an end to estrangement, greater civil liberties on the island, a more efficient and open economy, peace and friendship with the United States. But we want to figure this out among ourselves, among Cubans.
I know this is hard sometimes for my non-Cuban friends on the left, who are so invested in Cuba they feel it's practically theirs (and so invested sometimes, that they're loath to see the evidence with their own eyes of anything that might contradict their ideas). But it's not.
Those who stayed in Cuba are the ones who need to make the decisions, the ones who need to figure out what's best. Those of us who have chosen to live abroad—for whatever reason—can only have an auxiliary role. Cuba is for Cubans.
The most crucial lesson I've learned going back and forth—and I do at least once or twice a year—is that we have to listen to each other, really listen. For me that has meant acknowledging that my parents were, in fact, right about many things.
It has also meant an understanding that what Cubans in Cuba think is paramount. So when In These Times approached me to put together a special Cuban anniversary issue, the very first thing I asked was that it be an issue by Cubans on the island.
I wanted this to be different than the usual packaging, full of economic or historical treatises. Because I'm a writer engaged with culture, I think culture is a better indicator of the future than almost anything else. (Anyone familiar with the Cuban culture of sacrifice and inventiveness would have known that the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 would bring deep changes but that Cuba, and the Revolution, would survive.)
So in this special In These Times edition, "Inside Cuba: Voices from the Island," you'll find literary writers, rather than academic experts. They are not dissidents, though each is critical in his or her own way.
There are two articles that were not exactly submitted for this special edition. One is a compilation of entry selections from a blog that details gay life in Cuba. Technically the blog is unsigned, though it is an official forum of the Reinaldo Arenas LGBT Memorial Foundation, a queer grassroots group in Cuba not recognized by the government. When I met the president of the group, Aliomar Janjaque, and the vice president, Mario José Delgado Gonzales, last summer, they made a point of underscoring that they're not dissidents.
"I don't give a damn what kind of government we have," said Janjaque, exasperated. "What I care about is human rights, what I care about is how gay people are treated."
The other article is a column that appeared for only a few hours on the Juventud Rebelde website. It's poignant and heartbreaking but, perhaps more importantly, it's very telling.
There are many other stories that should be here, that will, hopefully, be in future issues of In These Times. (In fact, our January issue will feature a dialogue, in which we will continue our Cuba discussion.)
This isn't definitive. It's just a glance. A peek inside.
Editor's note: This article appeared, in dramatically different and shorter form, as the introduction to the special "Inside Cuba" section of In These Times' December 2009 issue.
INSIDE CUBA: Voices From the Island -- In These Times (1 December 2009)
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