In the same days that the dismissal of Carlos Lage and Felipe Perez Roque was catching the attention of the foreign press and the local rumor mill, Xiomara was worrying about something closer to home. For the past four months, in her town of Pinar del Rio the sanitary pads that women use to mitigate the cycles of the moon haven’t come. She and her daughters cut up a couple of sheets and managed to make some towels, which they washed after using. If the ration market lacks feminine hygiene products, the already small number of towels and pillowcases remaining in Cuban houses would diminish even further. Mother nature does not understand the mechanisms of distribution, and so every twenty-eight days we have damp evidence to put them to the test.
Xiomara recounted, with the shame of having to speak publically about something she would prefer to keep private, that the employees at her company had the same problem. “Because of this we might refuse to go to work,” she told me, and I imagined a “Strike of the Period,” a massive protest marked by the ovulation cycle. However, nothing stops in the province of Pinar del Rio for this “triviality.” The officials continue to speak of “recovering from the hurricanes” and the newspapers—which unfortunately cannot be used as sanitary pads—mention exceeding the goals of the potato harvest. The drama was hidden in the bathrooms and manifested itself in two new wrinkles on the foreheads of some females.
There are those who think that the dismissal of several officials, or the merger of two ministries, are the real steps on the road to change. I feel, however, that the triggering spark of the transformations could be, simply, a group of women tired of washing out, every month, the cloths used during their menstrual cycles.
People waiting, with a stick or a knife under the bed for a day they can use them. Entrenched hatred against those who betrayed them, denied them a better job, or made sure their youngest child couldn’t study at the university. There are so many waiting for possible chaos to give them the time necessary for revenge, that one would wish not to have been born in this age, when one can only be a victim or victimizer, when so many yearn for the night of the long knives.
The old pots and pans for feeding the family can be transformed, in the event, into the ballot we can’t leave in the box and into the hand we dare not raise in the assembly. Any object can serve, if given the space required: a piece of fabric hung from the balcony, a newspaper waved in public, a pot banged along with others. The great metallic choir made up of spoons and pans could be—on May first at 8:30—our voice, to say what we have stuck in our throats.
Restrictions on coming and going from Cuba have lasted too long. So I will ring my pot for my parents, who have never been able to cross the sea that separates us from the world. I will join the symphony of pans also for myself, forced to travel only in the virtual world in the last two years. I will pound out the rhythm of the spoon while thinking of Teo, condemned to permanent exile if he happens to board a plane before the age of eighteen. I will beat the drum for Edgar, who is on a hunger strike after seven denials of his request for permission to leave. At the end of the metallic concert I will dedicate a couple notes to Marta, who didn’t get the white card to meet her granddaughter who was born in Florida.
After so much beating on the bottom of the pan, it probably won’t serve me for frying even one more egg. For the necessary “food” to travel, move about freely, leave home without permission, it’s well worth it to break all the equipment in my kitchen.
The Summit of the Americas ended yesterday and it doesn’t appear that an urgent meeting of parliament, or a special plenary session of the Party Central Committee, is being convened to discuss the proposals made by Obama. “A fresh start with Cuba,” the American president said in Trinidad and Tobago, but today Fidel Castro’s Reflections referred only to Daniel Ortega’s long speech. The journalists from the National News haven’t taken to the streets to collect people’s impressions and my neighbor has been enlisted in Operation Caguairan, in case of a possible invasion from the North.
Given the importance of what’s happening, the “accountability meeting” being held in my building today should be devoted to the new relations between Cuba and the United States. But the delegate prefers to talk about the unruly neighbors who throw their trash outside the bins, rather than ask what we think about the end of the dispute. In my son’s school some teacher repeats that “Obama is like Bush, but painted black,” and the billboards in the street still call for continuing the struggle against imperialism.
I don’t know what to think, given the difference between what is said to the outside world and the tiresome sermon we get every day. Even Raul Castro himself seems ready to talk to Obama about things he’s never wanted to discuss with us. I can’t help asking myself, then, if all this “olive branch” and the willingness to touch on broad themes, is not just words said to the outside world, phrases pronounced far from our ears.
You’ll remember that a couple of months ago I tried to implement some improvements in Generation Y, but they failed, but now it seems that they will work.
To make these changes, the comments will be closed until next Tuesday in every language.
After the changes, the translated sites will operate as before, but the original GY will also have a copy of the blog located at http://www.vocescubanas.com/generaciony especially designed to circumvent the censorship within the Island. With this, I hope Cubans on and off the Island can rediscover each other. This site will also have have a more comfortable space to continue the debate.
I promise that this time the repairs won’t take so much time and will be for the better.
Design suggestions for what you would like to see in “the other Generation Y” are welcome.
Today in Italy the publisher Rizzoli is presenting a compilation of my posts entitled “Cuba Libre.” I hope to be able to announce soon an edition in my own language. The book leads off with the beginning of Generation Y, which just now has passed its second anniversary, with 300 posts published between then and now:
It’s April and there’s not much to do, only to watch from the balcony and confirm that everything continues as in March and February. The Plaza de la Revolucion—a truncated lollipop that would frighten any child—dominates the concrete blocks in my neighborhood. Facing me, eighteen cement stories bear the sign of the Ministry of Agriculture. Its size is inversely proportional to the productivity of the land, so I look through my telescope at their empty offices and broken windows. Living in this “ministerial” zone allows me to interrogate the high buildings from which emerge the directives and resolutions for the whole country. I have a habit of aiming my lens and thinking, “They’re watching me and so I, too, am watching them.” From these inspections with my blue telescope, in truth I’ve taken very little, but an impression of inertia pierces the glass and slips through the concrete of my Yugoslav model building.
I look at those who go to the market with their empty shopping bags and many times return with them in the same state. I also have a plastic bag, but mine is always folded into a pocket so as not to advertise that I’ve been devoured by the machine of the line, the search for food, the chatting about whether the chicken came to the ration market… In the end, I have the same obsession to acquire something but I try not to be too obvious about it.
In my delirium of counting the vultures that fly over the truncated lollipop and while I ask myself how I will fill the bag, I arrive at the most dangerous idea I’ve had in my thirty-two years. My fit seems to be influenced by the madness of April, evident fruit of the unhealthy spring malaise. On the keyboard of my old laptop, sold to me six months ago by a rafter needing a Chevrolet engine, I begin to write. The journey of that apprentice Magellan was aborted, but the computer was already mine so there was no turning back. I start with something that’s halfway between a shout and question, I don’t even know this will be my first post, the first piece of a blog. The scene is simple, a weak woman without dreams has stopped watching, to begin to tell what she doesn’t see reflected in the boring TV or in the ridiculous national newspapers.
Before starting my disillusioned vignettes of reality, the voice of apathy warns me that my writing would change nothing. The whisper of fear brings up my twelve-year-old son and the harm that the maternal catharsis may lead to in his future. I hear the voice of my mother who shouts at me, “Sweetheart, why are you mixed up in this?” And I anticipate the accusations of being infiltrated by the CIA or by State Security which will also come. The watchman behind my eyebrows rarely makes mistakes, but the madman who shares his space won’t let me listen to him. So I begin to round out the first post and, with it in the bag, the unproductive high ministry and the raft floating in the Gulf come to the forefront.
Months after that first text, I will be faced with nearly three hundred thousand opinions left by readers, and will review the two hundred posts and the thousands of anecdotes to try to compress them into the pages of a book. Choderlos de Laclos would laugh at me, while I try to find the evolution of a commentator based on their own interventions, to report the wrath of some and show the zigzagging path I’ve followed myself. Epistolary novels have already given everything of themselves, but the web, its hypertext, hotspots, and interactivity have barely touched the literature. It’s so difficult to cover all of this virtual world in the linearity of paper that I finally gave up trying. I only manage that in the log of the blog—which will be published some day—everyone will have their turn to say something: Generation Y, the blogger and the readers.
The ball is in Cuba’s court after Obama threw it yesterday, as he announced new flexibility in his policies toward Cuba. The players on this side seem a bit confused, hesitating between grabbing the ball, criticizing it, or simply ignoring it. The context couldn’t be better: loyalty to the government has never seemed more perverse and ideological fervor has never been as feeble as it is now. On top of that, few still believe the story that the powerful neighbor will attack us and the majority feel that this confrontation has gone on too long.
The next move is up to Raúl Castro’s government but we sense we will be left waiting. He should “decriminalize political dissent” which would immediately annul the long prison sentences of those who have been punished for differences of opinion. The ball we would like him to throw is the one that would open up spaces for citizens’ initiatives, permit free association and, in a gesture of the utmost political honesty, put himself to the test of truly free elections. In a bold leap on the field “the permanent second” would have to dare to offer something more than an olive branch. We are hoping they eliminate the travel restrictions, which would put an end to that extortionary business of permission to come and go from the Island.
The game would become more dynamic if they let the Cuban people take hold of the erratic ball of change. Many would kick it to end censorship, State control over information, ideological selection in certain professions, indoctrination in education and the punishment of those who think differently. We would kick it to be able to surf the Internet without blocked web sites, to be able to say the word “freedom” into an open microphone wihout being accused of “a counter-revolutionary provocation.”
Many of us have climbed down from the bleachers from where we were watching the game. If the Cuban government doesn’t grab the ball, there are thousands of hands ready to take our turn to launch it.
Today I bring you photos of the port that gave its name to thousands of Cubans and then fell into a long oblivion for thirty years. “Los Marielitos” left from there and in my primary school we were told they had been looking for “drugs and perversions” on the other shore. So I imagined them at a neverending party of alcohol and laughter ninety miles away. At five, I couldn’t understand that the shouting in the building and my grandmother forbidding us to play in the hallway was because of the repudiation rallies. The “farewell” was demeaning for those who were leaving an Island that had proclaimed itself a utopia.
The eggs were flying here and there, some they threw and others they smashed on their faces, doors and windows. The word “scum,” taken from the lexicon of smelting, was awarded to those who didn’t throw themselves into the crucible of the social process. We went back to being divided, conflicted and separated. Parents and children were not allowed to speak because one of them had chosen the path of exile. Letters weren’t opened and calls weren’t answered by those who stayed, believing the line about fleeing traitors. My teacher would ask if, “Mama or Papa received gifts from their family in the North.” More than one of my friends gave away, without knowing it, the hidden relationship their family had with the other side.
I don’ t think we’ll go back to having other events such as the Mariel Boatlift. Emigration happens more quietly now, in rocky coves where—in the early hours every morning—someone launches themselves into the sea, and in the consulates crammed with people looking for a visa. They no longer use the harsh adjectives of the past, now they’re called “economic emigrants,” but the property they leave behind continues to be confiscated. To the west of Havana, however, we have the sad reminder of when thousands screamed, “Scum get out! Go! Go!”
When I was little my mother forced me to eat all my food. The phrase used to clear my plate was, “Don’t leave even a spoonful, there are other children in the world who have nothing to put in their mouths.” Within just a few years the profound crisis caused by the collapse of socialism in Europe totally changed the landscape of my table. Rather than evoking those who had less, we would ramble on about the delicacies others might be eating. These were times in which we talked constantly of lost flavors and products disappearing from the market. My parents stopped pressing me to eat more, but rather berated me for wolfing down the bread we received on the ration too quickly.
The crisis came into our lives but it didn’t leave. After more than twenty years of living with a collapsed economy, our skin barely reacts to the stings of difficulties. The world is frightened by indicators of economic catastrophe but my generation, raised among the rigors of scarcities, can’t imagine waking up in the morning without the distressing question, “What am I going to eat today?”
The financial debacle plaguing the world has some analysts predicting the end of a system. We are survivors of the long agony of another one, so the death rattle doesn’t frighten us. Our experience in living with the minimum will surely be useful if the problem continues. We may have to revisit the incredible recipes from the worst moments of the Special Period* such as “steak” made from grapefruit rind, or “chopped beef” made from banana peel. We will put these monstrosities on the table without pressuring our children to improve their appetites, for fear they may gulp down the rations for the whole family.
Special Period: Fidel Castro referred to the years of economic crisis after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the loss of its financial support as a: “Special period in a time of peace.”
What was the origin of the conflict between the family of Romeo and the powerful clan into which Juliet was born? I remember the scaling of the balcony, the promises to return, and the banishment to Mantua, but I can’t specify the spark that set off the confrontation between the two clans. Many young Cubans, like Shakespeare’s lovers, have been born in the midst of a conflict whose reasons they can barely identify. They grew up in the shadow of a rivalry between the Cuban government and U.S. administrations; they were nursed on the resentment that had been brought on, or suffered by, their parents and grandparents.
Today, those under thirty cannot trace the origin of resentments for which they’re not responsible. They look ahead and it seems normal that some day the Montagues and Capulets will mix their blood in a common offspring, overcoming the swords and poisons. We will not be able to prevent them from loving each other; let us, then, prevent them from simulating a hatred they don’t feel, and especially from feigning suicide to please their elders.