As in a game of pick-up sticks, where a fistful of thin rods are dropped from above, so have my colleagues and I been scattered across the enormous tabletop of the globe. Those of us who studied together in the same classrooms, exchanged ideas or worked together on projects, could now make a network of philologists, graduates of the University of Havana, scattered throughout the world.
Marlen, from Matanzas, lives on the other shore and studies for her doctorate, while Nelson, who was the first to graduate, has been away in the United States for almost six years already. I know that the poet José Félix used to sing with his guitar in the bars of Spain, and Walfrido – who excelled in semantics – is with his girlfriend in Madrid. Many of the students who graduated ahead of me, such as Sahily and Yamilé, make a living in the Big Apple or in countries in Latin America. The list of emigrants coincides, save for the rare exceptions, with Faculty of Arts and Letters’ roster during the years I studied there.
The pick-up stick that is me has done its tumbling from one continent to another, but a crazy gravitational force finally returned it to its origin. Because of this, I don’t resent those who fell away. For all of us, a variety of circumstances threw us from here to there. “The hand that throws the sticks” was, for some, economic necessity, the lack of future prospects, or the simple impossibility of continuing to live under one roof with parents and grandparents. For others, we were driven into exile by the suffocating lack of freedoms, the desire to shout on a street corner, even if nobody hears us.
The loss of all those linguists, writers and art critics has caused irreversible damage to the Cuban culture. Needless to say, I do not hear the necessary phrases of regret over the mass escape of my classmates in cultural conferences, meetings of UNEAC [Union of Cuban Writers and Artists], much less in political forums. No hand seems willing to re-unite all the “sticks,” to provide these “philologists in flight” the chance to have their own homes, to fulfill their professional dreams, or to shout – with freedom – from every street corner.
Translators note: The pick-up-sticks game is also called Jack Straws, Spellicans, Mikado and other names. In Cuba it is called Palitos Chinos, or Chinese Sticks.