September 2013

I live on a planet called Cuba. I belong to a species that almost became in extinct here in the 1980s. In later years I became, like many of my species, a “protected specimen.”

But in this nature reserve we do not all enjoy the same privileges. There are specimens with much more flexibility in their necks and knees who enjoy greater protection.

I, like many, am a mere number in this great park. But rather than that being a disadvantage, this gives us a certain level of protection, allowing for “small freedoms,” which we realize we must exercise with caution. However, there are others — the more “notorious” ones —  who are not allowed them, though they enjoy other, greater advantages.

During the above-mentioned decade there was exhibition of the plastic arts* that lasted only twenty-fours hours and ended like “the party at Guatao.”** Because of a huge confrontation between the public and officials over the artworks on display, the exhibition was shut down, sparking the subsequent exodus of participating artists as well as the imposition of disciplinary measures on its organizers, which left a great void in this artistic field.

Since then, certain people with some power and comparatively open minds decided to “protect” plastic artists lest they disappear entirely. It was then that we became part of this great Jurassic Park, of which I am fortunate to be a member. We are “independent artists”… until someone takes it upon himself to declare otherwise.

*Translator’s note: Art forms which involve physical manipulation of artistic media such as clay by moulding or modeling. Examples include sculpture and ceramics. 

**A Cuban expression meaning an otherwise successful event that ends badly or in violence.

29 September 2013


Before the year 1959, I had a great family: grandparents, fathers, mothers, uncles, aunts, cousins, godmothers, godfathers as well as their partners.  We formed a clan, united by love and the daily routine; where our very close and beloved friends were part of it and the family ties were blurred, to the point where it was hard to distinguish if the same blood ran through our veins.

At the beginning, the very beginning of that old year, the contagious happiness inundated all Cuban homes: “The tyrant had left”; but this happiness would last a short time.

Quickly the first “Revolutionary laws” were implemented and behind this hardship some of the familiar faces started disappearing; then some more.  That happiness was replaced by uncertainty, followed by sadness and later on by fear.  We, the youngest wouldn’t realize what was happening until we stopped seeing the faces of our closest friends.  Our neighborhood started turning sad, then the school, then the house, the city, the country.

Everyday we would hear of someone very close leaving the country, abandoning us.  Who knows when we would see each other, if it would even happen, since the radio and television media said the opposite:  “The traitors and unpatriotic that leave the country will never come back.”  For me, a teenager, who was raised in a world of harmony and love, this represented very harsh words, very blunt, immeasurable.

My most dear friends started disappearing as if by magic; but it was truly because of “the magician”.  Some left with identity tags hanging around their necks, leaving for the unknown, they were sent by their own parents with the purpose of “saving them from what was to come”; they were the Operation Peter Pan* kids.  Between hugs and tears we would say goodbye, we would exchange small keepsakes, thinking that we would never see each other, it was tremendously painful.

I still remember with great pain, the day that one of my cousins and his wife left: she took in her womb her first-born, for whom I had embroidered many diapers with the extreme love of someone who expects their first nephew; I met him 38 years later when the cultural exchange trips were re-established, because with the passage of time, among prohibitions and avatars I had become a an artist and for the first time I was able to go to an exposition outside of the captive island.

Then, little by little, I started to cultivate new friendships, I got married, had kids.  One day, my kids left looking for freedom and new horizons.  They settled in different parts of the world, and I had granddaughters that I couldn’t enjoy.  I met those years later, after I had missed all their baby delight, their first words and their first steps.  Also my new friends were leaving too.

Upon my return from a trip, in which I was able to hold an exhibition “outside” I contacted my children and I confirmed with extreme pain all the big and small things that we had missed sharing in this long and grueling way; but the most painful of all, without any doubt has been this extreme family fragmentation.

*Translator’s note: Operation Peter Pan (Pedro Pan), was a program where unaccompanied minors were sent to the United States by their families, who generally hoped to follow them later.  The children were raised by relatives or in foster homes; many were ultimately reunited with their families in the US, but for many others their families were never able to join them.

Translated by – LYD

26 September 2013

I have always known names were important. I would not be the same person if I were not called Rebeca. At least that’s what I think. I have two names, as does almost everyone of my generation. But if right now I heard my other name called out, I would not turn around because I would assume they were calling someone else. So it is with everything, especially streets and businesses.

When the restaurant La Rosa Negra (The Black Rose) opened, I thought the name sounded odd. Some people asked, “Why black and not another color?” When I finally looked into it, I was told that it was a rented space and, when they began construction, the landlord had specifically asked that this name be used because it was the name of a book he had read and very much enjoyed. The lessees obliged since it was really only a detail.

As soon as it opened its doors, people were impressed with the quality, the service and the wonderful group of people who made up the staff. This generated an ever-expanding and loyal clientele, who got used to the unusual name. It was the owners and staff — with their hospitality and affability — who made the “budding” rose famous at home and abroad.

Not all of the path was strewn with rose petals, however, and all too soon the thorns began to appear. Seeing the tremendous success the restaurant had achieved, the building’s owner decided to void the lease in order to take over the now flourishing and well-established business. But that wasn’t the worst of it. He wanted to keep the name since it had been his idea. Not a good thing for any new business.

Finding it impossible to convince the landlord to let them keep the name — arguing it was their efforts which had given it the prestige it now enjoys — the restaurant’s owners instead opted to buy an old house in Vedado and convert it into a beautiful new restaurant: La Catedral (The Cathedral). They are not getting the old logo but everyone who helped make La Rosa Negra famous is moving with them. I am absolutely certain that everyone will follow them to La Catedral since in the last two years everyone — customers, owners and staff — feel we have become a family.

For those who live here and those who are thinking of visiting Havana after November 2 of this year, I suggest making note of the new address: Calle 8 (8th Street), between Calzada and 5th in Vedado. You will thank me for the recommendation.

22 September 2013

Thursday the 12th of this month everything was ready for the presentation of the big concert, “dyed yellow” by suggestion of the agent himself Rene, in the “Protestdrome,” as the “Hill of Flags” is popularly known, in front of the United States Interest Section.  All was previewed by the Ministry Culture, the Writers and Artists Union of Cuba (UNEAC) and controlled by State Security.

The musical groups and artists that usually act in all the “so called patriotics,” had rehearsed and previously reported the musical numbers that they would present. What no one could foresee is that in front of his very well known and popular group, Interactive, a brave young man, Robertico Carcasses, great improvisor, in the middle of that well-rehearsed scheme, would give the discordant note, which would put all the Nomenklatura on edge.

The moment arrived to perform the well known number Cubans for the World, and Robertico, leader of the group, dressed all in white, left the piano to take the microphone and improvise, before the astonished gaze and surprised ears of all those present, who could not really believe what they were hearing, and which the public repeated enthusiastically, following the contagious cadence of the chorus:  “I want, remember that I always want,” “Free access to information in order to have my own opinion,” “No militants nor dissidents, all Cubans,” “We want many things more,” “Direct election of the president. . .,” “I want, remember that I want, the end of the blockade and self-blockade. . .”

He surprised everyone, he gave the authorities no time to improvise, they could not divert the cameras to the dark night sky, he did not give them time to project something else on the screens.  He caught them “in motion” as we say here. Robertico knew how to intelligently take advantage of the opportunity that presented itself. That was no accident, it was his deepest feeling, to which he could give free rein, where he knew he was going to be heard, not like that open letter that he made to Harold Gramatges, in front of the music section of UNEAC in 2007 and that surely was shelved, maybe with one or another similar.

Now it is only left to us to be very aware of what could happen to this artist and, using word and writing as effective means, try to prevent reprisals against this valiant musician. I am sure that you, I, everyone, we are agreed that “we want many things more.”

Translated by mlk

17 September 2013

I always heard since I was a child that, as the midday sun intensified, the leaves on the trees would not move. This they called a “bochorno.”

After taking our turns on the internet, my friend and I decided to go shopping at some nearby area stores to look for cleaning supplies. We were taken by surprise at a new store, dedicated exclusively to the sale of such products, when we saw a large yellow banner hanging near the entry. We immediately realized what it was all about. Paraphrasing Jose Marti, I joked to my friend, “I do not know, given the flag here, if I can enter…”

Practically pushing me inside, she said laughing, “It’s not a flag. It’s only some yellow rag they’ve been told to put up.”

We went inside, laughing to ourselves and in a joking mood.

We immediately went up to the first employee we saw. He was sporting a makeshift bow on his chest made of yellow ribbon (the kind used for wrapping gifts).

“You must be a disciple of Our Lady of Charity; yesterday was her feast day,” I said.

“No,” he replied, “They’ve ordered me to do this today for the heroes.”

“Oh, for the spies!” we said in unison.

He lowered his head, turning red.

We then went to the counter where they sell the hair dyes and did almost the same routine with the employee there. Her response was immediate: “My boss told me that, if I was a Revolutionary, I had to put it on. Remember, I work for the state.”

“Of course,” I said. “If you don’t put it on, then you’ll lose your job.”

She stood there in silence, looking at us with eyes that begged for mercy.

We left her since there were two customers behind us, looking in our direction while trying to stifle their laughter and nodding their heads.

We then went to a department store to see what they had, only to find ourselves face-to-face with the same spectacle. All the employees were wearing yellow ribbons and bows to match those displayed at the entry. We questioned the poor employee waiting on us, whose response was similar to the one we had heard before. It was then that I told her, a little impertinently, the way I saw it: “We should have decided to defend our real traditions instead, the ones that were stolen from us: Epiphany, Christmas, Christmas Eve…”

To that day’s “bochorno” we had to include our own. We had to acknowledge how we have inevitably let ourselves be manipulated for all these years, how most of our population continues to be submissive, subject to the induced fear which they have been feeding us for half a century. Unfortunately, we will be marking the twelfth like most people, submissively displaying something yellow, which also happens to be the color long associated with cowardice, now another one of our traditions.

10 September 2013

The 2013-2014 school year begun, dragging into this new stage all the deficiencies and errors accumulated during these past 30 years.

After swallowing the bitter pill of acquiring uniforms, sending them to be taken in or out, finding another from the son of a friend he no longer needs, in order to have two sets to alternate, finding the books and something to cover them with, paying for notebooks with CUC (hard currency), because the ones from the school are not enough, pencils, backpack, socks, sneakers or shoes (a parent’s worst nightmare), everything an investment in hard cash, the task with the biggest responsibility, because of what it implies, is to successfully enroll children in a school (one of those that corresponds to the area of residence), which has enough teachers, since the deficit of educators is such that many classrooms don’t have a teacher assigned to them.

Each day there are fewer young people who aspire to major in pedagogy, among other reasons, because the salaries paid are insufficient, and they don’t enjoy the minimal conditions needed or the social acknowledgment of exercising one’s profession correctly, as well as the charged ideology that being a teacher entails.

Many young people, who were taken with the profession, end up leaving the classroom to go to work in the tourism or restaurant sector, to find something more attractive and better paid. So then they call those students who didn’t succeed in passing the exam for this major, and who prepared only three months for the teaching profession, as well as those put up as substitute teachers in televised classrooms, provoking the sleepiness and boredom of students and teachers, without noticing the errors of education that has occurred through the years.

Now the government complains of the tremendous academic deficit of our educators and pupils, which prevents the latter from being accepted in the universities, which, in turn, have seen a decrease in their academic level, due to the politics and partisan ideology that has always been a priority in teaching. At this very moment, there is a case being made that this school year be dedicated to “The Five Heroes.” For this, of course, they didn’t consult the teachers or the students. Again, politics over teaching.

Another aspect to take into account is that it is principally the parents and the teachers who in the days before the classes begin, must, with their own resources, clean the classrooms and school yards and on occasion, even provide the paint with which to repair these into decency. Some parents, who can count on certain economic resources, even buy electric fans to ensure that the environment is more pleasant in their children’s classrooms. All of this is common practice. Once again the citizens resolve the problems that belong to the State, who publicly makes note of its “victorious triumph” and in the case of education, one of the “triumphant flags” raised is socialism, which in these moments is totally worn down and frayed.

In addition, there is constant talk of recovering formal education, good manners and social mores, and I wonder: who were the principals responsible for these disappeared and destroyed values, instilling in adolescents the promiscuity reigning in forced scholarships and schools in the countryside, where the good manners transmitted from the family are retracted, considered petty bourgeois behavior?

Who could have forgotten that it was the teachers themselves who, in many schools in the eighties, supplied sticks and stones to the students, under guidance from the authorities, to repress anyone who intended to leave the country?

Now, who should we blame for the improper conduct, vulgarity and marginality developed in our society where the bad examples have gone hand in hand with economic and social decline for half a century, where the fear induced has led us to be involuntarily complicit with our silence.

4 September 2013