Cuba: The Virtue of Rootlessness

Veronica Vega

Loss of citizenship.  Ilustration by Yasser Castellanos
Loss of citizenship. Ilustration by Yasser Castellanos

HAVANA TIMES — Alfredo Fernandez’ post, Cuba and The Price of Being Worthless, took me back to the get-togethers we’d organize at the apartment he used to live in Vedado, Havana, a place that had a view of the sea (that symbolic and cursed expanse of blue). I remembered the reading of literature, invariably sprinkled with political comments – the complaints, speculations and dreams.

All that has passed and it doesn’t matter whether it did so too quickly or not. Time has always been an abstraction. If our host of old and friend now tells us he has ceased being Cuban before this government, this saddens us but does not surprise us. Like all Cubans born after 1959, we have become used to such inconsistencies and farewells.

We know people can leave at any moment, or that they aspire to. Separations circle all about us; one can feel them in the air. Cuba is a kind of floating island with a trail of ghosts that spreads around the world, a station where very few have any plans of making a definitive stop, where the majority awaits or keeps an eye out for the coming trains.

The resistance and elasticity of blood ties and friendships are constantly subjected to the relativity of distance, silence, the unilateral nature of technology and the tyranny of bureaucracy.

By the window at Alfredo’s old apartment.

Why, then, do I feel something like a double dose of sadness?

Perhaps because even though one knows that, in order to be a “homeland”, a country cannot be a prison, that we are born intrinsically free to travel around the world and to decide whether to return, not return, leave and come back (as many do on this Earth), that right is full of traumas, lies and obligatory pacts for us Cubans.

Perhaps it’s because freedom, when chosen, comes to us at an exorbitant price, or perhaps because the unquestionable nature of this injustice does not suffice to move us to do something, or because debates dilute indignation into differences, suspicions and egotism.

Sunset from Alfredo’s apartment.

Alfredo’s story merely confirms the status of a migrating animal that was imposed on us decades ago, a status we Cubans have accepted like an inevitable fate. As migrating animals, our wings have been atrophied, stolen or improvised using less than ideal materials.

Fortunately, rootedness and rootlessness are mere mental constructs that life forces us to take on, whether we want to or not, through the many experiences of loss. The unquestionable truth is that we are travelers and that we are merely passing, not only through a country, or this Earth, but our bodies also.

If an unjust law that affects an entire country does not change because there’s no collective will to shake its foundations, we still thankfully have the option of acting like individuals, of finding out that the world does indeed exist beyond the authorized limits, that a home and a family can be built anywhere on this wide world – and that our “homeland” is quite simply our conscience.

  • Moses Patterson

    The Cuban diaspora, concentrated in Miami and Spain but spread all over the world, is estimated at well over one million Cuban nationals. These Cubans, or at least those who will return to Cuba once Cuba is free, will bring an untold wealth of resources and experiences to an island devastated by generations of Castro tyranny. The hardships forced upon Cuban exiles today will prove to have been nearly worth the wait once the Castros have been run out of town and Cubans are free to set their own destiny.

    • Carlyle MacDuff

      I long to agree with you Moses but the difficulty is that even when the brothers have taken their last foul breaths and departed to the Socialismo heaven to join Che and Hugo as sacred figures for the faithful, Raul’s family will still hold control of he economy through GAESA and the political façade of Diaz-Canel, Marino Murillo and Bruno Rodriguez will have control of the Communist Party of Cuba. Many underestimate the depth of the power and control system which the Castro family regime carefully constructed over fifty five years.
      There is chink of hope if Diaz-Canel decides not to use the state police and military to clear the streets of any protests demonstrations. But who is going to lead such demonstrations? The chances of a civil orange type revolution are very slight and an armed one is impossible. Most of the potential leaders have either left Cuba as refugees or been deported as dissidents following a period of incarceration and Papal intervention.
      The first opportunity for public demonstration or any change will probably be in 2018 when Raul retires as President and if Maduro has lost out in Venezuela.
      Many Cubans long for change to a democratic multi-party state and for the opportunity to improve the standard of living of their families. They view the tourists from the free capitalist world with a marked degree of envy and wish for the opportunity to fully utilise their own abilities. But they are held in an iron grip by a regime that is determined to maintain power and cares naught for the freedom of its people.
      When I look a children in Cuba – I am a Godfather – I think that it is impossible for them to suffer under a totalitarian regime for another fifty five years, but my logical mind says that change is going to take at least ten years and more probably twenty.

      • Moses Patterson

        You are probably right. My hope is that because Cubans, more so than other Latin Americans, are accustomed to charismatic leadership, they are less likely to accept leadership imposed upon them. Although Raul personally lacks even a splinter of charisma, he is allowed to ride Fidel’s coattails for as long as Fidel is alive. Diaz-Canel, Marino Murillo and Bruno Rodríguez were, in part, selected by the ego – maniacal Castros because they lack charisma and pose no threat to the Castros. This serves their purpose while the Castros are on the throne but once they are dead, I THINK that Cubans will seek their own leaders and not put up with these stand-ins. Just look at the struggles facing Maduro in Venezuela. The Castros’ ghosts can only do so much.