Graffiti in Santiago

Alfredo Fernandez

God Is Love

“God is love,” insists the graffiti that has invaded the city of Santiago de Cuba.  Its appearance all over the city impressed me greatly, in fact, more so than the restoration work being undertaken across the city, which presents itself today as re-fitted with diverse eating spots and places for having a good time.

Personally, I’d never seen Santiago’s streets as lit up as this summer.  The work is headed by its current first secretary of the Party, Lazaro Exposito, who receives nothing but praise from people who feel pride for belonging to the most Caribbean of the Cuban cities.

While I was walking along with a friend who was visiting Santiago visited for the first time, our curiosity was whetted by the pervasiveness of the graffiti.  This was particularly striking in a place that historically has been proclaimed quintessentially revolutionary.  Adorned on the city’s billboards have always been official —non-religious!— slogans like: “The Cradle of the Revolution,” “The Heroic City,” or “Santiago: Rebellious Yesterday, Hospitable Today and Heroic Always.”

It’s no secret to anyone that the Cuban Revolution was built on a strong atheist foundation, turning Santiago into one of the bastions of impious sentiment.  What’s more, I recall that in my own house, my father —when becoming blinded by socialist realism (he remains so today)— he threw the instruments of the spiritual foundation of my grandmother (a mulatta Kardecian spiritualist) into the garbage.  To crown his devotion to his “strict socialist gods,” he refused to let me get baptized, though this had been the family tradition.

This may all seem unbelievable, but it’s true.  This is why it impresses me today to see the city of Santiago de Cuba covered with graffiti.  Twenty-five years ago it would have been impossible to paint such a thing on any wall without being admonished by those passing by who would have then hauled the graffitist on down to the nearest police station.  But there’s none of that now.  Though it doesn’t seem so, there are things that change and sometimes without us even realizing it.

This Santiago graffiti makes me reflect on that part of wisdom that deals with patience, something very necessary in relation to things that are out of or escape from our hands. “Patience,” as the saying goes, “is bitter but yields sweet fruit”; it always finishes putting things in their place, even demonstrating to atheists like my father that…God is love.

Alfredo Fernandez

Alfredo Fernandez: I didn't really leave Cuba, it's impossible to leave somewhere that you've never been. After gravitating for 37 years on that strange island, I managed to touch firm ground, but only to confirm that I hadn't reached anywhere. Perhaps I will never belong anywhere. Now I'm living in Ecuador, but please, don't believe me when I say where I am, better to find me in "the Cuba of my dreams.