Distances on an island are as limited as the possibility of changing things on an island. That’s why on islands, we inhabitants find sex, food and politics to be obligatory topics. And since sex, food and politics are the initial, intermediate and closing issues of any obligatory conversation, those issues tend to get wearisome.
Folks will always return to the same controversial issue as their chat concludes to the point where one of the people talking will ask the other person:
“Compadre, have you ever thought about leaving?”
To which that other one could easily respond irritably saying:
“I’m fed up with this s…, and with always hearing the same thing. It seems that we look at escaping as the only possible road to deal with our dissatisfactions and shortages. From when you’re a kid you hear everybody talking about being able to leave like it’s some kind of goal or good fortune. But what’s worst is when you express any disagreement about anything, somebody will jump up — not understanding anything and having no reason to object — and they’ll tell you, “If you don’t like it, leave!”
Having been witness to such a scene, I was compelled to jot down these lines. It’s true, especially a few years ago, there’s always someone who has that pat phrase ready pull out in the face of whatever is said (or what they interpret as subversive). I remember in the ‘80s, when many people left the island, some acting based on their own decisions, others because they were forced to and the insistent crowds frantically shouting “You’d better leave!”
But why did they have to leave? Historically Cubans have always left; they would return after they accomplished their aims, but they’ve always left. The émigré has perennially paid the cost for abandoning what is theirs (what was always theirs), carrying off their roots in a suitcase and storing memories like antiques.
They go to strange lands hoping to make up for the shortages they are condemned with by the circumstances here. What remains behind is suffocating heat, earth tremors, mosquito-transmitted viruses, mediocre and unvarying meals, a monotonous and noisy atmosphere, always loud conversations and upbeat slogans.
Escaping is more comforting, leaving everything behind and…changing? It has made people believe that from fleeing is born the possibility of overcoming distances and changing an island.
But me? – not anymore; I don’t believe that leaving is the solution or the sole alternative. I agree fully with the irritated speaker: I don’t like it, but I’m staying!