‘Ser’ or Not to Be

Dariela Aquique

HAVANA TIMES — No, dear readers, this isn’t a misspelling or an editing error. It wasn’t an English default of a MS Word document in my PC. The title of this post is a sort of parable related to its content.

I’ve borrowed that classic passage from Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “To be or not to be… that is the question.” I wrote half that phrase in Spanish and the rest in English because in that way I’m making an allegory of the feeling that many people have when pondering about what’s best for them.

I’m referring mainly to the dilemma experienced by most professionals who emigrate from their underdeveloped countries to the developed ones, seeking to improve themselves economically. However, it’s worth noting that economic improvement rarely equals improved social status.

Let’s take the example of Cuban professionals (doctors, teachers, engineers, artists, etc.). When they emigrate, not all of them manage to get their degrees recognized or work in their careers of choice. Even in instances when they accomplish this, they usually have to spend considerably longer periods of time working outside their occupations, and almost always in ones well below their academic training.

I have many close friends who are excellent doctors, but they’ve had to work for years as waiters in restaurants or as attendants in gas stations or cleaning seafood or scrubbing floors. Nevertheless, their wages are higher than these would be as doctors in their home countries.

An old and good friend recently told me that it’s very difficult to choose between saving lives as a medical doctor in Cuba and riding on a public bus, eating and dressing poorly and knowing that with your savings (which never amount to anything) will never allow you to afford a plane ticket to travel anywhere in the world.

She contrasts this to being a simple worker who immigrates to a country where they can own a car, dress and eat decently, and pay for a vacation in other places.

As Hamlet said, “What then is more elevated for the soul?” We would have to stop and consider other major questions of philosophy like: Do thoughts emerge from experience or do experiences emerge from thoughts? Obviously “that depends on the eye of the beholder”… and we would have to consider that other famous saying.

The truth is that what’s inherent in the human condition is the irrepressible desire to live under better conditions, although to achieve this people sometimes have to sacrifice certain things.

Many have sacrificed their careers, others have paid the price for their future with their bodies, some have renounced their previous ideologies, and there are those who have lost their lives in such attempts.

Without passing judgment on any of these stances, in many places in the world there are architects and engineers operating forklifts in warehouses, journalists working in construction, and prizewinning artists slicing pizzas.

Whenever they make a money transfer to relatives they’ve had to leave behind, they’ll have remembered the words of Hamlet in two languages: Ser or not to be.


One thought on “‘Ser’ or Not to Be

  • Wow. What an interesting post. Two years ago, my wife was the national morning news anchor five days a week in Cuba. Here in the US, she is maybe a once a week field reporter for a couple minutes per spot. She was as close to being a celebrity as they come in Cuba and was often stopped on the street to have her picture taken. She was invited to attend all sorts of social events and received telephone calls from Ministers and Communist party honchos all the time. Here in the US, with her heavy Cuban accent, she has trouble asking for help in the grocery store. That said, her salary here is 70 times greater, she drives a new car and has a walk-in clothes closet here bigger than her livingroom in Cuba. And you know what, sometimes she still misses her old life.

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