Three Letters on Youth Emigration

Dariela Aquique

Those who write letters to those who are leaving.

HAVANA TIMES — Things have been shaking on the Internet with a trilogy of open letters, each of them dealing with the controversial theme of the Cuban diaspora.

The first was a “Carta a un joven que se va” (Letter to a Young Person Who’s Leaving Cuba), a special for the website La Joven Cuba, by the intellectual Rafael Hernandez, dated June 16. In it is an excerpt from St. Paul’s first epistle to Timothy (chapter 4: verses 12 and 16).

The second letter was “Carta de un joven que se ha ido” (Letter from a Young Man Who Left Cuba) Letter from a Youth Who Left), by Ivan Lopez Monreal, from Pomorie, Bulgaria, on 10 August.

The third letter is Carta de una joven que no se va (Letter from a Youth Who’s Not Leaving). This one is by sociologist and self-employed worker Diosnara Gonzalez Ortega, whose letter was also a special published by La Joven Cuba, and with another excerpt – but from the music group Habana Abierto.

From different perspectives, all of them analyze the problems of emigration and its consequences.

One was by Rafael Hernandez, who belongs to the generation that lived through the early years of revolutionary fervor, when young people took the step forward to involve themselves in (and to do) everything called on by the new government for the construction of a more just society “by the poor, with the poor and for the poor.”

Rafael speaks of the rebellious youth, the literacy campaign, the Bay of Pigs Invasion and the war in Angola against apartheid. He calls on youth today to continue that legacy by doing a second part.

People like Rafael were not in the Sierra Maestra Mountains or engaged in the clandestine struggles, yet they were indebted to the bearded “liberators,” to those heroes who overthrew the Batista dictatorship and only asked (no, required) unconditional acceptance of their ideologies, their mandates. That was 53 years ago. And if you don’t like it, then leave.

Rafael is part of that generation that believed in the promise and rolled up his sleeves to make it so. That group was divided into three parts:

1-Those who became disappointed and left.
2-Those who became disappointed but have stayed, out of inertia, hoping to see what happens.
3-Those who still harbor hopes, because it’s hard for them to accept that they’ve been cheated in their beliefs (Rafael belongs to this latter troop)

Those who write letters of a young man who left.

In his letter you’ll find insulting passages (though that’s not his intention), like: “You didn’t have to live through the bad times or even through the collapse of illusions, but the only horizon of life. By the time you got here, everything was done.”

These words belong to the much-touted line of “everything you are is thanks to the revolution!” That little phrase, so often repeated, far from being accepted is increasingly losing adherents. Rafael is concerned that the nation is bleeding, losing its youngest children, losing its active labor force.

He uses the inefficient strategy of comparison: voracious capitalism versus even-handed socialism. Rafael seems intent on convincing the younger generation (though he says he’s not) of how necessary their presence and their staying on the island is. Naturally, I imagine he’s wondering what will become of Cuba tomorrow when the octogenarians are no longer the rulers. But nor will most of his young people be here to re-found the country.

Old Rafael, make no mistake friends, although he uses an archaic line, he means well.

The response was forthcoming. It came from Ivan Lopez Monreal, 28, a resident of cold and distant Bulgaria, who listed all the objective and subjective reasons for why young people leave Cuba. He belongs to that generation of the ‘80s, the son of rebellious youth, the child of those who carried out the literacy campaign, the offspring of veterans of the war in Angola.

He is also the successor of those, with a few exceptions, who saw fit to climb a little higher and accommodate themselves for official patronage. Meanwhile he saw his parents growing old slowly suffering shortages, suffering frustration. So many Ivans felt they had to leave because they realized that — contrary to what Rafael says — by the time they got here everything was falling apart.

Ivan is part of that generation who saw the un-kept promise, and therefore he “took flight” so that from far away he could make his monetary contributions to help his family and his country (because it’s known that family remittances sent to Cuba are one of the pillars of its anemic economy).

In his letter, he says something like: “Abandoning or staying in your country is a very personal decision that should never be judged in moral terms. I chose this path because I wanted a different future from what I saw in Cuba, so I left looking for it, aware that things could go bad, but I wanted to take that risk. I’m not going to lie and say that it was painful. I didn’t cry at the airport. On the contrary, I was glad. To say me, I freed myself.”

Those that write litters of a young woman that’s not leaving.

Ivan belongs to the group of:

1-Those who were disappointed and left.
2-Those who were disappointed and stayed, but are waiting for their chance to go.
3-Those who no longer have hope, but are spiritually gone, they are gone without leaving (Diosnara Gonzalez belongs to that latter troop).

The third letter is by a young woman who is a contemporary of Ivan, but who has not left, at least not physically. She speaks of the neglect, of the indifference of those who have lost faith in the improvements, which are offered but don’t arrive.

Diosnara’s letter is perhaps the bleakest. It recounts day-to-day life, dealing with corruption and lies, with apathy and chaos, with the effort and hopelessness.

She wrote:

“Many have fled to Cuba from within: young, old, officials, housewives, farmers, workers. Some of us go out like a short circuit. For a while we’re connected with what’s happening, but when it starts to hurts a lot, we do something, we say something, though many of us become indifferent. It’s as if we aren’t here, it’s as if we too had left. There’s also a diaspora and exiles inside Cuba, that’s felt though it’s not seen. We have built it ourselves.”

Rafael, with his attachment to history and his commitment to the officialdom, because of his intellectual position, if he doesn’t talk nice, we’ll never hear of him again. Ivan, from his frigid exile, is breaking his back, but he’s free. Diosnara, seems to have already left, like many others.

Therein lies this country, of those who have left and those who have stayed, of those who have stayed and those who are absent.


Dariela Aquique

Dariela Aquique: I remember my years as a high school student, especially that teacher who would interrupt the reading of works and who with surprising histrionics spoke of the real possibilities of knowing more about the truth of a country through its writers than through historical chronicles. From there came my passion for writing and literature. I had excellent teachers (sure, those were not the days of the Fast-track Teachers) and extemporization and the non-mastery of subjects was not tolerated. With humble pretenses, I want to contribute to revealing the truth about my country, where reality always overcomes fiction, but where a novel style shrouds its existence.

4 thoughts on “Three Letters on Youth Emigration

  • Just to correct a typo, the US occupation of Cuban land, a reference to Guantanamo, is of course on the eastern end of Cuba.d

  • The first thing that struck me about what ‘Moses’ wrote was how many times he tells us why Cubans leave – six times in one paragraph. If ‘Moses’ was Cuban, it would be worth taking note of. But ‘Moses’ is not Cuban. He is an American telling us what Cubans think.

    If he was Canadian, I would still place little credence in what he claims Cuban motivations are. But as a citizen of a country that has been actively opposed – Bay of Pigs opposed and blockade opposed – to the Cuban government for more than 50 years, and that arrogantly maintains an occupation of Cuban land on the western end of the island, anything that ‘Moses’ writes about what motivates Cubans goes beyond credibility into the realm of a joke of belly laugh proportions.

    ‘Moses’ asks me what I would “think would happen if a Cuban went to Calle Obispo in Havana Vieja and said ‘Down with Fidel” and posts a link to a Youtube video, a talking head interview with a Cuban who did it.

    A report in the Miami Herald describes what witnesses reported: that a dissident “threw anti-government leaflets on a busy Havana street” on Fidel’s birthday. He “was moved from a police lockup to the Valle Grande prison” where he “may face formal charges.”

    The man, Marcelino Abreu Bonora, 48, shouted “down with the Castros’ tyranny” and “Freedom for the Cuban people” as he threw the pamphlets into the air on Obispo Street in Old Havana, according to two video recordings of the protest. “The videos show many passersby walking quietly past the protest until two uniformed members of the National Revolutionary Police haul Abreu away.”

    “Abreu has been briefly detained several times, and declared several hunger strikes, in recent years. But his transfer from a Havana police lockup to the Valle Grande prison indicated that authorities this time may put him on trial, other activists said.

    “Cuban security officials regularly detain dissidents for short periods to intimidate them or avert opposition activities.” This is a similar practice to what takes place in Canada.

    The video link ‘Moses’ posted does not show the incident. It can be seen, however, using this link:

    From my perspective, the man could legitimately be charged with disturbing the peace and littering but judge for yourself.

  • Wow, who knew how “Plato” you could be?! This is not higher math. Cubans leave Cuba because they hope to do somehing elsewhere that they are convinced they can not do in Cuba. The really sad part is the stuff they can’t do in Cuba is such basic crap that for most people it is hard to believe. Cubans leave Cuba because they want a job that pays a salary that they can actually live on. They don’t want to steal or swindle or prostitute themselves to live a decent life. Cubans leave Cuba because they believe that tomorrow will be the same if not worse for them. They want to live in places where there is at least “hope” for a better tomorrow. Finally, Cubans leave Cuba because they want to live in a place where you can stand in the public square and say “F*ck you Obama” and you won’t get arrested. People may look at you like you are nuts, but no jail time. Lawrence W, for once, be honest and tell me what you think would happen if a Cuban went to Calle Obispo in Havana Vieja and said “Down with Fidel”? If you are having trouble coming up with an answer, here is a link to what happended to a guy who did just that:

  • Some thoughts on emigration from a Canadian perspective.

    Canadians and Americans all have emigration in their family histories – except for First Nations people who laugh at our efforts to exclude newcomers, pointing out we are all ‘boat people’ – newcomers – from their perspective.

    Historically, emigration has been driven by famine, persecution – religious, racial or ideological in nature – physical violence – wars – and for economic reasons. In modern times, the latter two have become ascendant, chiefly due to political and economic unrest, much of it caused by powerful countries wanting to dominate whoever they can – the divided world ‘Moses’ characterizes as the “haves” and “have-nots”.

    The most powerful country plays a large part in it – in Mexico, Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan and now Libya and Syria. AND in Cuba – economic unrest exacerbated by the blockade and the relentless propaganda that sells capitalism and demonises Cuba’s government.

    There can be little doubt there are other serious factors involved causing unrest that Cubans should be able to sort out for themselves but the US wants to ‘help’ – just as they ‘helped’ in the first Cuban Revolution that co-opted it and left Cuba a client state of the US.

    “If it worked the first time, why not try it again?” you can almost hear US officials say. Also, we have just seen two recent examples of US ‘help’ – in Libya and now Syria, no doubt considered successful by the US, that has resulted in mass migrations of people.

    With an immigrant background that I share with my fellow citizens (First Nations people tend not to think of themselves as fellow citizens of the occupiers for obvious and justified reasons) I can hardly try to discourage young Cubans from emigrating. I second the sentiment expressed in Dariela’s essay, “Abandoning or staying in your country is a very personal decision that should never be judged in moral terms.”

    I have never met an immigrant who would not have preferred to stay in the country they were born in, despite what Americans commonly express, that everyone really wants to be American. Many immigrants become disappointed. I have many stories I can tell. Some go back, and of those who stay some “go absent” as Dariela writes about.

    Many immigrants stay and are reasonably happy but there is usually a hole in their heart somewhere for what they lost. Some become ‘super-Canadians’ scathing of any other place, including where they were born.

    Most immigrants stay. The process of emigrating acts as a filter, selecting those most fit for the process and determined to make it work.

    Emigrating is always a poignant process. You may not cry at the airport but you will have some quiet moments. While you may be able to return home physically, the famous phrase, “you can’t go home again” signifies the many psychological factors that will make it impossible.

    But, life is like that at times.

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