Irina Echarry
Irina Echarry

Living surrounded by water makes people a little more unstable. Each person debates whether to stay in the place where they’re from or let themselves be carried off on the waters to other latitudes.

I say “water” to maintain the metaphor, but people don’t leave only by sea. The air is another escape route. In the era of the eighties there was a lot of popular indignation directed against those who left. They had eggs and tomatoes thrown at them; with my own eyes as a frightened child I even saw a melon hurled at the head of a man who had decided to live far from his country of birth.

Almost all of my friends have left. I couldn’t say precisely when the emigration began. I only know that it was a long time ago and occurred in very different ways.

Bertha had to leave Cuba to keep from going crazy with the shortages of the “special period.” She managed to borrow several thousand dollars and paid for a marriage of convenience, with all the documents and even a trip for the “husband” who with the passing of time has become a close friend.

She has been living in Mexico for the last nine years and works in a bar, although she is a teacher by profession. She had to pay off the debt, of course. Now she comes to visit every six months. She doesn’t live a life of luxury, she doesn’t go a lot of places, she works to help the family she left behind and she misses her old neighborhood.

Abel was a journalist working for an unauthorized Cuban news agency. The authorities dogged his every step while he lived on the island and he felt that he was constantly under surveillance. His daughter had left for Spain some time before, when Abel found himself obliged to leave the country. They all but demanded it, he said. He couldn’t continue working for the agency and could no longer work anywhere else either. At least that’s what he thought – he didn’t have a chance to find out.

At fifty-some years of age he embarked on an adventure to the motherland, together with his elderly mother that he didn’t want to leave in Santa Clara. His daughter paid the fare for both of them. Now, ten years later, my good Abel is a night watchman somewhere in Valencia while he records his nostalgia for the island in poems and novels that one day will reach the streets of Havana, recounting fragments of the life of an exiled Cuban.

There are two empty apartments in my building. The tenants live abroad. In one of the homes, a young man left in 1993 on a work contract and didn’t return. Later he helped his other brothers to leave, and still later his mother. Some live better than others. They come to Cuba rarely, for brief visits or to legalize some document. They say that they don’t miss anything because they have frequent contacts with friends who have also emigrated.

The other apartment was a different story. That was a couple whose only daughter fell in love with a foreigner. After some years they were reunited in the United States. Of course, such reuniting doesn’t take place in Cuba, it’s always better in the other place, wherever that may be. People leave, miss the place, long for it, remember it, the sparrows trap them, as they say, but they don’t come back to live in the place where they were born, met their friends and were shaped as people.

Here they are considered traitors for abandoning their country, but this rejection is no longer from the people, only from officials. Now people leave to improve themselves, whereas before they went from the “best” to the “worst.” The situation has taken on other nuances.

At times I ask myself if one should choose their country or simply resign themselves to the place where they were chosen by chance to live. To leave, go to other places, look for a change: Is that treason? If tomorrow I decide to join my friends, am I betraying something or am I searching for my real country: the one of dreams, illusions and memories?

8 thoughts on “<em>Friends who have Emigrated</em>

  • Irina,
    It’s good to have feedback but in Internet you will have all kinds of comments, intelligent, dumb, not knowing what they are talking about, etc, all kinds, even sometimes from the government disguised in ordinary people.
    Some people think that because they go to Cuba and spend some time there, they already know what happens and they might know two things more than the foreigner who hasn’t been in Cuba but they will never know the reality. Walter is an outsider, he doesn’t understand and never will.
    I am from your generation, I am from Havana and now live in North Florida, I left not long ago. I KNOW WHAT YOU’RE TALKING ABOUT. It’s not whining, it’s disillusionment. Our beautiful generation, those you were kids in the 80s, has a lot to offer and we were forced to leave the country or stay and say good-bye at all your friends while the government turns its back and keeps taking away our best years.
    There is no reason for Cuba to be like this. Cubans should have the opportunity to work, earn a decent salary and have their own business if they can, there is no other way to improve the economy. The government doesn’t want to lose control and it has costs us dearly. It will keep on costing…
    Irina, sigue escribiendo. There are people here listening to you, don’t get discourage for some of the comments, son gajes del oficio. This is your space and you say whatever you like, you don’t have to give a full analysis of anything, you just write what you feel and think, that’s all.
    And you do it very well.

  • Off the top I have to object to the notion of some earlier comments that Irina’s writing is whining. Asking questions about legitimate observations and experiences is healthy. It’s also vastly more effective in creating understanding when true passion is threaded through the words. Something Irina does quite well.

    Do Cubans need to improve? Absolutely, I doubt there is a speech made by any Cuban politician that doesn’t touch on the need for more participation from all Cubans. But the nature of that participation is the question. Those of younger generations need to have a voice, and I think the Havana Times is an excellent example of that.

    At the same time I understand the justified caution many Cubans have over the dangers of giving the American government any opening that might possibly encourage internal dissent. The last 8 years are clear evidence of just how dangerous the US can be. The slaughter they are responsible for in the Middle East is truly a mammoth crime, and one that as yet has gone unpunished.

    What’s more, colonial exploitation of developing nations has been a tradition of not just the Americans, but of all the western industrialized countries. They gladly conduct business at the expense of local populations if it increases profits.

    Given all that overwhelming evidence, Cubans should have little doubt, even with Obama as the new president, that the US would exploit Cuba ruthelessly if given an unfettered opportunity. You only have to look to Haiti to see the logical conclusion of that kind of exploitation. As hard as life is in Cuba, it’s better than the life of a slave to a foreign power.

    How to walk the path between voicing legitimate concerns about Cuban life, while also providing a united front in the face of aggressive American power, is something Cubans have to negotiate on their terms. Clearly that negotiation something many Cubans want, and I salute the efforts of both the younger generation intent on questioning the country they love, and of the older generation intent on protecting the incredibly hard fought gains of the revolution with a love no less powerful.

  • Message to the readers

    If someone had told me that expressing the sadness felt from having some friends far away and briefly describing the way some left the country was going to bring so many commentaries, I wouldn’t have believed it. It’s good to get reader feedback, very good. That’s why I want to add something.

    When I write for the Diaries from Havana section, the name itself implies intimacy, a space where I can express my feelings, past or present experiences, to people who don’t know me and don’t live like me.

    It’s like showing a mole on my body or a spot on a nail. From the mole, nobody could specify what my body is like. From the spot on a nail, nobody can judge my hygiene habits or my physical health.

    Therefore, from one, two or three diary posts read, nobody is qualified to say who I am, how I live and what I think about all aspects of life.

    It’s odd, I wrote a post about the subject of trash in Alamar, the place where I live, and I didn’t manage to draw the attention of the readers. Or better said, nobody felt like expressing themselves. It’s a delicate subject; it deals with the public health of a place where thousands of people live. I even provided some photos to visually show the situation.

    However, when I touched (and in a very personal way) on the topic of emigration, it became a delicious plate that many would like to eat.

    My objective isn’t to argue about any political issue, that doesn’t interest me. Havana Times didn’t arise for that. I just write about what I feel or have lived.

    And now, well into the 21st century, I think it’s time that people respect others opinions, especially if we don’t live in the same circumstances or don’t share the same memories.

    Karl Marx said in his time that people think like they live; and I repeat, I am a Cuban living on the island, someone who bears it and loves it.

    I am fond of peace and I try to live in harmony. I write for children and I try to teach them to love. That’s all. We already know that with love anything is possible.

    Irina Echarry

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