I grew up in a neighborhood of Havana far from downtown. It was one of the neighborhoods made up of dozens of simple and uninspired apartment buildings constructed to deal with the housing needs of thousands of poor people back in the 1970s.
These buildings were occupied first by low-ranking Party members and then by people who had spent five years working on construction brigades in order to be granted an apartment. There’s a certain difference between that first group (those blessed with their apartment) and the second.
Members of the first group were rewarded for their role in the armed forces in support of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, while those in the second group had to earn their apartment through arduous labor in housing construction. However, two things were closely related between the two groups.
Both had to receive their housing as a gift from the government, and they also had to have a labor and moral record that spoke to their contributions to the Revolution.
Therefore, the founders of my neighborhood were people who were humble and dedicated to the reigning ideas. That’s where I grew up, and in my childhood it was easy to believe in the idea of equality that we were educated in both at home and at school.
This was thanks to the fact that the basic staples that sustained us were identical, and because we grew up far from the center of the capital where all the social and cultural life was took place; and from where the limits of our minds were defined.
Because of this, I didn’t think about homogeneity back then. The problem came with time and after I traveled to other neighborhoods in the city, places like Vedado and Miramar. I was always told that Cuba was a country of revolutionaries, and it was not until my teens that I found out that there were people against the Revolution. So I figured that people living in those neighborhoods of luxurious houses must have been different types of revolutionaries, undoubtedly more blessed than my neighbors.
Although this created some confusion in my first steps toward forming my own political consciousness, the Berlin Wall in my mind still had not come down. It was after discovering the logic of social heterogeneity that I began to become filled with doubts.
It was difficult to find sources of information to satisfy my thirst to know, because the official ones were few, and identical, and they were in the hands of those most blessed; these were the people who benefited from the order of things by perpetuating the rejection of other ideas, ones that could destroy the walls of their own homes.
Discovering these ideas made me see that for a long time I had conformed to letting a single voice guide the direction of my life. This voice was like that of a strict father who had given everything to me and to whom, in repayment, I had to give all my energy and blindly trust his knowledge of what was best for me in all aspects of thought and action.
I’m very thankful for having grown up among words and calls for equality, but you end up understanding this so well that one day you want to make those appeals with your own voice.
Two basic reasons prompted that desire: the voices that shouted all around me in Cuba were repeating words that only came from their throats, without the involvement of thought or deep respect; and the fact that the terrain in which equality was promised had changed a lot – to where other powerful agents of inequality were restoring injustice.
I had to get far away from Cuba to realize the naturalness of wanting to change reality, of wanting to hear voices that were new and more just. In Cuba I was afraid to even think about these. It got to the point that this was viewed and punished as the height of mortal sin.
Lately, other voices are being heard in my country, even though they displease those who crush other people’s voices, those who continue to lift up their boots like those of all powers and in all times. Despite that, these new voices make the air more breathable. I only wonder how they could have silenced them so long. It’s difficult to explain.
Recently I read a sentence in a Japanese novel: “If they shoot you, you bleed.” I don’t know why the logic of this statement continues running around in my head. For the time being, I get one clear thing from it: I want to choose for myself, before bullets go through my chest.