100% Cuban or How the Russians See Us

Maria Matienzo Puerto

At the Book Fair. Photo: Caridad

Discovering us on the Internet, revealing our dirty linen so that everyone finds out what we are, or what we want to be seen as, appears to have turned into a kind of shame for being Cuban.

I believe it’s better to first clarify myself before going on.  I write for this blog because I believe we too are entitled to present ourselves to the world, independently of the tobacco, rum and mullatas that some people come looking for here on the island.

Better said, we have the right to express ourselves freely…to say what we think, though we’re sometimes distanced from the truth or we defend only our own.  Thus, the pride of “Cubaness” has never been in question.

This recent return of Russians to our coasts forces me to respond and maintain myself alert with regard to some opinions.

One needed to have been at the Havana Book Fair to understand the reason for my fears.  The table dedicated to the translation —only in Russian— of some of the classics of their literature was the point of departure for discrimination and disparagement.

A friend of mine told me that the Russians who came when the socialist camp still existed were not like this – arrogant and imperialistic.  However, the truth is that the memories I maintain, overpowering ones, are unlike that. (See my diary entry “Early Lessons in Russian Egocentrism”).

Anecdotes that form a hardly told history exist by the thousands.  They even tried to explain to our engineers what a hammer was – a simple little hammer; and we still recall the imposition of their harsh methods and realism.

It was the attitude of those who came from the tundra to civilize one of the most important cultural nerve centers: Havana (along with the United States and Brazil).

It had to be seen, with one’s own eyes, how the Cuban translations and editions were reviled so blatantly, without the decorum a guest should always maintain; or how they made an apology for their policies of colonization, similar to those of England against India or France against a number of African nations.

Fortunately, our freeing ourselves from the yoke of Russian colonizers has allowed us an open and democratic defense, at least in the cultural sphere, where the human factor is just about the only uniting element.

I don’t believe we should regret any loss.  The opening to the world has allowed us to grow, to expand, but especially to continue being one hundred percent Cuban.