What Exile Had Meant

Osmel Almaguer

Havana's La Tropical Night Club. Photo: Caridad

When I was little I would watch all the women in my family crowd around in my grandmother’s room, where they would open packages containing underwear, shoes, hair ornaments and those types of things.

That was a little help sent from the United States by my grandmother’s aunt, the sole relative we had overseas and who, in addition, had never met me.

Perhaps that’s why I belonged to the group of children who went to school poorly dressed. Though we all wore uniforms, one’s shoes, socks, backpack and other school materials created differences between us.

The others were beneficiaries of the exile of their relatives. The things they wore were absolutely beautiful, as were their toys, hair barrettes, etc. It’s not that the rest of us didn’t have the same things, but what we had was ghastly.  Our possessions were made in Cuba or brought from the USSR, where they were manufactured with very little aesthetic sense.

Another thing that marked a difference was chewing gum.  Anyone who had some was automatically considered a “person of style,” which made you very popular; it signified contact with the world…it meant you were like one of those people that the Cuban media criticized so much.

My shoes, instead of sparkling with color, had holes for decoration.  They were the ones other kids would refer to with irony as “capitol building busters,” for their round and rough form that gave the impression they could demolish Havana’s capitol building with one kick.

With all that, for me, countries abroad meant “greater advancement” and all that was pure, celestial, clean, ideal, and cheerful – as opposed to the earthbound existence that was imposed on us by our own conditions of life.

In the 1990s the island experienced an opening, but also an economic collapse known as the “Special Period.”  My vision of life here changed.  I grew.  My vision of the outside also changed, despite not having had the opportunity go anywhere.  I hope to do so before dying.