By Regina Cano
I had the good fortune to participate in an event of critical thinking called The Observatory that gathers participants from across the island to present community projects, research projects and other works.
During this event I saw a documentary about Alamar, a municipality located approximately eight kilometers from downtown Havana after crossing the tunnel that runs under the Havana Bay. The film by co-directors Damian Bandín Carnero and Karin Losert rescues the historical memory of the community that I call home.
In Alamar one feels that a sense of belonging is missing along with a link to the city’s past. In this bedroom community of many thousands of inhabitants, the phenomenon of selective memory has erased this historical memory that maybe this documentary could help bring back to the people who live here.
The documentary Alamar, ciudad del futuro (Alamar, city of the future), gathers the testimonies of those who moved to the neighborhood as children to live in the apartments build by their parents as part of a project that came under that cherished idea formulated by the Cuban Revolution called “El hombre Nuevo” (The new man).
When we moved to Alamar this myth maintained its theoretic vitality. I remember my mother telling me to behave myself and be careful how I acted because only the families of those workers acknowledged for their work -“the vanguard workers”- were allowed to live there.
There was even a regulatory commission to enforce this ideal made up of residents or members of the Communist Party who visited peoples’ homes to confirm the conservation and care of the homes, and the healthy state of family relationships. It was said that a family fight could be grounds to lose the right to live in Alamar. I don’t recall anyone being expelled, but, believe me, the fear alone was enough to ensure that the overwhelming majority of residents made sure that all the rules were followed.
Those were the days when the children believed that “the future belonged to us” and that in Cuba “everything was provided for.”
Thirty years later, Alamar is a dirty city with garbage everywhere and few parks. The buildings suffer from years of neglect, their paint peeling off, with makeshift additions by residents trying to add rooms for their growing families; expansions that stand out more as a solution then as something that follows the building code.
I tell you, it is not easy living in Alamar. What was an attempt to bring more equality in terms of housing -which in reality only succeeded in providing our parents with the necessary conditions to completely dedicate themselves to their jobs- fell short due to a lack of planning, poor decisions, rushing, and opportunism.
The majority of Alamar residents go outside of Alamar not only to work but to develop their projects and for recreation. The new people who today are moving to Alamar do so as a result of house exchanges (there is no buying and selling of homes in Cuba), because their homes were demolished, through negotiating with the government, or because they were assigned apartments here for having worked in the micro-brigades and having no where else to go.
For many, living here is a last resort. Odd given that Alamar is a seaside town with beautiful natural surroundings that could be better used and enjoyed.
It was sad for me to watch the documentary and remember how circumstances beyond the control and the civic spirit of many people who still live in Alamar have had such a profound impact on their lives, changing them forever.