A Cuban Argument over Emigration

Rosa Martinez

One more step, there's room in the back. Photo: Rafiki

HAVANA TIMES, Sept. 22 — Several days ago I participated in a seminar at the Superior Pedagogic Institute in the city of Guantanamo. These were long and fruitful workdays, but I always got home late because the transportation in the eastern part of the city is so poor.

On one occasion I got on a bus that was completely full.  It reminded me of the song by Los Van Van La Habana no aguanta más (Havana can’t hold any more folks) and that of the charismatic Candido Fabre, Corranse ahi, caballeros, corranse ahi, echen un paso p`atras, que en el fondo caben más (Step up, gentlemen, move forward; one more step, more can fit in the back).

Students and teachers alike were as packed in the bus like sardines in a can, all just trying to survive until we reached our destination.

Three blocks before getting to downtown’s Jose Marti Park, a student asked the driver: “How far are you going?”

However the driver only responded with another question: “Where do you want to go?”

“Well, I wanted to go north,” the young girl replied.

“Baby, all of us want to go in that direction, but we can’t,” said the driver smiling, which triggered her smile as well.

A teacher lashed back angrily with a quick and irritated response: “Who says we all want to go North? I don’t want to go anywhere; I’m quite content here.  And like me, so are most Cubans.”

Another student supported the teacher saying, “People think that they’ll find the solutions to all their problems in the North, but they’re mistaken.”

And so began this debate that divided everyone into two groups: those who wanted to go to the North and those who vehemently defended remaining in the South. I started to get the feeling that this wasn’t going to wind up well.  People’s emotions were getting riled up and I felt like I was in the middle of a battle full of hollering and insults….

Fortunately the driver who had sparked the war paid no attention to the bullets flying from one side to the other; he continued driving along peacefully.

Behind him, one kid told another youngster: “There’s nothing wrong with wanting to emigrate.  It’s a world phenomenon brought on mainly by the situation with the economy.  Though it affects us very close to home, Cuba’s not the country with the most immigration to the United States.”

His comrade said that anyone would have to be pretty stupid if they had the chance to leave for the North but didn’t.  “Everybody knows that here it’s a mess.  Right now people don’t know what they’re going to do to survive,” he said.

When the bus got to the corner of Ahogados and Paseo streets, I got up and walked through the middle of the battlefield.  At the moment I got off, I didn’t know if the bus would finally go north or south; I only walked away, toward the west.

8 thoughts on “A Cuban Argument over Emigration

  • Dear Rosa. My name is Roza Kazan (Ibragimova). I work for Al Jazeera English. I would like to do a few stories in Cuba and am trying to learn more about the most interesting stories there. Is there a way to get in touch with you or any of your colleagues at the Havana Times? Can i get in touch with you via e-mail or telephone?
    I would really appreciate your knowledge about Cuba. You can reach me at the email I provided to leave this comment. Thank you very much and I look forward to hearing from you. Kind regards, Roza.

  • If they find oil in Cuban waters, then Cuba will become one of the richest countries in the world. The socialist experiment will be truely interesting then.

  • I have met many Canadians that would be delighted to stay in Cuba for 6 months or more, and not only to escape from the cold weather.

  • The will to move to places forbidden works both ways. There are plenty of Canadians who would move TO Cuba in a heartbeat if given the opportunity.

  • During my most recent visit to Cuba, I asked a friend what might be most beneficial to Cuban people who are struggling economically. The best thing, in my friend’s considered opinion, would be if Cubans were able to work for six months or so in countries like Canada (where I live), then return home; that would make a big difference in many lives. In other words, to go north temporarily.

    I know it is not easy to obtain work visas here but is it strictly the Canadian government that makes temporary employment so difficult for Cubans? Or, is it a combination of governmental roadblocks by both Canada and Cuba?

  • I would definetly stay at home working hard through the Reform

  • Another great article, Rosa! I especially liked your ambiguous ending. As Dorothy said in “The Wizard of Oz,” “There is no place like home!” Still, why not have your cake and eat it too: be free to both travel–and return home? In my youth I hitch-hiked up-and-down the eastern seaboard of the United States, and also from June-August of 1959, when I was 16, traveled to Cuba. These experiences opened my eyes as no text-book or second-hand account ever could. Travel really does broaden your horizon. Although at least part of the problem is the Cuban government’s many hurdles to traveling abroad, for the most part it is obtaining the required visas in any of the First-World (and most Second- and Third-World) countries. It was far easier in the 1950’s to travel from one end of the Americas to the other, as Che did, than it is to make such a journey today.

  • Wonderful article.
    Here is a question: suppose there is a Chinese style reform, which allows you to go anywhere as long as you can get visa, or stay at home working through the reform. Which is a smarter choice? (suppose you are a well educated, smart, and hardworking person, which is pretty much everyone in Cuba)

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