A Cuban’s View on How to Change the World

Illustration by Yasser Castellanos

Veronica Vega

HAVANA TIMES — I don’t generally like to say that I believe in “God”, because the concept has too often been abused.

I also don’t like telling people to “stay positive” – not only because the expression has become a cliché, but also because I’ve had to go through some rather rough patches myself, and I don’t take people’s problems lightly.

Once, a girl told me that, whenever she felt depressed, she would think about me and draw strength from me. I was of course surprised by this confession, but it also made me aware of the fact that many of the things we consider insignificant can be a real gift to others.

From my mother, I learned that poverty can encourage creative thought. My mother could have been an exceptional sculptor, but she dropped out of school to raise her daughters. When I was eleven, I had a dress all the other girls envied me for. My mother had painted a picture of Snow White and the seven dwarfs on it, copying it from a story book. So that the painting wouldn’t wash off, she had coated it with wood varnish.

It was the 1970s, and no one in Cuba had the kind of clothes you see now, with printed pictures of Disney characters and the like.

Some years later, when she didn’t have enough fabric to sow something with, she gathered up some strips of fabric thrown out by a textile factory and made me another dress. The strips of fabric had stripes of different colors on them. My mother came up with a design that, in order to notice the garment was made out of fabrics with different patterns on them, you really had to look closely.

In the course of time, I’ve had to be as inventive as my mother to overcome serious problems in terms of dress and footwear. I’ve put my craft skills to the test on many different surfaces, weaving solutions that could well be an investment in my future.

Whenever I enter a home that exudes poverty, I think that, with a little bit of imagination, I could decorate its furniture and walls subtly, making the place not only habitable but also magical. The first impression one gets from an object (as one does from plants) is whether or not they are being taken care of. Everything that exists outside of us is shaped by and sustained by the work of thought.

One of the ways of making a small or dimly-lit room look larger is hanging up mirrors on its walls. Mirrors, however, are expensive. Light-colored walls also help in this regard. But, what is one to do when one can’t even afford to buy paint?

More than once, to feel I was breaking free from the limitations of physical space and monotony, I would post up photographs showing large expanses of sky on my walls. I posted collages on my closet doors and I felt the space of my room grow larger.

Then, I had the idea of painting the rusted-up cage of an old fan with a gold-colored powder dissolved in craft glue. Over the rough, gunk-covered blades, I glued images that create swirls of colors when they turn.

I had to fill the bathroom door, eaten up by termites, with paper. The small, daily tragedies caused by this plague have made me react as children do: freely, as though playing a game. I fitted it with a knob and replaced the door handle with a tiny window that lets in a blue light.

I made a medicine cabinet out of a cardboard box, a pencil case with a Nestle ice-cream cup, decorated with a veritable, miniature art gallery made out of almanac cut-outs. These crafty inventions draw our gaze in and transport us far from tedium and frustration, often transformed into objective hurdles by our minds.

I am terrified by the lack of imagination I see all around me, even in the homes of more prosperous people, by the pieces of furniture that repeat themselves, as though churned out by the same factory, by the cold, impersonal metal shelves everywhere.

Framed, impersonal pictures bought at dollar stores, objects without identity, paraphernalia dressed up in the latest fashion, meant to signal one’s ascent up the social ladder, these things empty out the souls of children and teenagers, who grow up disoriented, seeking out acceptance, a shelter from insecurity, in gadgets and brand products.

The humbleness socialism taught us was false, but humbleness in itself is a force to be reckoned with, forcing us to search, to find, to value what we have.

Excess makes us less perceptive. As Einstein said, crises are the mother of inventions, discoveries and great strategies.

The question is how to revert the process, how to awaken, in a mind that has become resentful because of disappointment and shortages, not only confidence, but also the ability to create.

The crafts Art Attack, a television program enjoyed by many Cuban children (and adults), teaches audiences to make often require materials that aren’t available to the average Cuban.

I am not saying the solutions we find in Cuba ought to be implemented elsewhere (our reality is quite peculiar).

Thanks to the experiences I had next to my husband (a painter), when he decorated public spaces with graffiti, I know that people appreciate and look after the fruits of such artistic initiatives. People go as far as asking whether the artwork will last, if there are ways of protecting it.

One of my dreams is to paint the more frequented passages in my neighborhood, Alamar. I am referring to the passages that cut across buildings, which occasionally provide lovers with shelter from the rain.

I would want to see the walls of these covered with graffiti, with texts that make passersbys reflect on what it means to move, to change places.

I don’t like hammering an idea into people’s heads, telling them they ought to remain positive, because all formulas become hackneyed and hollow with time.

I’ve had to postpone fulfilling this dream because of basic logistic issues. This does not keep me from seeing that many things that are unappealing to us can be changed, re-signified.

It’s not a question of ceasing to look for a true and lasting solution further down the road. It’s a question of experiencing the happiness of acting freely, of transforming one’s surroundings, and doing it now, without waiting for payment, a loan, a miracle.

It is about the happiness of discovering that this material world is much more malleable, much less resistant to change, than we had imagined.

Veronica Vega

Veronica Vega: I believe that truth has power and the word can and should be an extension of the truth. I think that is also the role of Art and the media. I consider myself an artist, but above all, a seeker and defender of the Truth as an essential element of what sustains human existence and consciousness. I believe that Cuba can and must change and that websites like Havana Times contribute to that necessary change.

3 thoughts on “A Cuban’s View on How to Change the World

  • Wonderful and inspirational article! No wonder people draw strength from you.

  • I found this article so inspiring I forwarded it to everyone on my list of e-mail contacts. You have my sincere thanks for this article. It is a true gift!

  • Veronica, your writing is always inspiring. In these small ways we can make great changes in our lives which propagate out from ourselves to others, like pebbles dropped in pools.

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