HAVANA TIMES — Replying to the readers who take the time to read my posts and comment on these is an increasingly difficult task for me, and I always take a long time to do so. That is why, in this post, I would like to express my gratitude to those who, in response to “My Barren Land”, went to the trouble of leaving their opinions, suggestions and advice about this old dilemma of leaving the country, so close to Cubans.
Some years ago, I interviewed Cuban writer and filmmaker Elvira Rodriguez Puerto, who lives in Munich. When I asked her why she left Cuba, she replied: “Every time a Cuban who travels abroad decides not to return to Cuba, people say: ‘they stayed, they didn’t come back!’. If we enjoyed the simple right to choose where we want to be, where we want to go, the simple freedom to move freely, that question would not exist.”
I have not been able to forget these truthful words. The citizens of other Third World countries aren’t subjected to a countdown that ends with a loss of citizenship, and, though it is true they require a visa to visit more prosperous countries, they do not need a “permit” to return to theirs.
I have never been able to understand why were placed in this double prison and how easily Cubans renounce to their birthright – not only bureaucratically, but also conceptually. I see it every day, among the younger generations. For them, leaving the country is synonymous with success and any citizenship is better than their country’s, so they are perfectly willing to give it away.
The fluctuating laws of the market demonstrate how relative the value of things can be and to what extent it depends on us. I realize that, faced with a legislation that establishes a timeframe after which one is officially considered an émigré, we Cubans are pretty much forced to accept the situation, but we can always do so in protest, from a posture of defiance. Mentally, at least, we can continue to be free, and prevent our resentment towards a political system from spreading to a piece of land that contains part of our memories.
I prefer the word “departure” over “emigration” because of its twofold meaning, that of leaving and of breaking with something. I often say a part of me emigrated long ago, as I have always lived at the edge of exile. The Camarioca exodus, which my parents had planned to join, took place when I was still inside my mother’s womb. My sisters and I grew up looking to the blue line of the horizon and the vast expanses of the sea as the one obstacle awaiting us in the future because my father left the country, by himself, three years later.
I once wrote: “there are no real paths, only pretexts extended across time and certain physical longitudes. We tend to learn this, however, only after the journey is over.”
My maternal grandfather used to tell us that, in his youth, he would travel to Miami to have lunch at a restaurant there and return to Cuba the same day. That freedom of action helped him see things in their true dimensions. It would never have occurred to him to move there with his family.
I recall that, when my cousin left for the United States in the 80s, she was as excited as she would have been over a trip to the beach. She said goodbye, convinced that we would all be reunited “over there” in a few months’ time. Reuniting with her mother alone took her seventeen years.
I hear young people talk about leaving the country and I realize how naive their dreams are. I don’t doubt much can be achieved with responsibility and effort, and taking advantage of the opportunities that do not exist in Cuba, but such is rarely part of their plans.
In 2003, I saw my younger sister leave the country through the US residency lottery. In 2006, all the paperwork was in order for my father to request a reunification with me, a single mother, and my son, who was then a minor. By then, however, I had already met my current partner, which is perhaps why, for me, there was never any dilemma: my destiny had already been traced. Migratory agreements do not envisage such unpredictable turns of events as that one.
I once mused that feelings are to legists what the flower in The Little Prince was to the geologist. Only archipelagos and mountains can are registered, a flower can never be included on a map.
Now, my sister is offering to sponsor us, including my husband. But my “luggage” includes a dog and several cats, all of them picked up from the street. They are the ones excluded from the itinerary this time around. I can’t give my sister more problems; she’s already got her own pets. I have no one I can leave the animals with and I cannot conceive of a change in “owner” as an alternative to my affectionate pact with them.
Staying or leaving continue to be symbolic gestures. If one considers life a succession of years within a single body, I understand the impulse to choose the best geographic location possible. I, however, do not believe this mechanical box contains everything we are or that death is the end. What’s more, I have seen that there are things one cannot escape and that can reach us at any moment, anywhere.