The Dilemma of Being Cuban

Verónica Vega

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.

3 thoughts on “The Dilemma of Being Cuban

  • We decided to stay, our difficulty was that the Canadian Embassy officials did not believe that when my wife applied for a Temporary Residents Visa to visit my home and my friends and relatives in Canada that she would return to Cuba. Five successive applications were rejected with some comments which could only be regarded as abuse and with some “untruths” – there is a shorter more discriptive word. The UK Embassy in contrast was helpful and polite and issued a visa at the first application. Our casa in Cuba is regarded by both of us as home – how else does one describe the place where both wife and pet dog reside?
    Yes, the decision means that during my prolonged periods in Cuba we have no access to the Internet and as we have yet to be granted a telephone by the CDR have to use the telephone of a sister-in-law for e-mail. But one aspect of living as a Cuban – with somehat better income – is that I am well aware of the day to day realities of life for Cubans. As my wife works as a higher education school teacher, I do most of the shopping – both from folks selling fruit and vegetables from their doorways and from the tiendas owned by the regime or by Gaviota which runs the military owned sector of the economy.
    Having that extra income means that we have a comfortable home which we have done much to improve, that we can afford to eat fairly well and that we can for example take our annual one week visit to Trinidad de Cuba for la semana de cultura. That however does not prevent knowing those day to day realities I mentioned.
    I admit being irritated by the theoretical socialists and others who without true knowledge or even having never visited the country pontificate about Cuba, ‘Che’, the brothers Castro Ruz and the privileges which apparently will eventually accrue to the currently impoverished people of Cuba. Academic views upon what is true socialism and true communism are so much baloney, for the truth about both lies in the reality of their application – and that is awful for those subjected to it.
    Yes, we made the choice and have no regrets – for within our own lives we are happy! My 68 Cuban relatives have accepted me as a member of ‘la familia’ and friendships have developed with others. Politics are best discussed one on one, for the CDR ‘ears’ are there on every block.
    When I express views upon Cubans opinions, I base them upon those private expressions in addition to those expressed publicly.
    Both you and I Moses are fortunate in finding the right partner and taking the right decision!

  • A touching post….and very wise suegra

  • Thanks Veronica for an honest article. There is another side to the proverbial Cuban dilemma of ‘leave or stay’. When my wife and I announced our plans to marry to her family in Guantanamo, it was universally assumed that that meant she would be moving to the US with me…almost universally. Her 80-ish year old grandfather, a hard-core Fidelista, prompted me with the question, “Do you love my granddaughter enough to stay in Cuba to be with her?”. I never considered that option nor did I expect such a question. As my jaw dropped while I searched for an appropriate and respectful answer, my soon-to-be ‘suegra’ rescued me and chimed in, “My daughter would not marry a man fool enough to want to stay”. The truth is that I would have said “yes, I do love her enough”. The bigger truth is that I am so glad I didn’t have to make that choice.

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