The World in Black and White

HAVANA TIMES – In Cuba of the 1970s, there were no videocassette recorders, computers, or recording devices… Each moment was irreversible, like in life.

My sisters and I watched cartoons in a hallway, peeking through the door of a neighbor. Thanks to the fact that fans were a luxury at that time, many doors remained open to let the air circulate. When our legs hurt from standing, the owner of the apartment noticed our presence and allowed us to come in. We murmured our thanks and settled on the floor. To be able to sit and watch a cartoon, even in black and white, oh, that was happiness!

I remember that when I finally saw Zeffirelli’s “Romeo and Juliet” in the cinema, I felt an emotion I didn’t expect: almost a sense of disappointment. As if the colors stripped the image of something very essential.

And I experienced this strange feeling of having been deceived when I visited the United States in 2019 and reunited with relatives I hadn’t seen in decades.

“Is this it?” I wondered. “So much waiting, imagining, believing it was unattainable, and now we’re sitting, sharing a meal, all the people I only knew from photos, older?”

No, it should have happened before, much earlier. Perhaps in 1980, when my father was given the false news that we had arrived with the Mariel boatlift, and he was desperately searching for us.

But what has the power to disrupt events like this? Karma, destiny, a government?

What causes an entire country to lose the progress it had gained over centuries: seeing everything in black and white, not hearing the voice of a father until seven years later, from a public phone booth in a hotel.

The world beyond the horizon, with its dizziness and lights, was forbidden to us.

Now that I have a mobile phone with data, thanks to top-ups from relatives and friends outside Cuba, I can browse YouTube and discover how much I missed: movie premieres, interviews with actors, gossip, scandals, political events…

While all this was happening, my sisters and I were growing up safely, in the fairness of basics. Clothes came from my mother’s sewing machine. Toys were assigned once a year, thanks to a lottery that never favored us. But we conjured up fate by making rag dolls and furniture from matchboxes.

Creativity was beautiful, yes, but why the definitive absences (imposed from immigration forms); why the silence broken only by letters or postcards that took months to arrive; why the heartbreaks?

If there were already planes, ships, and international telephone calls before 1959.

The crucial difference between Havana and Miami struck me when, from a car and driving through Coral Gables, I saw boats parked in many gardens, as just another means of transportation. It’s not a crime to have a boat, a yacht, a ship. One shouldn’t idealize the different freedoms the world offers either, because nothing is free. And each contains its dose of weariness.

The phone rings, and I answer my sister’s video call, who managed to arrive on United States’ soil two months ago by crossing borders. She shows me the streets of Las Vegas, and I feel her closer than when she lived right here, and we didn’t visit each other due to the eternal insufficiency of public transportation.

I chat with my cousin, and she tells me about meeting my dad in New Jersey in the ’90s. I say nothing, but I feel envy for that vital man, still young, who was then my father. For that city I obsessively imagined through photos and tried to complete with movies.

For the prodigious and fertile system that has been lost (my friends who live there tell me), because “the American dream has been turning into a nightmare…”.

So then, what did we lose?

Forced to accept suffocating state centralism, any form of progress still dazzles us.

The exodus has become a mad stampede. People sell their houses with everything inside: furniture, appliances, stoves still warm from the last meal. Beds with the warmth of the last affections. Or the last conflicts. Laughter and cries reverberate in the air. One must be selective, practical: for a clandestine journey, you can only carry what fits in a backpack.

When I was a child, I watched Russian cartoons with my sisters from a hallway. Back then, things were treasured: a black-and-white television; a refrigerator or a United States car that withstood the test of time. The moment of a song, a movie we knew was irreversible, like life, was treasured.

We knew nothing. We only trusted that somehow distance and pain would fade away. The fog of the future can be modified again and again with imagination. Until it assaults us and reveals itself so simple, so direct, from an almost violent reality.

That’s why I know that when overwhelming prosperity arrives in Cuba (everything that thousands of Cubans still seek with emigration), it won’t be like a dream. It won’t be in slow motion, with golden sparks and the sensation of floating. The astonishment and jubilation of reunions will last briefly. Then it will become natural, part of the surroundings and the routine. Like rain. Like oxygen. Like exhaustion.

As if it had never been different.

Read more from the diary of Veronica Vega here on Havana Times.

One thought on “The World in Black and White

  • Beautiful.

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