HAVANA TIMES — In a conversation we had between the many of us who write for Havana Times, somebody brought up the topic of choosing to emigrate and the editor said that it would be a good subject for us to discuss: whether we would leave or not, and why.
I thought a good title for the piece would be “Why I still haven’t left Cuba”, as it seems to make more and more sense that definitive emigration appears on the Cuban agenda.
And, I remembered a more or less recent visit to a friend of mine. My friend, an excellent carpenter, told me that he was in the process of applying for his Spanish citizenship and that when he’d finally receive his “freedom pass”, he’d try and explore the options of taking his wife and daughter too.
This took me by surprise as he’d always displayed a genuine interest in the Island’s future, and he’d even considered the possibility of collaborating with one project or another, which were founded with the aim to promote openness, diversity, dialogue, consensus… everything necessary to bring about real change.
Another friend was there too, a former classmate from my son’s preuniversity course. When the host discovered that this young man’s mother was living in Europe and that the rest of his family was living in the United States, he naturally asked him when he would leave. The young man replied: “I don’t really intend to leave; I want to study here and do something, whatever is within my reach, for Cuba”.
My friend reacted with more emotion than surprise and said: “If only I could be surrounded by people like you”.
He then went on to tell us about his daily contact with customers, people who were becoming well-to-do, only focussed on material goods, and he’d come to the conclusion that any mental future should start with exile.
I understood at once as my friends from the 80s and 90s had emigrated, and my new friends have slowly (and continue) to disappear. However, meanwhile, I couldn’t help but think about my other friend’s remark, an ex-diplomat, who had just about travelled the world over: “Some people leave not because they want to live better, but because they want to eat better, which is something entirely different”.
I found myself asking how much such a general and ingrained opinion can influence our appreciation of reality, and whether this certain “exile syndrome”, to give it a name, is contagious. Unleashing a stampede, like what happens when a crowd is informed of imminent danger.
Even the fact that we limit ourselves to either staying or leaving is indicative of the limits inherent to our condition, because people from the first world travel the world over, they move here and there without the traumas we suffer. They have the advantage of being able to use technology to communicate with their families, nobody labels them “stateless”, they don’t run the risk of losing their citizenship nor inherited property. Moving from one place to another is a part of their culture, since they were children.
But, in regard to this very Cuban dilemma, I have heard extremely radical opinions like that of someone I know, who is married to a foreigner: “Everybody should leave, especially young people”.
I didn’t even bother to ask him how an entire country ending up deserted could possibly be the solution. I just thought about how individual life is for everyone, and about how we don’t stop living, no matter where we are. Extreme circumstances can bring out the worst in people, but it can also bring out their best, like what happened with Nelson Mandela when he spent many years in prison.
I believe that in this vast physical and mental universe in which we exist, everybody finds what they need for their own personal development. Bearing in mind the fact that we aren’t even fully conscious of the present we’re living, as thoughts about what we did or what we’ll do always occupy our mind, always between hope and memory. We perceive and value the world through a filter created by the subconscious accumulation of personal experiences.
A French filmmaker conducted an interview with a Cuban poet and a performance artist. He said on-screen: “When I told people in Miami that I had been free in Cuba they didn’t believe me, but it’s the truth.”
I told him I believed him. Like everything we go in pursuit of outside (peace, balance, happiness?), only to discover that they are only shadows, reflections, illusions, freedom is an inner state of being, which however doesn’t stop the struggle for greater legal rights in a society which needs it urgently, like Cuba.
But, why are we, condemned to separation and confrontation for decades, going to reduce something so immense, volatile and prodigious as our existence, to a simple Manichean equation?