By Amanda Rosa Perez Morales (El Toque)
“I left Cuba because I fell in love with a Honduran. I left everything. It was a bit crazy, but that’s how love is: you don’t really think things through too much.”
HAVANA TIMES – Liana was my classmate for the five years we both studied at university, in Havana. Both of us loved philosophy: we needed to learn, to understand. After graduating, we both took extremely different life paths and, by one of those coincidences in Life, we found each other again through literature and our own reflections.
When we graduated, I left the island without ever having done my social service; she stayed. She didn’t have any plans to leave, but she met the man who would become her husband and things changed.
“I was going to do my social service in the Social Theory and Politics department at the university. I wasn’t given any classes in the beginning; we had to do a training course first.”
She recalls feeling like new graduates were being threatened with having their university degree made void if they didn’t complete their social service. They weren’t given any support in the process to validate their degree either. Apparently, it’s forbidden until you finish your training period. However, she asked around the right places and realized that this was a lie. You could do it.
Even so, she carried on and did her duty to the department and didn’t tell anyone her intention to leave. “I have always thought of myself as a responsible and disciplined person, so I did what I had to right up until the last moment.”
The day before leaving, she sent an email in which she announced her decision. That’s when the problems began.
“When I left, my parents were called into the department. They were told that I had a certain number of days to come back, and that if I didn’t, my degree would be revoked. They exhausted them mentally. I didn’t go back and I was punished in the end. The punishment involved me never being able to go back and teach at Havana University. It doesn’t hurt me so much now, but I still have a bitter taste left in my mouth because that was my home of study.”
Havana University means a lot to Liana; it is something key and wonderful in her life. It was the place where she took her first professional steps and where she had professors who were very important in her education and training. Seeing some of them involved in the decision to apply the sanction, really made her sad. This feeling hasn’t disappeared. She would like to establish some kind of academic connection with the UH at some point, but it’s hard. “I feel really uncomfortable forming a link with them, and that’s not right. It isn’t good to feel like you’ve been driven out of your birth place.”
Arriving to Honduras
She arrived in Honduras on April 1, 2014, and didn’t have any great expectations of working in her profession. But she found a completely different situation. “Here, Philosophy forms part of the core syllabus, so there is always a demand for teachers that can teach this subject.”
I began working at the Francisco Morazan Pedagogical University. I worked pro bono for an entire year, teaching General Philosophy classes. She couldn’t be paid because her degree was still in the process of being validated.
“But I did it to gain experience. I learned a lot and had a great culture shock. This because in spite of the similarities between both countries, we are very different. The way classes are taught, the teacher-student relationship… it’s all very different. I tried to imitate what I saw in Cuba with my professors, but students here often have a more active role in the classroom and they don’t see the professor as an authoritative figure. Instead they are seen as somebody close who they can learn from and who is also open to learn from others.
So I began adapting the way I talk, the way I express myself… I didn’t understand the need for this self-transformation in the beginning. But later I understood that I had to adapt so I wouldn’t stand out for the wrong reasons.”
When she began teaching, she realized that the level of education is clearly different to that in Cuba. She felt like students were less used to thinking for themselves, to expressing themselves eloquently.
“You need to deal with this situation and understand that this happens because of high levels of social inequality. When I was at university, none of my classmates worked. Here, the majority need to work in order to cover living and education costs. This means that their concentration when studying is different.”
Luckily, Liana didn’t have to work in anything that wasn’t teaching, thanks to the financial support her husband provided.
After a year of work without pay and with her degree now validated, she found a position at Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Honduras, where she finally got a fixed position. She could also teach Philisophy classes. “There is a shortage of philosophers in Honduras in general, even in the specialty, so this has really helped me.”
She now teaches Political Philosophy classes and also teaches other courses. One of the things that most interests me is Medical Ethics, due to the medicine-philosophy relationship, that centers around thinking about the human body.
We talk about what it means to be a woman, teacher, immigrant and mother in Honduras.
“In the Philosophy department at Universidad Autónoma de Honduras, there are four women at most, and only two are actively teaching. I’m one of them. The majority are men and the production of thought is dominated by them. Women don’t have a lot of space to maneuver. Even though they overlap, there is gender discrimination. I have had to fight really hard for my space at work. Women’ role in Philosophy needs to be made more visible. Although we’re on the way…”
Plus, there’s the fact that she’s a mother. “Being a woman, mother and academic raises this problem to a much higher level,” she says. According to Liana, “being a mother has been a mental, psychological and physical challenge. I had two miscarriages, then I had a high-risk pregnancy and had to rest completely. I had an emergency cesarean. It was tough, but I always wanted to be a mother. I went through a lot, but I fought through it and finally managed to do it.”
Being a mother and academic has also been a challenge. She has tried to not let this stand in her way, but she feels like she has to work four times harder than if she wasn’t a mother.
“Nobody talks about this in chats about motherhood. They always talk about mothers being able to do everything at the same time, but the reality is you can’t. Lots of the time, if you excel at one thing, it’s because you’re letting something else slip. That’s why it’s hard to find a balance between looking after my son and dedicating space to my professional development. I am also a person and I have my own goals, especially academic ones. This kind of work in particular needs a lot of time and peace and quiet so that ideas can form.”
Liana is a member of a research group about Honduran identity and another one about religion, spirituality and youth in Latin America. “I don’t know if I will specialize in one particular area, and I don’t know whether this is a good attitude to have. In academia, you normally specialize in something. But it isn’t something that I’ve really wanted to do. I jump between topics; my interests are constantly changing and I like that.”
We talk a little bit about the situation of abortion being legalized. Honduras has one of the strictest laws in Latin America: any kind of abortion is illegal. Even morning after pills are banned. In light of the recent legalization of abortion in Argentina and the whole feminist movement, Honduras established a constitutional padlock to block any chance of abortion being legalized. “There was a social setback. Sex education doesn’t exist.”
In response to a question I often ask my interviewees, about whether they would ever go back to live in Cuba, Liana tells me she wouldn’t. “The connection with your birth country will always be strong, especially your emotional ties. In my case, this connection is with my family, friends, smells, tastes. These are all things that have made me who I am. I miss it a lot, especially my family, and I try to go back to the island as much as I can. But, right now, at this point in my life, I wouldn’t go back to live in Havana because I don’t feel good living there or identify with its dynamics.”