Rebeca Monzó, twitterer: “Through the needle’s eye”

Alfredo Fernandez

Rebeca Monzo at the Palco Hotel.

HAVANA TIMES – Rebecca Monzo’s blog, “Through the needle’s eye”, at the “Voces Cubanas” (Cuban Voices) portal, represents an exquisite example of what some are already calling Feminine Cyber-culture.

Every week at Rebeca Monzó offers us her opinion of the most important events of the country, of her life and of the lives of those around her, as well as a delightful glimpse of the concerns of a woman of refined tastes for haute couture, cooking and the arts.

Those who follow the blogs and twitter like to compare them to a casserole dish: left without a lid, the food becomes tasteless.  As it turns out, Twitter is the perfect lid to lock in the flavor of each post.

Each Tweet of 140 characters, or around two sentences, can be posted on the Web 2.0 in a few seconds, allowing the writer to give the news, make an announcement and sometimes pronounce an opinion.

Rebeca Monzó is perhaps one of the people who makes the best use of Twitter in Cuba, with some memorable Tweets to her credit, like that which won the Twitter Free Expression contest in the category of women’s liberation. Her tweet at @lamonzona: “Women’s liberation is a mathematical operation in which our difficulties were multiplied, our salaries were subtracted and our families were divided”.

Or this other one that was entered in a contest on the #CubaEs platform where she tweeted: “Cuba Is: a true ecological disaster not due to the currents of “El niño”  nor those of “La niña” but to the lashings of the old man.

One recent November day, Rebeca received me in her house in the Nuevo Vedado neighborhood. At the beginning of our conversation, she recognized that she tried to reflect her barrio in her blog in the same way that the writer Leonel Padura had portrayed his Mantilla neighborhood.  “Nuevo Vedado is a barrio that I knew at its time of greatest splendor, but that today is living perhaps its worst moments,” she told me.

HT: Rebeca, you’ve told me that your life has followed a winding path. You graduated in education; you were in the diplomatic corps in Paris in the sixties; you were a peddler in Madrid, and later a teacher of pottery and ceramics in that city; a worker with UNESCO until the eighties; a craftsperson and member of the ACAA (Cuban Association for Artist and Craftspeople) through the present; a journalism student at the “Ñico Lopez” party school in the sixties, later abandoning that career because – according to your own words – “there is no journalism in Cuba”; a radio announcer at the beginning of the nineties and now a Blogger and Twitter user.

So my first question is: How difficult has it been to be a woman who is true to herself in Cuba?

Rebeca Monzó: It’s been very difficult, since in Cuba jail time is often the payment for sincerity. That is, here we are used to being sincere at home, with friends, in very close circles, but almost never in public. Sometimes, when it’s impossible for me to be fully honest, I just try not to lie: simply put I don’t tell the whole truth. That’s when I use irony, which in reality isn’t the whole truth, but isn’t a lie either, and I believe that that’s what’s important.

As you mentioned, I studied journalism, abandoning the field with only six months left until graduation. In addition to the fact that I had to leave for Paris to work in the Cuban embassy, I had suffered a great disillusion when I discovered that the profession doesn’t exist here.  Over time I learned that whenever a sticky topic was involved, one first informed the superior authorities, then asked if the topic was approved, meaning whether its publication was authorized or not.

Often the issue was approved when it was no longer news. A person who works this way could be called anything except a journalist. We won’t be able to speak of real journalism until the reporters in Cuba are free to write about any topic they desire.

HT: While you were taking a computer class at a Youth Club, four years ago, you couldn’t keep silent when your teacher stated very enthusiastically to the class: “Now we can speak out in Cuba, because Raul has authorized us to do so.”.  To which you responded before a stupefied classroom: “Raul isn’t the one who can authorize us to speak, that’s a human right that people are born with; and from the age of one and a half when I learned to do so, I’ve never stopped.”

In your understanding, what is missing in Cuban society to end this lobotomizing that we Cubans have been the victims of for so long?

Rebeca Monzó: The first thing is to let go of the fear: that induced fear of which we’ve been victims. I’ve been losing it little by little, above all as I have become more familiar with my rights.  For example, during the elections I know of many people who didn’t want to participate in that farce, but nevertheless they go and they vote.

They behave this way because they think that something very bad will happen to them if they don’t. They aren’t aware that in our Constitution voting is listed as a right and not as a duty. No one can do anything to them if they don’t go to the polls. But their fear is so strong that even if they want to put in a null vote they don’t dare to do so, because they’re afraid that there are hidden cameras, or that the ballots have been numbered in invisible ink. It’s really pathetic.

HT: Rebeca, the “Special Period” signified for you, among many other things, the division of your family, watching your children leave and facing the fact that you would see them again on very few occasions, barely knowing your grandchildren. Even so, you live a very active life, always creating and above all learning, to the point that it’s difficult to read more original Tweets than yours on the web.

Why this need of yours for Twitter when the only thing that it can bring you are problems? Would it be because of that Tweet of yours on @lamonzona hijo: my son, fearful of everything, I take refuge in Twitter?

Rebeca Monzó: Imagine, in the now far-off 1990, my house was a bee’s nest of youth.  My boys and my niece would be studying with all their friends, so that it was practically impossible for me to walk around the place. I would get them snacks the best I could, many times inventing them, and I would attend to their needs so they could study.

Rebeca at her coronation. Photo: Alberto Korda

Then, suddenly, I was left with just my own soul. My children left, and the house was left empty.  That solitude was an experience that I had never before lived. At that time I had a barred door installed on my room so that if a thief entered, at least he couldn’t get to me.

The result was that I ended up locked in that room several times because I couldn’t open the bars, and had to throw the keys to my neighbors through the bathroom window so they could come to my rescue.

Later Fernando appeared in my life and the first thing I did was to get rid of the barred door. It was like an exorcism for me when I did it, since they had made me feel like a prisoner in my own house; as if it weren’t enough that life had separated me from my own, I was then imprisoned within the four walls of my house.

As for your question about why I use Twitter, I could tell you that I use it a lot to alert people to the mistreatment of the trees and the animals, something that pains me greatly. Unfortunately, this has proliferated in today’s Cuba, for the reasons I’ve mentioned that we have become a very violent society.

One anecdote I could share is how I prevented a Tamarind tree from being cut down two blocks from here. I happened to be passing by and saw that they were stripping the bark in a circle to kill the tree, the famous “belt” technique, and I began to take pictures.

Then three ladies from the CDR [Committee for the Defense of the Revolution: neighborhood organization] arrived, all of them well on in years. The sight of me with my camera in hand had attracted their attention and they asked me why I was taking pictures, “When even the man from Bohemia magazine who lives on the hill, is in agreement.”

When I inquired further into the matter, they responded that they wanted to do this because they were concerned that the roots of the tree could affect the building’s underground water tank.  I told them that it would be enough to cut the roots that went in that direction.

It turned out that the mentioned gentleman from Bohemia was the director himself. I told them, that I was going to send the photo to the newspaper Granma with an article attached explaining the events. Although this never came out in the paper, something happened to stop the killing of the tree. I won that round, I believe, thanks to technology.

HT: The myth exists among men that beautiful women are invariably dumb. Rebeca, you were not only the toast of the Havana Carnival, but also a muse of Korda. Your beauty was even admired by the top leaders of the Revolution.

From your point of view, how much has the Cuban woman lost in these fifty-four years of the Revolution, and what could she do to recuperate?

Rebeca Monzó: Many men make the mistake of believing that attractive women are incapable of thought.  A while ago I saw a photo on the Internet of the new president of Interpol; you can see that she was a very beautiful woman in her youth.

As for the Cuban woman, I feel that what has most affected her is the loss of all of those comforts that ease the job of housework: a space where you can go when you’re tired, to invent something to cook, in the middle of a sea of wants and lacks that also extends out onto the street.

Cuban women have generally lost their taste for dressing well, for elegance, for walking attractively, due to the lack of models and in fact many have fallen into vulgarity.

I consider myself a strong woman, but I won’t ever use profanity in public nor am I accustomed to using it in the privacy of my own home. I don’t believe that the use of these words makes anyone a liberated woman.

To my way of thinking, these things will recuperate when the material comforts are within the reach of everyone. The way of thinking of both men and women reflects the way they live, although some would say the opposite.

An improvement in her material conditions would help the Cuban woman feel capable of recuperating the space now occupied by want, fear and spurious dependencies.

I am convinced that in the not so distant future not only the women but all of Cuban society will become a great country where all of us live together with firm values and respect for our neighbors, without the need to emigrate in order to satisfy the most elemental needs.

HT: Rebeca, many thanks from HT for your words.