HAVANA TIMES – Yaya Panoramix burst on social media one day, with an explosion of emotions. The July 11th protest had just happened, and Yaya represented the exhaustion and concern of many Cuban families. It wasn’t hard for her words condemning what happened to win over an online audience with the anxiety that overwhelmed her.
She has over 5,000 followers on her Facebook page now, and she sometimes dresses up, sings, dances and even offers mini-classes in her Livestreams on how she thinks you can educate your children on political matters. She slowly answers these questions as her little girl Virginia draws.
Who is Yaya Panoramix?
I am Dayana Figueroa. I am also Yaya Panoramix, Pepa la Desgreñá, Yiyi Maria to my mother. Rodrigo and Virginia’s mother. I come from that magical place called Santiago de Cuba. I’ll turn 36 years old on December 26th. I was born on a Thursday. I’ve been living in Italy since 2011. It’s been tough living outside Cuba.
I have everything I need and yet I still need everything. My streets, my language, my food, my weather, the conga, baseball, the people I love, especially my family. I am Fefa’s granddaughter, she is God dressed in a robe. I come from a family that loves each other a lot, that understands each other, supports each other. I wish everyone could have a family like mine, with its few shortcomings and this great union that always makes you feel warm, protected and loved.
Why Yaya Panoramix?
I’ve been using the name for a long time. There’s quite a trivial story behind it. I’m a fan of Asterix and Obelix (I can’t watch it here because my son, a Roman by birth, gets offended, I imagine the same thing would happen with Elpidio Valdes and my friends who have Spanish children). I was a lot thinner, and I had a long white dress. My friends used to tell me I gave good advice. One day, I was stirring the stew at a friend’s birthday party, and the jokes began. The name Panoramix stuck with the wisdom, lean figure and auras (I adore them).
Messy hair, sweater, the kitchen in the background… these form part of your staging, of your character development? Why did you choose to represent yourself in this way?
It wasn’t voluntary. I did my first livestream from here. It was 16 days after the fateful July 11th. I was still feeling bad. I wasn’t sleeping. I was eating very little. I don’t think I’ve ever been so nervous in my life. I had put out the ironing board, but I couldn’t do it, I couldn’t even concentrate. So, I went to the kitchen because that’s where the best light is and did my first livestream. I never thought it would go viral. Then, I had two options: disappearing or showing my face again. I’m not a person to disappear. I rise to the occasion.
I decided that I wanted to concentrate on my speech. I didn’t want to show off my clothes, so I decided to be as natural as possible. I have three “uniforms” to date: a white T-shirt for poking fun; another white one with a roadrunner on it for when I’m really in a rush; and a blue one for in-between times. People recognize them. Nobody cares about how I look, they know I’m going to have bags under my eyes, disheveled and wearing the same sweater. They pay attention to what I have to say, not on what I look like. That’s important to me.
When did you discover Facebook livestreams could be a way for you to enter the debate about Cuba?
I discovered this when my livestream went viral. There were people who said ugly things to me, but a lot of people identified themselves with me and I prefer to stick with them. I’m not a political expert, I’m a spotlight [I draw attention to something or someone], and I now feel the huge need to report what is happening in our country. Facebook is the social media network I know how to use the best, so I threw myself in. I feel like I need to do this. Contribute with my grain of sand. It’s the only way I can look at my children in the eye and demand dignity for them tomorrow.
How has acting helped you to connect with your audience?
What is life but one big play? You play different characters, roles, from the minute you’re born. Daughter, sister, friend, neighbor, girlfriend… we all play a part, at the end of the day. I put a piece of me into every character I played on stage. I have put a lot of Dayana into Yaya Panoramix. How can I separate them? Stage presence, space control, improvisation have all helped me a lot; but that’s it, because I’m myself. There’s no text to memorize, there’s no desk work. I do have the same adrenaline I used to feel when the curtain would open though, and there was no going back. The same dry mouth, my heart racing. Feeling like I’m being laid bare.
What has the feedback been like from your followers on social media?
Wonderful. I won’t talk about the catfish; being a catfish is a punishment in itself. Let me tell you about the beautiful souls. I’ve met so many beautiful people along this road, sister! People who give me tips on what infusion I should make in a DM when they learn I have asthma. Kind-hearted people who have fallen in love with my children, who have quite the minds of their own and nobody can stop them when they decide to become the lead characters in my livestream. People who tell me their personal business, their dramas, the injustices they suffer. People who ask me to report about a certain situation. New friends who send me memes so I laugh. I can’t take all the credit, it’s like a team where if I miss a piece of news, a decent soul shows it to me.
I love them. I really love them. I have learned to recognize them. I have forged a real, sincere friendship with some of them. They know that I really let loose on them. I know they do too. The best thing about this journey has been the company.
What issues do you think deserve one of your videos?
All of them. All of the issues that suppose a complaint about being unjust, absurd, manipulative, cruel and a lie, which is that immoral Government. That dictatorship. I believe that the thing that destroys me the most are the minors who are being wrongfully held prisoner. I think about my children, I think about their mothers, and I suffer; but there is no class A or class B type of abuse when it comes to a dictatorship. Abuse is abuse, full stop, and it isn’t right. None of it should be tolerated.
Where have the characters or nicknames that form part of your repertoire come from?
There’s a lot of kidding around in my house. My family is very witty. It’s a combination of neighborhood, home, city. The positive or negative nicknames I’ve given people are well-deserved. Miguel Diaz-Canel, the president, will always be “Pumaboy”. If he doesn’t want me to pick on him, he should resign and wear Batos, the national sportswear brand.
“Pototo” is exaggerated and impotent. “Churichuri” is the opposite of “Pototo”. “Mordor” is the caste. Cuba, when I need to speak badly about the dictatorial class’ poor administration, it’s “Narnia”. When I speak from the heart, it’s “the mother” because my island is my mother, with my mother’s forgiveness, although she also thinks that her mother is Cuba, with Fefa’s forgiveness.
You draw people’s attention to the most pressing matter at hand, like when you invited your followers to sponsor a political prisoner, what is important for Cuba right now?
Freedom, freedom and more freedom. We get everything else with freedom, the space that every Cuban deserves in society, a dignified life that my people are crying out for.
What personal experiences have shaped your point of view? How did you take this political stance?
My experience is that of any Cuban without privileges. With never-ending blackouts, hunger, transport problems, having to carry buckets of water, not having a sanitary towel to wear, seeing the huge sacrifice families must make to put food on the table for their loved ones.
The sticks and beatings were the icing on the cake. When Pumaboy said “the combat order has been given” and armed Cubans took to the streets, protected by those in power, to beat the unarmed and hungry people asking for freedom… I can’t explain it. It was too much for me. I can’t forget the sticks. I’ll never forget them. I don’t want anyone to forget them.
What would your dream Cuba be like?
Ah, my girl, you’ve just made me tear up. My Cuba would be a free country, a multi-party system, without political prisoners, with happy children eating candy, with repaired streets, without old people having to sell peanuts at night in a park, without remittances because everyone can live comfortably with their wages… With cultivated fields, without repression, a country where there are more ambulances than patrol cars. Without hate rallies. With mothers buying milk for their children whenever they want, even when their children are over 7 years old. Without blackouts that rob you of your sleep.
A country where you will never hear the phrase “chicken for fish” again. Without CDRs or opportunistic informers, where a group of people who have never stood in line decide who isn’t Cuban. Without lines! A country where trees aren’t cut down for no reason, where animals are protected and building hotels isn’t a priority.
A country that doesn’t send its professionals into exile or traffic its doctors, but instead gives them the tools they need to work well, and gives them a place in society, the place they deserve, without ridiculous punishments for “defectors”. A country without slander campaigns, without your family being harassed for your political beliefs. A country where decent and happy people live, who want to reproduce with love. With palm trees, lots of black bean stew and conga. Conga always!