Death by Silencing, Cuban Style

By Amrit

Photo of Jorge Esquivel in the Havana Museum of Dance.

HAVANA TIMES, June 28 — No one really believes a person can disappear with the snap of a finger or through some illusion by David Copperfield.  Yet everybody hopes that with the next snap, the missing person will reappear, even if wearing different clothes and in another place on the stage.

But I’ve witnessed mysterious disappearances that are sometimes tormenting to me.  This is especially because I don’t have access to the magician’s stage or to the Internet, where through the marvel of technology one can discover that the absent stars weren’t turned off but instead are now kept “outside.”  It’s exactly like the sun, when you no longer see it where you are though it lights another place on the earth.

There are others here in Cuba like me who don’t have access to that phenomenal electronic network but they possess other devices (parabolic antennas) that effectively capture signals from the air and allow TVs to pick up channels “from the outside.”

These people say they saw actors like Susana Perez, Cristina Obin, Cary and Lili, and those who used to be on the program “Para Bailar”…  They mention names that we don’t remember when we stopped hearing them here, as well as faces so familiar that they were part of our lives.  In fact, we had believed that if something interrupted these people’s virtual existence, it would be impossible for them not to continue leaving their traces.

One of the greatest, most inexplicable absences for me was that of Cuban dancer Jorge Esquivel.  The memory of his dancing excellence has now dissolved in the fog of time and the relativity (ingratitude) of memory.  I regret never having seen him live, it was just that when I began going to performances of the National Ballet he was no longer Alicia Alonso’s partner.

However I was able to see him on television, in recordings that thank God still existed and could capture that miracle that dies in the body of a dancer, because the art and its creator are the same thing.

As silence is also a strange phenomenon, when I became aware of Esquivel’s absence from television and the theaters, those that I had begun to attend, at the same time I noticed that this absence had already been felt for a very, very long time.

Searching for Jorge Esquivel

In the cyber-debate [on past Cuban cultural policy] between intellectuals in 2007, Cuban poet Reina Maria Rodriguez spoke of the omission of the work of Cuban writer Antonio Ponte, calling it “death by silencing.”  It goes without saying that I’ve never read anything by this author, with that fact demonstrating the effectiveness of omni-absence employed here.

Whenever I think about Jorge Esquivel, I find that this silent weapon (invisible as well) of erasing anything from the screen of our lives is as easy as pushing a delete button.  One even reaches the point of believing that those memories were nothing more than hallucinations.

So when I saw a photo of Jorge Esquivel in the corner of a board filled with photos of dancers from the National Ballet of Cuba — with him frozen in the air in an astounding leap — tears almost rolled down my face.  But once again the uncertainties generated questions: Is he still alive, and where?  Where did he venture to with the fruit of such discipline, with such talent and charisma?

Esquivel was not only a great dancer for his sensitivity towards art; he was an extremely popular figure, someone who was respected even in the most marginal surroundings.  More than once I used to hear comments from among the “tough guys” in the neighborhood who argue that all male dancers are chernas (homosexuals) – except Jorge Esquivel!   They told me the story…or myth (I don’t know which it is) that someone tried to offend him by calling him a maricon (“fag”), to which he responded with a flurry of punches.

Obviously, back then the perspective toward sexual diversity in Cuba wasn’t even remotely what it is today, so the fact that those “bad” elements considered Jorge Esquivel a “real man” was already an unprecedented fact for a sexist public that considered ballet an elite art.

Violating silence

When I read “Maggie Carles and Her Love for Cuba” in Havana Times, in a recent interview by Helson Hernandez, I was deeply moved by this reunion with someone who I remembered well and who I had admired for her talent and tenacity.  Like those Russian puppets that they no longer show on television but that many people watch on computers with a nostalgic joy, I am not exempt from the sadness (what nostalgia usually bears).  When running into the name of Maggie Carles, I realized that hers was one more on our list of missing persons.

Notwithstanding, how many others would have liked to follow her career until today?  I’m sure it’s an astronomical figure.  And for her part, these are her words in that same interview: “I’ve always requested in my performances that they say ‘From Cuba – Maggie Carles’; that’s because I’m Cuban, although right now I have a different citizenship.  What I’ve been able to achieve abroad I owe to the career that I had in my country, to my people who lavished me with their applause.  I left like that, loving my people, the Cuban people.”

My question now is the following: Once one is aware of an absence, is it possible to do anything about it?  I wanted to think that I could, that the sea surrounding us didn’t have the power to gobble down pieces of the body that makes up Cuba.  I was hoping that the holes we see and the pieces that are missing could be regenerated like cut tissue on a living body.

I’m speaking not only of new figures in art, but of the will to know or rediscover those who were and are a part of us, because the greatness of all nations is also in the respect and careful safeguarding of their histories.  That is our responsibility.  Average Cubans are not the ones who squeeze the trigger on the silenced pistol, nor do I believe that silence can objectively kill what exists.

One thought on “Death by Silencing, Cuban Style

  • An Internet search reveals that Jorge Esquivel sought political asylum in the US Embassy in Rome in 1992 and that in 1993 he was named principal character dancer of the San Francisco Ballet.

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