The Amnesia of Coca Cola

Veronica Vega

That blue line. Photo: Ana Maria Gonzalez

HAVANA TIMES — My son is sad because his best friend Leo, who now lives in Miami, — despite their having shared years and games, secrets and dreams, despite their last embrace, teary eyes and attachments that made them exchange e-mail addresses and promises — he has not sent a message.

It was as if the plane he took was swallowed by the abyss of the “beyond,” and with it the excitement of exploring a world that until that moment seemed inaccessible, now approachable by sight.

I consoled my son as best I could. I told him that at first there’s a gleam that dulls the longing, and that he should understand that Leo was experiencing very turbulent times.

After all, he is a teenager who spent four years without seeing his father (who had left Cuba on a raft). Now Leo was now emigrating for family unification with his mother and sister. His reuniting, recognition and acceptance — and all in a huge country — would have to be overwhelming.

Still, after that initial hypnotic daze would come the feeling of absence and then Leo would write for sure, I told him.

But now it has been four months. Mutual friends and my son himself have gone from expectation to doubt, defiance and impotence. It seems that now they don’t expect anything.

Sometimes they might mention him, but only to recall some prank or incident, or to reaffirm that “He’s a wimp. Who would have guessed he couldn’t withstand the ‘amnesia of coca cola.’”

Leo left in November. Myself, being in Paris at that time, I couldn’t say goodbye. But in December I was here, and with affection and tears I was able to embrace my neighbor Jaime, my only trustworthy neighbor, friend and fellow “dissident” conversationalist.

The Havana Malecon seawall. Photo: Sonia Kovacic

It had been with him that I had been able to share boredom, anger and hopes. He was the one I would turn to for a little urgently needed salt, two fingers of oil or a sip of coffee. He would ask to read my articles or look at my husband’s paintings, and I could feel his pain almost more than my own.

He too left for Miami and the two of us also exchanged promises and e-mail addresses. Following that, I went through that same initial hypnotic daze, the time necessary to shake off the stupor, to prepare for any re-contact.

But he hasn’t written to me, not even in response to my email. My sister in Miami, who was expecting a package from him with photos and letters I sent, has also gone from expectation to doubt, to defiance and impotence. Me — who had made a thousand votes of confidence on his behalf, vouching for his seriousness and his loyalty — I now find those endorsements waning.

When I see his best friend and former neighbor — who’s also upset — he tells me that he hasn’t received a call from Jaime either. I don’t know what to say. I avoid looking at the empty balcony, the closed door or the place in the yard where he would sometimes play with his cat.

I also remember someone I met years ago who also left for the United States. When they came back on a visit to Cuba they did me the favor of picking up some letters I had written to members of my family there.

Once this person told me that many people to whom he enthusiastically delivers their letters seem to have no reaction. “Some don’t want to take them. They’ll tell me, ‘Throw them away, I don’t want to hear from those people.’”

That wasn’t my case, but I couldn’t help but to shudder when I thought about the hopes of those who are still here.

I know that no soda pop has the power to erase memory, to cool off emotional warmth and affection. But here, I understand that one can come to believe in a sinister phenomenon of amnesia triggered by the fact of crossing that blue line…

And like in antiquity it’s the same one that defines the limits of an earth that is flat – and that whoever crosses the horizon will certainly disappear.


4 thoughts on “The Amnesia of Coca Cola

  • u mean 5 Visionson PBS is the DOCUMENTARY get it right Eric

  • Adding to Lawrence, in my experience people in the global South seeking to emigrate to the North (political, not always geographic) have a romantic idea of what life will be like. They assume Miami or Toronto are lands of milk and honey, and can be devastated to discover that life is hard here, especially for first-generation immigrants having to cope in English and working at lousy jobs — if they can find jobs.

    So it’s not uncommon for immigrants, because they don’t want to admit defeat to themselves or their families, to maintain a facade of success — until they do succeed (which most of them do, with perseverance). They sacrifice to send money home, and sacrifice again to save enough to visit home and bring the requisite gifts for all their family and friends who continue to believe in the lands of milk and honey. This is bound to have an effect on immigrants’ communications home, especially in the first few months.

    By accident the other night, I saw a documentary on PBS (Buffalo) about five Cuban photographers. One was an old-school revolutionary, the second from the next pro-revolutionary generation (worked in Korda’s studio), the third emigrated to Miami and was a bitter opponent, and the fourth was also a dissident (I was a little unclear about him). Most interesting was the fifth, who emigrated to the States about two decades ago — and later returned, saying he missed the sun and the community; he said life was about more than money.

  • Here is another perspective from someone who recently spent two months in Cuba and has returned to Canada, hungering to maintain contact with Cuba and Cubans because of my experiences there. It is not only the renowned simpatico nature of Cubans but also the taste of a non-capitalist country that I encountered that makes me want to stay in touch. Sure the shortcomings are immediately apparent – including how to keep in personal touch when the mail service is lousy and Internet access difficult – but over time, my superficial impressions became more informed with experience and love started to blossom. I asked a fellow Canadian who has lived in Cuba for several years if it is really love or just infatuation that I was feeling. She replied that the longer you are in Cuba, the more you find not to like, but that if I feel like I do now, I will never fall out of love. Sounds like a marriage!

    Much of what ‘Freud’ writes rings true, no doubt written from experience, but there are missing perspectives. Immigrants find it difficult to look at the down sides to leaving the country of their birth – they need to justify their decision at all times. Choosing to immigrate to a new country with a different culture and language certainly absorbs émigrés’ energies and attentions. Human relationships take a back seat to the mechanics of getting established. Making a new country your home is different than making it your holiday destination!

    And yes, immigrants drive themselves harder than natives do in order to get established. Toronto, where I live, is a city of immigrants – 30% of its population. In the current period of shrinking employment opportunities, a certain amount of hostility is generated toward the ‘new Canadians’, perceived as job stealers. Newcomers, who work harder, for less pay and are more readily perform less attractive tasks, many times get the jobs. Despite capitalist governments’ anti-immigrant rhetoric, paying lip service to local resentment, a steady stream of newcomers is always allowed in to service ‘business interests’.

    Last month, two young Cuban actors defected on their way to a film festival in New York. A third Cuban actor who did not defect was quoted as saying he did not think about defecting himself. “I have family and a lot of friends at home. I love the Cuban culture, and the heat.” The defectors were young, barely out of their teens. I couldn’t help thinking they made an impetuous decision, not the first youths to embrace glitter and glamour.

    My great-great-grandparents emigrated from Ireland to avoid starvation. Traditionally, religious and political persecution drive emigrations. The original wave of Cuban emigration after the Revolution consisted mostly of well-off Cubans who left when they lost their favored status. Are Cubans now emigrating in order to get high-speed Internet connections and iPhones?

    For me, it is a dilemma. I believe people should be allowed to come and go freely but I also believe their decisions should be informed by reality. Unfortunately, capitalism, through its marketing industry, has learned how to manipulate reality in order to sell what business wants to sell. The same marketing ‘savvy’ is being used by governments to sell the agendas of the powerful interests that get them elected.

    How can one small socialist country expect to counter these immense forces and still allow its citizens free access to travel and information when these forces are virtually impossible to counter in the capitalist countries themselves? That is the dilemma I look at. I don’t know what the answer is, but it appears Cuba is trying a graduated approach. Hopefully its citizens will understand and show forbearance. I know, they have been doing that for a long time.

    Knowing that all that glitters outside Cuba is not gold, however, may help. There is much to lose that makes people happy and the material awards wear thin over time. And then there’s the main reason tourists, especially Canadians, love Cuba – the heat! I think it makes more sense trying to make Cuba work than trying to make a capitalist country work when it works so poorly for its own people.

  • Letters sent from USA to Cuba can delay months, and sometimes never reaches their destiny. Phone calls are too expensive; internet is not available for Cubans………. total in communication.
    New arrived person in USA get involved in a twister of activities that don’t leave too much free time. Aside the normal race to learn the country, its rules and its life mechanic you have to learn new cities, new geographies, get a driver license, most Cubans have to learn to drive, have to learn a new language, find a job as soon as possible and start to study something in order to get a better life by obtaining some kind of entry level degree in order to get a new carrier or revalidate the old one. Starting a new life in any country is something that consumes all your time. Worst if you are a child. Childs starts this new life faster than parents…… while parents can stay days on forced vacations waiting for permits or looking for jobs by the left children must start school almost immediately. In school they will find themselves behind compared with the rest of children, they have to learn the new language faster and better than their parents in order to advance and diminish the distance with their classmates, Cuban children have to learn to use computers, internet, copy machines, all existing microsoft programs used in school, they have to learn also everything else their parents have to learn too in order to get connected to the new place.
    We Cubans are competitive animals, we want not to be behind, that’s why almost all new arrived Cuban children do it very good in school and don’t delay too much in surpassing their classmates. Two or three years later they maybe will have some free time to send a letter to the friends in Cuba……. in this letter they usually tells to the friends about the new things in their new lives, they will tell about their advances in schools and their possibilities they have ahead in their life, they will tell them about their parents struggle to get a better life, their success and defeats, they will tell about a lot of things that will not make happy the censor of the Cuban Post Office where the letter arrived……. and the letter will never reach its destination.

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