The Right to Be Apolitical in Cuba

By Amrit

Photo: Ihosvanny

HAVANA TIMES, May 6 — “Politics is the dirtiest thing there is,” I’ve often heard said. “It’s nothing more than prostitution. Tonight they’re with one, and tomorrow with another.”  However, since I began going to school, and without realizing it, I’ve become part of politics.

I remember that when they taught us the structure of a letter, they said that before the signature you should sign it “revolutionarily”… This isn’t a closing that expresses sincere affection or respect, but an adverb to clearly express ones commitment – like a pact. But a pact with whom?

Since I was a little girl, the only people who wrote me were my father, who had emigrated to the United States, and my cousins, whose parents got them out of Cuba to “escape socialism.” Therefore, such a farewell would be completely incomprehensible to them.

Soon I learned that my school uniform would turn me into a “Young Pioneer.” I didn’t know what exactly I’d be pioneering, but nor did I ever ask. Only when I was an adult did I find out that a pioneer was someone who was beginning something, which surprised me a lot since for me it was a term that referred to socialism and was inseparable from a neckerchief.

When I began to work at seventeen, I was not a young woman but a “comrade.” But nor did I know exactly who I was a comrade of, because sharing a common space and doing common work didn’t make me feel like having intimate discussions with those who surrounded me. I was always pretty atypical. I never liked popular music or parties, and I didn’t have anyone to confess the fact that I preferred classical music.

Why? Photo: Caridad

So, for a long time and despite having so many “comrades,” I felt misunderstood and alone. The entity that technically could have been my “comrade” — the union — was for me only a figure that deducted dues from my pay. Yes, it also called meetings, but during them I must have strayed away deep in thought, because I don’t remember a single discussion in those mandatory gatherings.

To describe the effect of this entirely constructed atmosphere there occurs to me only one word: “orthopedics.” But here it’s not an activity that corrects; rather, one that atrophies the natural design of a structure. In time I found a bubble on which I could float, avoiding the sharpest corners until I collided with them later in an experience of my son.

I remember one anecdote in particular. When he was in third grade, his teacher complained that he refused to participate in the morning ceremonies. When I asked him why not, he explained: “The problem is that I don’t understand why they talk about of all of them (the heroes) as if they’re alive, when they’re dead.”

I’m not so naive as to be unaware that telling this to his teacher would have condemned my son to the sentence of being a kid “with ideological problems.” So, I only asked the instructor: “Why don’t the ceremonies deal with issues that the children can identify with? Political themes bore them. Those lined up don’t pay attention to that morning activity, they talk among themselves; and those on the platform read with no motivation because they can clearly see that no one is paying them any attention…”

Photo: Caridad

The teacher only leered at me with deep indignation. But when a theater teacher came to the school and found herself enchanted with my son’s long hair (a mane that had already cost him major conflicts at school), she immediately asked him if he could play the part of Babe, the boy in the story “Bebe y el señor Don Pomposo,” by Jose Marti. My son didn’t need them to tell him about our “apostle’s” political work, he simply identified with the character of a rich boy who sympathized with his poor cousin and that next morning he performed the role enthusiastically.

It happens in exile and at home

The abuse of words and concepts can be sickening, to the point of making one nauseous. Lately I’ve come to discover that I understand those Cubans who emigrated from Cuba and — lost in the turmoil of material dreams — shy away from any responsibility in thinking about or emotionally involving themselves in anything having to do with political questions.

This happens in exile. But this exile, which one can practice without having to depend on the complex immigration bureaucracy, consists of internally breaking with any political commitment. It doesn’t matter if you raise your hand in a meeting, participate in a march or even use the official line to defend a right. The real identification with the ceremonies or words that are used seeps out of their consciousness like water from a pipe, leaving no trace.

I think that omission, distortion and unconsciousness have an enormous price: they confuse us and make us unhappy. Children especially need clarity while learning those concepts that will guide them in the world they’re beginning to explore.

Taboos only hinder the natural course of a process.

Once, while at a community delegate feedback assembly, I observed that the residents who voiced positions prefaced their complaints emphasizing: “I’m a party cadre” or simply “I’m a member of the party.” It even happened with a friend who I consider an open minded person. This surprised me, because I had understood that no one thought about risks implied in making such a preface, which in effect would deprive any common citizen (better still, the common Cuban; or even better still, the common human being) of the right to have an opinion.

Photo: Dariela Aquique

What especially interests me is that term: human being. A while ago I observed that when a child begins to recognize their parents, when they learn to identify themselves by their name and recognize themselves in the mirror, they are only told of family, object or socially-related nexuses.

They create a false security based on comfort (to the point possible), but what is not spoken of is how a being emerges from the very miracle of their existence into a world over which they don’t have total control, a world in which they are a guest and in which life itself is a mystery. This world is one in which operate laws that we don’t always understand and where uncertainty awaits us.

Many years later and confronted with pain, shortages, bewilderment, social pandemonium and even the sordidness of politics, one will urgently need that memory.

Speaking in a school ceremony about nature, acting out a story or playing a game will only prepare the child appropriately to understand history. They will be better able to situate themself, gradually understanding that they’re a part of a planet and a country that has its past and where other people lived. And as more humans become heroes, the ability to respect them will be easier and more spontaneous.

Why not recall that before being “nationals” are we souls, conscious beings, and before being “citizens of a nation” we are human beings? In any case, nature has a power that we can’t impede. It doesn’t matter how many slogans are shouted (from one side or the other), or how much force is exerted (morally or physically), or how much a plastic surgery is performed to impede the appearance of aging, or how much we resist in the face of death.

Someone could say that to get out of this orthopedics is also politics. Well, then the term would have to recover its deeper dimension: “human activity that tends to govern or direct government action for the benefit of society.”

2 thoughts on “The Right to Be Apolitical in Cuba

  • This is the link to the Spanish edition of HT.
    We started in October 2008 as an english language site and begin our Spanish version in Sept. 2009.

  • Very thoughtfull and wel written article.
    Just a few questions”
    1. Are Havana Times articles for foreign eyes to illustrate current state of freedom of expression ?
    2. Is there a Havana Times spanish version accesible to the local population ?

    I believe the high literature rate in Cuba but I doubt the great majority is fluent in English

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