By Juan Carlos Cremata Malberti
HAVANA TIMES — I recently returned from a trip to the United States and Switzerland, where I’d been invited to participate at different film festivals. The return trip always involves an obligatory stop-over in Miami – and an encounter with friends or old acquaintances. No one says anything to me, no one tries to convince me of anything.
Should I return, or stay?
They only talk about their daily problems – the pickles they’re in, what they go through every day. Still, a dichotomy kept buzzing inside my head: to go back or stay.
For over 50 years, the question has been something of a Shakespearean dilemma for most Cubans.
Returning means a dreadful head-on collision with a heat that becomes more stifling every year. You start to stumble upon problems the moment you step off the plane, finding a Customs that is increasingly distant, cold and harsh on nationals.
Foreigners barely notice this in their eagerness to discover the island. The welcoming one gets as a Cuban at home, rather than affable, is tainted by the hatred, envy, frustration and impotence of those who receive you.
Once, I returned in the middle of a power-outage. Welcome to Cuba.
Those of us who eke out a living here, the routines in this ambiguous and angst-filled mixture of underdevelopment and socialism, know what this entails: a re-encounter with daily uncertainties, intolerance, bureaucracy, indolence, shortages, incomprehension, “lack of resources”, a blinkered and provincial way of thinking, the ever-present and now almost insulting street business, mistreatment, apathy, melancholy, the politicization of everything, false discourses, the absence of morality and a long list of etcetera’s that empty into what we cling to, endure or try to be – or what they hope we become.
Of course, it’s not like that everywhere. In Cuba, there are also families and plenty of good people – but almost none of them make any important decisions. They have sway only over our emotions.
There is already more than one generation fed up with so much history, so many stories of a glorious past, so many promises of a promising and increasingly distant future, so much of a pressing present.
The average Cuban only knows the day-to-day. I managed yesterday; I’ll figure something out tomorrow. I need to eat today. And I am not just referring to food. There is a need for spiritual nourishment that’s even more urgent.
It’s the thesis of one of my films: one can afford to be materially poor, but not spiritually so. Some will attack me for saying this. It won’t come as a surprise. We’ve all become experts at not listening to others.
Then, there’s the option of staying.
Everyone tells me what this has meant for them: breaking ties, readapting, nostalgia, difficulties adjusting and paying for everything, even the air one breathes.
I believe in my culture. That is my nation. The culture that allows me to understand those who no longer live on this land and to share spaces with them.
I know I am atypical and privileged. I have been able to travel as well as materialize many of my dreams.
I’ve seen the world and know that something different exists out there – and that it’s real. And that the solution isn’t to be found there either, as the remedy can sometimes be worse than the disease itself.
But I have become a man of the world who finds the nearly-provincial, neighborhood or tribal concept of the “homeland” tight-fitting, uncomfortable, restrictive and even miniscule.
I continue to feel as other Cubans do: those who often tell us about the discrete arithmetic of survival.
What is to be done? Why should we continue at this crossroads?
We either return to the cyst and wallow in it, or we accept the pain and build another future.
No matter how much one resists it, reality ends up capturing you. Again and again, it envelops you, degrades you, and annihilates you.
You turn on the TV and everything you see and hear is a lie: the same, dry and bitter discourse, pitted against the appearance of an easy and carefree life, comfortable and feasible.
I once read something that somehow edifies and reassures me a bit. The problem is that one is always leaving, never returning.
Why do I go back?
This late in the game, I think it’s out of pure habit. Before, I used to do it because I had a family and, most importantly, work to do here.
I also don’t think I am young enough to confront a change of such magnitude. There’s nothing patriotic about my decision. I no longer believe in the “homeland.” My nation is my work.
But I don’t know what I’ll decide in the future.
*Juan Carlos Cremata is a Cuban screenwriter and filmmaker who lives in Cuba. His films include Nada (“Nothing,” 2001) and Viva Cuba (2005), a film that received over 30 awards, both in Cuba and abroad.