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Generation Y is a Blog inspired by people like
me, with names that start with or contain a "Y". Born in Cuba in the
'70s and '80s, marked by schools in the countryside, Russian cartoons,
illegal emigration and frustration. So I invite, especially, Yanisleidi,
Yoandri, YusimĂ, Yuniesky and others who carry their "Y's" to read me
and to write to me.
Mexico does not allow for half measures, does not admit that we remain unscathed. Itâs like spice on the tongue, tequila in the throat and the sun in our eyes. Five days in the land of the feathered serpent and it was hard for me to board the plane because intense desires spoke to me about staying to explore a captivating and complex reality. Iâve seen modern buildings a few yards from the ruins of the Great Temple; incredible traffic jams on the streets, while on the sidewalks people walk with the calm of those who are in no hurry to arrive. I have also seen the smiling La Calavera Catrina, alternating seamlessly with the the vibrantly colorful of the people in La Ciudadela shopping center. With her sarcastic laugh, feathered hat and exposed ribcage she challenges me. Someone gave me a taste of a dessert, it was intensely sweet, sprinkled with sugar; but then I bit into a tamale and the kick of chili on my tongue made me cry. Mexico doesnât allow for lukewarm feelings, you love it or you love it.
So my Aztec journey began surrounded by contrasts. From Puebla to Mexico City, meeting friends and visiting several newspaper offices, radio stations and, above all, speaking with many many journalist colleagues. I wanted to know first hand the rewards and risks of practicing the reporterâs profession in this society and I have met a great number of concerned, but working, professionals. People who risk their lives, especially in the north, to report; people who think like I do about the need for a free press, responsible, and tied to reality. I have learned from them. I have also gotten lost in the network of tiny shops and kiosks in the city center, and have felt the pulse of life there. A life I had perceived from the air before we landed, when at dawn on Saturday I saw the great anthill that is Mexico City, the many cities it contains, burning with life, despite the early hour.
For a moment, I had the impression of living in a fragment of the novel Los detectives Salvajes by Roberto BolaĂ±o. But I wasnât seeking, like the protagonists in this book, a cult poetess, lost in oblivion. In reality I was trying to look at and find my own country through the eyes of the Mexicans. And I found it. An Island reinterpreted and multiple, but close; one that raises passions in everyone and leaves no one unscathed. A friend asked me before I left, “What does Mexico make you feel?” I didnât think too long: “Spicy,” I replied, like a spice that provokes an electric shock, and brings tears of pleasure and torment. “And Cuba,” he insisted, “What does it make you feel?”… Cuba, Cuba is bittersweet…
What is different? The smells and the temperature, I think at first. Then come the noises, so unique in each place, the grayness of the winter sky or the dark shade of the water in a river that runs through much of Europe. What, really, is new? I keep asking myself while trying a taste here, or shaking some hands, for the first time, there. The music perhaps, the sound of the tram braking at the stop, the snow piled up along the sidewalks, the spring flowers struggling to bloom even though the worst, perhaps, awaits them from the frost. Where is the strangeness? In the church bells that seem to compete at the marking of every hour, or in certain houses of such antiquity that seeing them makes the constructions in Old Havana look young.
But neither the profusion of modern autos, nor the WiFi signal that lets me connect to the Internet almost anywhere, are the real novelty for me. Nor are the kiosks full of newspapers, or the shops with bulging shelves, or the dog who, on the Metro subway platform is treated like the lord and master of the situation. The strange thing is not the friendliness of the clerks, the near absence of lines, the gargoyles with their claws and sharp teeth protruding from the walls, or the steaming wine that is drunk more to warm the body than to please the palate. None of these sensations, first-time or almost forgotten, over a decade without traveling, are what marks the difference between the Island I now see in the distance, and the countries visited on this occasion.
The principal contrast lies in what is and is not permitted. Since I got off the first plane I was expecting someone to scold me, someone to come out and warn me, âYou canât do that.â I look for the glance of the guard who will come to tell me, âTaking photos is not allowed,â the grim-faced cop who shouts at me, âCitizen! Identification,â the official who cuts off my passage while saying, âYou canât enter here.â But, Iâm not about run into any of those characters so common in Cuba. So for me, the big differences are not the delicious seeded bread, the long-lost beef that now returns to my plate, or the sounds of another language in my ears. No. The big difference is that I donât feel Iâm permanently marked with the red badge of the outlaw, the whistle that surprises me in something clandestine, the constant sensation that whatever I do or think could be prohibited.
Ring, ring, ring …. international calls always take an eternity to open a passage through to a phone in Cuba. As if they had to push through a thick, dense atmosphere. Finally a voice answers on the other end of the line. Itâs a friend whom I try to ask about what he thinks of the recently confirmed Council of State and the naming of Miguel Diaz-Canel as first vice-president. âWhat?â is the only answer I get at first. Then I explain that this Sunday, from Brazil, I was following the formation of the Cuban National Assembly and I would like to complete the report with some impressions from the Island. My friend yawns, confirms that he didnât watch TV yesterday, and that no one has said anything to him. And I realize that I suffer from the evil of hyper-information, mixed with a certain distortion, produced by my distance from Cuba. I had forgotten the indifference shown by many of my compatriots when confronted with certain issues that are so predictable they no longer generate any expectations.
The designation of the number two man in the Cuban nomenklatura has probably been more commented on and discussed outside the Island than inside. In part because for several months the national media has already been suggesting — with constant allusions to this 52-year-old engineer — that he could become the successor to Fidel Castro. So few were surprised when the former Minister of Higher Education became, as of Sunday, yesterday, the âdauphinâ of the Cuban regime. Their biological clock has the octogenarians governing the Greater Antilles at a crossroads: either establish the inheritance now or forever lose the chance seems to be dictating the hands of history. So the line of succession has been left to a much younger figure. They have based their choice on their confidence in the fidelity and manageability of Diaz-Canel, trapped between a commitment to his superiors and a conviction of how limited his real power is.
History shows us that the behavior of these dauphins while they are being observed by their bosses is one thing, and something else entirely when those bosses are no longer around. Only then will we discover who the real man is who yesterday became number two in Cuba. However, I have hopes that the fate of our country will not be decided by this Council of State, nor by this presidential chair. I have hopes that the era of the olive-green monarchs, their heirs and their entourage is ending.
Perhaps you donât know — because not everything is related in a blog — but the first act of repudiation that I saw in my life was when I was only five. The commotion in the tenement caught the attention of the two girls we then were, my sister and I. We peered over the railings of the narrow corridor to look down to the floor below. People were screaming and raising their fists around a neighborâs door. As young as we were, we had no idea what was going on. Whatâs more, now when I recall what happened I have barely the memory of the cold railing under my fingers and a brief flash of those who were shouting. Years later I could put together that kaleidoscope of childish evocations and I knew I had been a witness to the violence unleashed against those who wanted to emigrate from the port of Mariel.
Well, since then I have experienced several acts of repudiation up close. Whether as a victim, observer, or journalist… never — I should clarify — as a victimizer. I remember a particularly violent one that I experienced with the Ladies in White, where the hordes of intolerance spat on us, pushed us and even pulled our hair. But last night was unprecedented for me. The picketing of the extremists who blocked the showing of Dado Galvaoâs film in Feria de Santana was something more than the sum of unconditional supporters of the Cuban government. They all had, for example, the same document — printed in color — with a pack of lies about me, as Manichean as they were easy to refute in a simple conversation. They repeated an identical and hackneyed script, without the least intention of listening to any reply I could give them. They shouted, interrupted, and at one point became violent, and occasionally launched a chorus of slogans that even in Cuba are no longer said.
However, with the help of Senator Eduardo Suplicy, and the calm in the face of adversity that characterizes me, we managed to start talking. In short: they only knew how to yell and repeat the same phrases, like programmed automatons. So the meeting was very interesting! Their neck veins swelled, I cracked a smile. They attacked me personally, I brought the discussion back to Cuba which will always be more important than this humble servant. They wanted to lynch me, I talked. They were responding to orders, I am a free soul. At the end of the night I had the same feelings as after a battle against the demons of the same extremism that fueled those acts of repudiation in 1980 in Cuba. The difference is that this time I understood the mechanism that foments these attitudes, I could see the long arm that controls them from the Plaza of the Revolution in Havana.
Writing a travel log is as difficult as studying for a math test in a nightclub. Mindful of the new reality presented to my eyes since I left Cuba, I have been faced with the dilemma of whether to live or to narrate whatâs happening to me, to act as the protagonist of this trip or as the journalist covering it. Wearing both lenses together is hard, given the speed and intensity of each event, so I will try to put down some written impressions as I go. The loose threads of what happens to me, the sometimes chaotic fragments of what I experience.
The first surprise in the program was at Jose Marti airport in Havana when, after passing through the immigration booth, several passengers began to approach me and offer displays of their solidarity. The affection grew as the journey progressed and in Panama I met some very affectionate Venezuelans as well… although they asked me please not to put the pictures with them on Facebook… so they wonât have problems in their own country. After that stage I flew in a larger plane to Brazil with a mental and physical sense of decompression. As if I had been submerged too long without being able to breathe and now had managed to take a deep breath.
The Recife airport was a place for embraces. I met many people there who have supported me for years in my efforts to travel outside the national borders. There were flowers, gifts and even a group of people insulting me which, I confess, I really enjoyed, because it allowed me to say that I dream that âone day people in my country will be able to express themselves against something publicly like this, without reprisals.â A true gift of plurality for me, coming from an Island they have tried to paint in the monochromatic color of unanimity. Later I also looked at an Internet so fast I could barely understand it, without censored pages and without officials looking over my shoulder at the pages I visit.
So far everything is going very well.Â Brazil has given me the gift of diversity and love, the possibility of appreciating and narrating so many wonders.
These lines are probably being read by Operation Truthâs new militias, so I want to take advantage of this to send them the following message, âI know you are there, indeed, you canât hide that you are there. The work you do is the work of repression, the work of restricting the freedom of Cubans. Instead of silencing others, you should defend your ideas boldly, not hiding behind pseudonyms and taking advantage of technological superiority. If you really believe in what you promulgate you wouldnât have to appeal to such despicable methods to make your case. Donât crush, convince. Donât try to annul those who think differently, better you learn to live with them.â
The elevator is a concentration of odors at all hours. When fish arrives at the ration market itâs impregnated with a strong smell of mackerel for days. The man who sells homemade pizzas on the upper floors leaves his aromas, as do the colonies of babies whose mothers take them out for a walk. Sometimes there is a sweet fragrance, most intense, that sticks to the clothes of those who rise and fall in the small metal cabin. Everyone knows it’s the strong effluvium from a flirtatious neighbor who seems to âbatheâ herself in colognes and creams every time she goes out into the street. So the joke of the day is to refer to the âtremendous staying power of her perfumes…â A phrase also used outside the context of cosmetics and creams to indicate when the effect of something is strong and long-lasting.
Well, our entire reality lacks staying power. A service is inaugurated today and four weeks later it already begins to lose quality and is restricted. They announce with great fanfare the expansion of train departures or an improvement in bus frequencies, but a few months later everything returns to what it was before. They open the doors of new cultural or recreational institutions and barely half a year later they fall off the cliff for lack of supplies and deterioration. Maintaining standards is an impossibility, even for many self-employed workers who seem to have inherited the State sectorâs propensity to decline. Popular wisdom advises using or visiting certain places within the first 72 hours of their opening, because later… nothing will be the same.
The lack of staying power extends from architectural restorations — that will soon have damaged paint from the humidity and leaks in the roof — to bureaucratic procedures which only work efficiently on the first day. Ephemerality marks our pace, transience is the fate of quality in Cuba. Proof of this are the services provided by our post offices and banks. Every now and then, there are reports of administrative transformations to make then efficient, but the improvements donât last. The time is takes for us to learn about an advance is enough for it to evaporate. Like a ephemeral artwork — or a cheap perfume — the advances often fade without our ever having time to realize they existed.
“Nobody does anything for free any more,” says a character in a comedy we enjoyed on our movie listings earlier this year. Directed by Daniel Diaz Torres, La pelĂcula de Ana (Anaâs film) was chosen as the best feature film in 2012 by the Cuban Association of Cinema Press. However, beyond the institutional awards and other awards that it will surely receive, for now it has received the invaluable audience award from a public that has welcomed it with abundant smiles and applause. In the title role, Laura de la Uz portrays the life of an actress lurching between one mediocre role and another, between bad adventures for teenagers and worse soap operas for housewives. Spurred on by material problems, and especially by an urge to buy a refrigerator, she decides to pass herself off as a prostitute for a documentary being produced by some Austrians. What could have been one more role, a sequence of stereotypes and exaggerations, becomes Anaâs best performance.
Like a game of mirrors, the film superimposes reality and falsehood, the emotional and the histrionic. Not even the humor and jocular speeches manage to seriously detract from the drama that unfolds like a survival tool. It gets complicated for Ana, as she puts herself fully in a world she thinks she knows, but that overwhelms her and drags her down. She poses her family without their knowing it; films her neighbors to shore up the improvised script, and lies, lies, lies. She herself becomes the director of a film with innumerable planes that want to meet the expectations of the foreign producers. However, to the commonplace is added the hardness of her life, no make-up, no need to over-dramatize it.
La pelicula de Ana causes us a female, national, human, shame. Embarrassment at all those who see us posing as others. The man who smokes a cigar — even though he doesnât like it — so the tourists will take his photo and pay him for it. The official whose mask of ideological simulation has now merged with his own face. And also those who feed the simulation, because they themselves have lost the capacity to distinguish which part of the story was invented, and which not. Like an Ana who, although she takes off her make-up and turns off the camera, she will continue acting and pretending.
I had pretty aggressive keratitis in my left eye. It was the result of poor hygiene in the dorm and successive conjunctivitis that was poorly treated. I was prescribed a complex treatment but after a month of drops I was not noticing any improvement. My eyes burned when I looked at white-painted walls and things in bright sunlight. The rows of books blurred and seeing my own nails was impossible. Yanet, the girl who slept in the opposite bunk, told me what was going on. âThey steal your medicine to take it themselves — it gives them a tremendous high — and then they refill the bottle with something else,â she said in a whisper facing the showers. So I started watching my locker every night and saw that it was true. The medicine that was meant to cure me some of my classmates in the dorm mixed with a little water and… no wonder my cornea didnât heal.
Blue elephants, clay roads, arms stretching to the horizon. Escape, fly, jump out the window without getting hurt… to the very abyss, were the sensations pursued by so many teenagers far from their parents, living under the few ethical values conveyed to us by the teachers. Some nights the boys went to the sports area and made an infusion from trumpet flowers — belladonna — the poor peopleâs drug, they said. At the end of my sophomore year powders to inhale and âgrassâ also started to appear in that high school in the countryside. They were brought in mostly by the students living in the slum neighborhood of El Romerilla. There were giggles in the morning classes after they ingested it, far away looks staring right through the blackboard, and heightened libidos with all those âlife attractions.â With regular doses your stomach no longer burns or feels hunger, some of my already âhookedâ classmates told me. Fortunately, I was never tempted.
On leaving high school, I knew that outside the walls of that place the same situation repeated itself, but on a larger scale. In my neighborhood of San Leopoldo, I learned to recognize the half-open eyelids of the âhooked,â the weakness and the pale skin of the inveterate consumer, and the aggressive attitudes of some who, after taking a hit, thought they were kings of the world. When the 21st century arrived the offerings in the market-for-escape grew: melca, marijuana, coke — this latter is currently 50 convertible pesos a gram* — EPO pills, pink and green Parkisinol, crack, poppers and every kind of psychotropic. The buyers are from varied social strata, but for the most part they are looking to escape, to have a good time, get out of the rut, leave behind the daily suffocation. They inhale, drink, smoke and then you see them dancing all night at a disco. After the euphoria wears off they fall asleep in front of the television screen where Raul Castro is assuring us that, âthere are no drugs in Cuba.”
*Translatorâs note: More than $50 U.S. in a country where a doctor earns the equivalent of about $20 a month.
Our parliament met in December. A diverse conglomeration of ages, social backgrounds, races and genders… but with a single political affiliation. More than six hundred deputies who say they represent a nation, when in reality they only speak in the name of one ideology. The pantomime of plurality, with statistics designed to impress, given the number of women, youth, mixed-race or workers within it, but not with diversity of thought. A rainbow with seven bands of the same color. Or almost, because the palette contains only red and olive-green. But it is not precisely this tame group of individuals applauding in the Palace of Conventions that I want to write about today, but the fiber optic cable between Cuba and Venezuela.
When Maimir Mesa, Minister of Telecommunications and Information, issued a report to the National Assembly last month, not a single word was published about the Alba-1 cable. Since August 2012, the newspaper Granma said today, the submarine tendon was active for âvoice traffic corresponding to international telephone service.â This means that when Mesa spoke before parliament, he already had information to give and preferred to withhold it, to hide it from us. Why? Perhaps out of fear that with that announcement he might stoke the excitement so many of us have to be connected to the Internet. Better to hide the details from us because he knows no information strategy other than secrecy. âThe less they know the better,â seems to be the currency of our leaders.
But this world is a mere handkerchief, a baseball, a sour orange, and teensy. A few days ago the American firm Renesys announced (here and here) it had detected latency in the Alba-1 cable. First it was traffic in just one direction, which later balanced in the coming and going of kilobytes. The cable was alive, awake. Two years after arriving on Cuban soil, at a cost of $70 million and a thousand miles in length, the long fiberoptic serpent started to work. We had to learn, as so often happens, through the foreign media. Only when the news was already everywhere did the official press confirm it this morning in a brief note. A note that also warned that âthe commissioning of the submarine cable will not automatically mean that the possibilities of access will multiply.”
The truth is, I no longer believe anything. Not the passive National Assembly, nor a minister who practices secrecy, nor the official journalists who were in that session of parliament and didnât report on the absence of such an important topic, nor a newspaper that only publishes when its silences are uncovered. Much less do I believe in the character as true citizens of all those thousands of Cubans who have remained silent and have been satisfied with the least access to the Internet of any country in this hemisphere.