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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.
London has come to Havana. During this week of British Culture that is celebrated from the first of June in our country, even the climate has decided to be in sync with that of the other Island. Grey skies, drizzle, mist at dawn. All we lack is the silhouette of Sherlock Holmes sneaking around a corner or a magician knocking with this staff on the wood of our door. They are days of great music and a chance to appreciate unusual schedule in the movie theaters. Since last Tuesday they have been showing a selection that includes the 2013 Oscar winning documentary Searching for Sugar Man, and also the biographical film Marley, about the life of the famous reggae singer and composer. The selection of cartoons for kids and teens will probably attract a good audience at a time when many are on vacation from school.
I have been enjoying some of the programming not only for me but also for many others. Especially thinking about those young Cubans , or forty years ago, secretly listened to an English quartet which the official media now play everywhere. The striking colors and the design of the poster for this âBritish Weekâ has evoked for me the iconography of the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland, and also the delightful adventurers in the Yellow Submarine. So some of us have also taken it as a tribute to those battered Beatlemaniacs from back then. These days, however, the greatest comfort comes from the window cracked open to let in this fresh air that comes to us from the outside. This gift of sensing that culture can make the Atlantic seem narrower, the passing years shorter, the losses recoverable.
Outside, a group of colleagues and family waited for me. The embrace of my son, the most cherished. Then having again entered my own space and the unique pace at which life transpires here. Catching up with the stories, events in the neighborhood, the city and the country. Iâm back. With an energy that the daily stumbling blocks try to cut short, but with enough left over to undertake new projects. One stage of my life is ending and another is emerging. I have seen the solidarity, I have felt it and now I also have the duty to tell my compatriots on the Island that we are not alone.
I have brought so many good memories: the sea in Lima, the Templo Mayor in Mexico City, the Freedom Tower in Miami, the beauty of Rio de Janeiro, the affection of so many friends in Italy, Madrid with its Museo del Prado and its Cibeles Plaza, Amsterdam and the canals running through it, Stockholm and the cyber-activists from the whole world I met there, Berlin and the graffiti that covers what was once a wall dividing Germany, Oslo surrounded by green, New York that never sleeps, Geneva with its diplomats and the United Nations headquarters, Gdansk laden with recent history, and Prague, beautiful, unique. All these places, with their lights and shadows, their grave problems and their moments for leisure and laughter, I have brought with me to Havana.
I am back and I am not the same person. Something of each place where I was stayed with me, and the hugs and words of encouragement I received are here today, with me.
Someone sitting at the table behind spoke in French, while in chairs at the side two Brazilians exchanged ideas. Two steps further on some activists from Belarus were talking with some Spaniards who had also come to the Stockholm Internet Forum. An event that began on May 21 in the Swedish capital bringing together people interested in digital tools, social networks and cyberspace. A real Tower of Babel where we communicate in the lengua franca of technology. The global and virtual village is now contained in an old factory on the edge of the sea. And in the midst of this back and forth of analysis and anecdotes, are six Cubans, also willing to contribute their labor as cyber activists.
This is without a doubt the most enjoyable stage of my long journey and not because other places havenât been filled with beautiful impressions and lots of hugs, but because here I have met up with several colleagues from the Island. Some of the people who, in our country have grabbed hold of new technologies to narrate and to try to change our reality, today are gathered here. The young attorney Laritza Diversent, the director of Estado de SATS, Antonio Rodiles, the keen blogger Miriam Celaya, the information engineer Eliecer Avila, and joining us for one day as well, the independent reporter Roberto Guerra. Here in Stockholm it has felt rather like Cuba, though certainly not because of the weather.
The Internet Forum has allowed us to feel like citizens of the world, to share experiences with those who live in different situations but, in essence, surprisingly similar ones. Itâs enough to chat with another attendee for a little while, or to listen to a talk, to realize that in every word spoken here is the eternal human quest for knowledge, information… freedom. Expressed on this occasion through circuits, screens and kilobytes. This meeting has left us with the sensation that we are universal and that technologies have made us into people capable of transcending our geography and our time.
23 May 2013
Note: This post was posted late because Generation Y was down due to attacks on the site.
From a distance you feel the strokes… bam, bam, bam. The arm raises the thick fat stick and then lets it falls hard on the twisted sheet. The spray of lather explodes with every stroke and white water seeping from dirty fabric mixes with the river. It is very early, the sun barely up, and already the clotheslines are waiting for with damp clothes that must dry in the morning. The woman is exhausted. From the time she was a teenager she has washed her and her familyâs clothing in this way. What other choice did she have? In that little village lost in the eastern mountains all her neighbors did the same. At times as she slept her body would move restlessly in the bed and repeat the hint of a movement: up… down… bam… bam… bam.
Lately the discussion of womenâs emancipation in Cuba has been focused on persuading us of its extent, showing the numbers of women in parliament. There is also talk — in the official mass media — of how many have managed to climb into administrative positions, or to lead an institution, a scientific center or a business. However, very little is said about the sacrifice involved for them in managing in these positions with their busy domestic schedules and material shortages. You only have to look at the faces of those over forty to note the tense frown common in so many Cuban woman. It is the mark left by a daily life where a good part of the time must be dedicated to burdensome and repetitive tasks. One of these is the laundry, which many of our countrywomen do, at least a couple of times a week, by hand and in very tough conditions. Some do not even have running water in their homes.
In a country where a washing machine costs an entire yearâs salary, we canât talk about womenâs emancipation. Facing the washtub and the brush, or the boiler filled with baby diapers bubbling on the firewood, thousands of women pass many hours of their lives. The situation becomes more difficult if we move away from the capital and look at the hands of the women who clean, with the strength of their fingers, the shirts, pants and even the military uniforms of their families. Their hands are knotted, stained white by the soap or detergent in which theyâre immersed for hours. Hands belie statistics about emancipation and the fabricated gender quotas, with which they try to convince us otherwise.
1980s Aurika washing machine imported from the USSR to Cuba and still used by many Cuban families ... in the absence of another.Photo from museodelanostalgia.blogspot.ch
The building is shaped like a dislocated Star of David. Gray, with a zinc-clad facade and little openings that provoke a strong sense of claustrophobia. The museumis not only the objects on its walls and in its display cases, the museum is all of it, each space one can move through and even the voids — with no human presence — that can be glimpsed through certain gaps. There are family photos, books with their gold-embossed covers, medical instruments, and images of young people in their bathing suits. It is life, the life of German Jews before the Holocaust. One might expect to see only the testimonies of the horrors, but most dramatic is finding yourself facing the testimony of everyday life. Laughter captured — years before the tragedy — is as painful to look at as are the emaciated corpses and piled up cadavers. The proof of those moments of happiness make the tears and pain that follow more terrifying.
After a time between the narrow corridors of the place and amid its bewildering architecture, I go outside and breathe. I see spring greenery in Berlin and think: we can’t allow this past to ever return.
And not very far from there, stands the Stasi Museum. I enter their cells, the interrogation rooms. I come from the perspective of a Cuban who was detained in the same place, where a window looking outward becomes an unattainable dream. One cell was lined with rubber, the scratch marks of the prisoners can still be seen on its walls. But more sinister seeming to me are the offices where they ripped — or fabricated — a confession from the detainees. I know them, I’ve seen them. They are a copy of their counterpart in Cuba, copied to a T by the diligent students from the Island’s Ministry of the Interior who were taught by GDR State Security. Impersonal, with a chair the prisoner can’t move because it is anchored to the floor and some supposed curtain behind which the microphone or video camera are hidden. And the constant metallic noises from the rattling of the locks and bars, to remind the prisoners where they are, how much they are at the mercy of their jailer.
After this I again need air, to get out from within those walls. I turn away from that place with the conviction that what, for them, is a museum of the past, is what we are still living in the present. A “now” that we cannot allow to prolong itself into tomorrow.
A tiny window, the only source of light in a German Stasi cell.
The rumble of a train comes through the window. In Berlin there is always the sound of a train somewhere. I look out and see a very different reality from what my father saw in 1984 when he first came to this city. A train engineer, he had won — based on volunteer hours and a great deal of work — a trip to the future. Yes, because in that era the GDR was the horizon many Cubans aspired to visit someday. So, this man of locomotives and greasy hands was also given a bonus to buy some clothes before he left for Europe. He chose a jacket and pants combo, along with an immense suitcase in which my sister and I played at hiding ourselves. He arrived in East Germany in the middle of winter and stayed only two weeks on a guided tour, whose main purpose was to demonstrate to the lucky travelers the advantages of that model. And my father came back convinced.
Now I am the one in Berlin. Thinking that my father would not recognize this city, that he would not be able to reconcile it with that other one that he visited in a year as Orwellian as its date indicated. Of the wall that divided it in two all that is left is a museum piece painted by various artists; the hotel where he stayed was probably demolished, and the name of the woman who translated for him, and watched him — so that he wouldn’t escape to the West — is not in the phone book. The suitcase also no longer exists, the shoes lasted us just a single school year and the reddish tinted photos that he took in Alexanderplatz have been handled so much you can’t see them. However, I’m sure that when I return my father will try to explain Berlin to me, to tell me how he entered a bakery and was able to eat a turnover without presenting a ration card. I will laugh and tell him he’s right, there are dreams that after so much time are not worth ruining.
The Capitol building in Havana is beginning to emerge from its long punishment. Like a penitent child, it has waited 54 years to return to its status as the site of the Cuban parliament. Visited by everyone, it was a natural sciences museum with stuffed animals — plagued with moths — and in one of its hallways the first public internet site in the Cuban capital opened. While the tourists photographed the enormous statue of the Republic, thousands of bats hung from its highest decorated ceilings. They slept upside down during the day, but at night they swooped around leaving their feces on the walls and cornices. It accumulated there for decades, amid the indifference of the employees and the giggles of teenagers who pointed at the waste saying, âLook, shit, shit.â This is the building I have known since my childhood, fallen into disgrace but still impressive.
Visitors are always captivated by the history of the diamond that marks the starting point of the Central Highway, with its share of cursing and greed. And on observing this neoclassical colossus, these same travelers confirm — what we all know but no one says out loud — âIt looks a lot like the Capitol in Washington.âÂ In this similarity lies part of the reason of the political exile suffered by our flagship building. It is too reminiscent of that other one; an obvious first cousin of what has come to pass for the image of the enemy. But since, by decree, no architectural symbols are erected in any city, its dome continues to define the face of Havana, along with the MalecĂłn and el Morro which stand at the entrance to the Bay. For those arriving from the provinces, the photo in front of the wide staircase of this grand palace is obligatory. Its dome is also the most common reference point in paintings, photos, crafts, and whatever trinket someone wants to take back home to say: I was in Havana. While they insisted on downplaying its importance, it only became more prominent. The greater the stigma attached to it, the more enthralling its mixture of beauty and decay. Among other reasons because in the decades after its construction — right up to today — no other construction on the Island has managed to surpass it in splendor.
Now, the National Assembly of Peopleâs Power will begin to sit exactly where the Congress of the Republic of Cuba once met, a congress the official history books speak so badly of. I imagine our parliamentarians meeting in the chamber of upholstered seats, surrounded by the large windows with their regal bearing, under the finely decorated ceilings. I see them, as well, raising every hand to unanimously — or by huge majorities — approve every law. Silent, tame, uniform in their political ideas, eager not to offend the real power. And I donât know what to think; whether, in reality, this is a new humiliation — a more elaborate punishment — in store for the Havana Capitol; or if, on the contrary, it is a victory, the triumphant caress it has been waiting for for more than half a century.
Last Thursday I was in Havana without leaving Madrid. Thanks to the guitar of Boris Larramendi I took a little hop to the Island. A brief but intense return, on the wings of chords and a good musician. At a place in the Spanish capital we found a group of friends, some graduates from the Faculty of Arts and letters, but also former players in whatever musical groups existed in Cuba in the â90s. I felt at home, because right in the living room of our apartment we had one of these gatherings that we recalled the night before last. We remembered the lemon grass tea with a little sugar with which we restored our energy after carrying our bikes up 14 flights of stairs. But mostly, we recollected the good songs we had heard there, the space for freedom that we managed to create for at least a few hours.
Beyond the choruses and the rice with beans, I particularly enjoyed the reunion with my compatriots. Many of them are still trying to find their way in a Spain hit by the economic crisis and political questions. Some are unemployed, others illegal, several with children born here who donât know the country of their parents; all aware of what is happening in Cuba. Boris sang himself hoarse, and we clapped along until our palms were red and, already past midnight, humor took over and we reveled in jokes.
On one wall a TV showed images recorded on the streets of Havana. The MalecĂłn and the corner of 23rd and L were a visual background accompanying our improvised âGuarachaâ around two tables. At one point I realized that the recording that was passing across the screen was from a police security camera. But here this filtered surveillance material was just an amusing video in a space for entertainment. The official eye become banal; control converted into a frivolous daily report. But not even that could distract us from the most important thing happening in that room: the confluence. We were finding a point in common after a long journey and prolonged separation. We were more free than at any gathering in Havana and yet, we were still the fruit of all those Havana gatherings. A blessed past that we have waited for this morning.
To every city we attach a face, to every place a personality. CamagĂŒey strikes me as a sober lady with a long ancestry, Frankfurt is punk hair and skinny ties, Prague is the blue eyes and crooked smile of that young man who — just for a second — crossed my path. For its part, Lima’s face is indescribable but covered in dust. The dust of Lima swirls and settles everywhere. It flies over the cliffs that drop abruptly into a sea which, for Caribbeans, feels too cold, too choppy. Tiny particles of earth and sand that stick to your body, to food, to life. Dust on the native fruits, on the recently served ceviche. Dust in your “pisco sour” cocktail that leaves your tongue wanting more and not wanting any. A layer of gold, unreal, that coats the windshields and the newspaper sellers who defy the red lights to unload their merchandise before dark. The dust which we all become after the final day, but which in Lima carries us forward in life.
Lima seemed to me a girl with copper skin. Reserved, with something of that mysterious silence of those who come from the mountains. And with healing hands. Because in Lima I recovered my voice, and that is not a metaphor. I arrived after more than fifty days of intense travel, hoarse and feverish. I left recovered, coddled by my friends, with my energy restored having witnessed a city that has outgrown itself. I submerged my feet in the Pacific for the first time, I climbed the hills of the village of El Salvador to see people gaining ground against the aridity of the soil and poverty. I saw the historic center with its churches, its tourist attractions, its religious processions. Because Lima is a host of cities, some whimsically superimposed on others. It’s like a young woman whose body has outgrown her clothes and they no longer fit. Thus, the traffic bottlenecks and the many cranes raising buildings on all sides. This city has a face put together in a hurry, an eye here, a mouth there, a forehead taken from everywhere; it is mestiza, chola, German, Swiss, Chilean, Spanish… and very much Lima.
The plane had touched down in Panama and through the windows I saw the harsh sun shining on the pavement. I walked the halls of the airport looking for a bathroom and a place to wait until my next flight. Some young people waiting in the main hall beckoned me and begin shouting my name. They were Venezuelans. They were there, like me, in transit to another destination. So we started to talk in the midst of the crowds, the suitcases, the comings and goings, while the loudspeakers announced arrivals and departures. They told me they read my blog and understood very well what we are living through on the Island. At one point I asked to take a photo with them. They responded with long faces and begged me, âPlease, donât put it up on Facebook or Twitter, because itâll make problems for us in our country.â I was shocked. Suddenly the Venezuelans reminded me tremendously of Cubans: fearful, speaking in whispers, hiding anything that could compromise them in front of Power.
That encounter made me reflect on the issue of ideological control, surveillance and the excessive interference of the state in every detail of daily life. However, despite the similarities I found between those young people and my compatriots, I felt that there were still spaces open to them that have been long closed to us. Among those open spaces, are elections. The fact that today, Sunday, Venezuelans can go to the polls and decide with their votes — along with all the official tricks — the immediate future of their nation, is something that was taken from Cubans a long time ago. The Communist Party in our county cleverly cut all the paths that would allow us to choose among several political options. Knowing that he could not compete in a fair fight, Fidel Castro preferred to run on the track alone and chose as his only relief in the relay someone who, whatâs more, carries his own name. Comparing our situations, Venezuelans are left with the hope of maybe… Cubans, the frustrations of never.
So, knowing the cage from the inside, I venture to recommend to Venezuelans that they themselves not end up being the ones who close the only exit door they can count on. I hope that those young people I met in the Panama airport are right now exercising their right to vote. I wish for them, that after this day they will never again fear reprisals for a photo taken with someone, for speaking out about an idea, for signing their names to a criticism. I wish for them, in short, that they will achieve what we failed to do.