Behold the Cuban Revolution

Agent of the Special Brigade of the Ministry of the Interior on July 11, during the repressed protests in Cuba. (EFE)

The Cuban people are tired
of a regime so repressive,
cruel, controlling, obsessive…
The whole nation has been mired
by a clown nobody hired:
a buffoon whose greatest feat
is his mastery of deceit,
to our dismay and confusion.
Come, behold the Revolution,
it kills with a rumba beat!

____________

This text is my recreation and condensation, in English, of my décimas published this week in the Spanish edition of 14ymedio. Remember, this post —part of Ideological Deviation, my weekly column— is considered a crime by the Cuban government.

Public Displays of Affection, Cuban Dictatorship Edition

Díaz Canel has a wife
whose tackiness knows no bounds.
It’s not as cute as it sounds,
in the midst of Cuba‘s strife,
when she says that, in her life,
he’s “The Dictator.” For sure!
(Lis Cuesta is done with demure.)
Cubans long to live in peace.
That regime is a disease,
and we are ready for the cure.

***

This décima is part of Ideological Deviation, my weekly column in 14ymedio.

Apropos of “Ideological Deviation”

I will be brief. These terrifying words began many of the interminable speeches of the Mansplainer-in-Chief who, pistol in hand, took control of Cuba 62,000 millennia ago. With this introduction to my new column in 14ymedio, I propose to do exactly the same. (I’m referring to being brief, not to taking over the Island. I hope the results are not so devastating.)

The column will appear weekly under the banner Ideological Deviation, which in addition to being the title of my book of décimas, is a horrible legal concept with which the government frightened me in my childhood and youth in Havana, and for which any Cuban can still be imprisoned in the land I fled. The décima is a style of Spanish poetry created in the XVI century by Vicente Espinel. The format is 10 lines, eight-syllables each. It rhymes ABBAACCDDC. Jorge Drexler did a beautiful TEDx talk about it.

Does this mean that I am going to write an opinion column exclusively to the rhythm of the décima? Well, yes. The reason is simple: the meter and rhyme  —and, hopefully, the content— ​​will render them memorable. This will make it easier for them to be recited in morning assemblies at schools throughout the nation. From preschool to sixth grade! To infinity… and beyond! Pioneers for dropping bars, we will be like Espinel!

My octosyllables will come in a variety of tones and registers —lyrical, nostalgic, satirical, parodic, animal, vegetable, and mineral— which are my ways of thinking and feeling Cuba from a distance. Thinking and feeling are crimes in totalitarianism, and the Cuba that the Castros took for themselves is no exception. (Ah… and I aspired to write a presentation without mentioning that last name that produces gagging, nausea, hives).

I escaped in order to be, an action that in Spanish is split into two verbs: ser and estar. I fled in order to think and to feel. Beyond the seas and decades later, I admire those who are, who think, and who feel in Cuba. I could not imagine my life in my land, but I celebrate that there are those who can do it and do it every day, against the winds and the tides of an implacable regime. These verses, and those to come, are for you.

The People,” “the Cuban Nation”

“The people,” “the Cuban nation”
is not the same as “the State.”
(No need for you to debate.
Go on. Have a revelation.)
The “Revolution,” that station
in Dante’s Hell, is a trap:
the government does kidnap
the Cubans who dare protest;
at Díaz Canel’s request,
they get erased from the map.

***

The photo in this post shows Cuban artist and two-time Latin Grammy-winner rapper Maykel “Osorbo” Castillo, who has been detained at the maximum security Pinar del Río prison since May 2021 for his song “Patria y vida.”

We don’t talk about Castro

We don’t talk about Castro

Music (and original lyrics): Lin-Manuel Miranda

Lyrics: Alexis Romay

We don’t talk about Castro (no, no, no).
We don’t talk about Castro. But…

It’s been six decades.
Sixty-two years of hunger, repression, and fear.
(No one’s allowed to speak).

Castro walked in with a murderous grin.
And he destroyed Cuba’s dreams.

Castro said, “Elections, what for?”
(In 1959.)
In doing so, he ruined us all.
(Abuela, get the boats.)
Let’s go to Miami now… but anyway:

We don’t talk about Castro (no, no, no).
We don’t talk about Castro. But…

Hey! I grew up in fear of his endless stumbling,
he was always on TV, muttering and mumbling.
I associate him with the sound of exile.

It’s a heavy lift, with a pain so numbing.
Abuela stayed in Cuba with the family wondering,
grappling with prophecies they couldn’t understand.
Do you understand?

A greasy beard,
guards along his path.
When he calls your name
it all fades to black.

His spies see your dreams.
They feast on your screams. But:

We don’t talk about Castro (no, no, no).
We don’t talk about Castro.

Texas Library Association: The 2022-2023 Tejas Star Reading List Announced

I am delighted to announce that five of my translations were included by the Texas Library Association  in The 2022-2023 Tejas Star Reading List. The books are: Cuando los ángeles cantan, Juana y Lucas, Manos que bailanPokko y el tambor, and Un pregón de frutas.

I would like to congratulate everyone included on this list. And I would like to thank everyone who is working on publishing (more) Spanish books in the US. 

I take ever this opportunity to celebrate the authors, illustrators, and editors —Melanie Cordova, Sylvie Frank, and Reka Simonsen— of the following books that I had the pleasure and the privilege to translate.

Havana for Foreign Correspondents & College Professors (a parody)

Havana for Foreign Correspondents & College Professors

(a parody)

Music (and original lyrics): Camila Cabello

Lyrics: Alexis Romay

Havana, ooh, na-na.
There’s a police state in Havana, ooh, na-na,
and throughout Cuba, but Havana, ooh, na-na,
is where the ruling Castro Junta,
the dynasty, keeps dragging
our country through the mud.

Fidel came to power with all his shootin’,
back in the fifties.
He scared the whole nation by executin
his friends and foes.
We knew him forever in a minute.
It’s been six decades.
And fleeing became our national sport.

Ooh, ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh.
I knew it when I met him. I hated his repression.
Ooh, ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh.
And then I had to tell him, I had to go.
Oh-na-na-na-na-na.

Havana, ooh, na-na.
There’s a police state in Havana, ooh, na-na,
and throughout Cuba, but Havana, ooh, na-na,
is where the ruling Castro Junta,
the dynasty, keeps dragging
our country through the mud.

A dictatorship is ruling the island.
Sixty-two years!
They’re sentencing minors for daring to speak
against the tyrant.
His name’s Díaz Canel, but we call him “Singao.”
He’s just a puppet.
My friends are in prison or they were exiled.

Ooh, ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh.
I knew it when I met him. I hated his repression.
Ooh, ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh-ooh.
And then I had to tell him, I had to go.
Oh-na-na-na-na-na.

Havana, ooh, na-na.
There’s a police state in Havana, ooh, na-na,
and throughout Cuba, but Havana, ooh, na-na,
is where the ruling Castro Junta,
the dynasty, keeps dragging
our country through the mud.

***

Here you can find the Spanish version of this parody.

Bank Street College of Education: Best Children’s Picture Books of the Year in Spanish

I am delighted to announce that six of my translations were included by the Children’s Book Committee at Bank Street College of Education in their list of Best Children’s Picture Books of the Year in Spanish, 2022 Edition — Books Published or Translated in 2021. The books are: Un trineo para Gabo, Cuando los ángeles cantanPokko y el tamborNo se permiten elefantesRatonauta and Un pregón de frutas.

I would like to congratulate everyone included on this list. And I would like to thank everyone who is working on publishing (more) Spanish books in the US. 

I take ever this opportunity to celebrate the authors, illustrators, and editors —Sylvie Frank and Reka Simonsen— of the following books that I had the pleasure and the privilege to translate.

Black Lives in Cuba

Amanda Hernández (Photo: 14 y medio)

It would have been almost impossible to convict Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd without those painful almost nine minutes recorded by an American teenager: Darnella Frazier.

Right now, there’s a Cuban teenager, also, an AfroCuban teenager, whose name is Amanda Hernández. She is 17, and she has been under arrest since July 11th for recording the protests that took place in Cuba.

She was not taking part in the protests. It should have been her right. But she wasn’t taking part. She was recording and, for that, the Cuban regime threw her behind bars.

Her life also matters.

#SOSCuba
#LasVidasNegrasImportan
#BlackLivesMatter

Cuba for Foreign Correspondents and College Professors (a Hamilton parody and a history lesson)


[Illustration: Garrincha].

In December 2017, inspired by Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton: An American Musical, I recreated Fidel Castro’s history as narrated by the Cuban people he subjugated for over five decades of dictatorship. (You can listen to that song here; trigger warning: it is in Spanish.)

Last week, using the same song, I wrote “Cuba for Foreign Correspondents and College Professors” to talk to those two demographic groups that, in spite of the overwhelming evidence, continue to give the benefit of the doubt to the Castro regime, which was recently inherited by Miguel Díaz Canel.  

I have a couple of friends who have already included the song in their history unit on Cuba, alongside my articles “Cuba and the Art of Repression” and ”A Tale of Two Cities.” (They teach in middle and high school. So, come to think of it, this is really for educators K-16.) Feel free to include all these materials in your curriculum!

Cuba for Foreign Correspondents and College Professors

Music: Lin-Manuel Miranda

Lyrics: Alexis Romay

How does a violent person who came to power

by shooting people, starting in the 50s,

and ruined the hopes of the Cuban nation

somehow manage to gain your admiration?

The Firing Squads he ordered, ala KGB,

became our terror when shown on live TV.

By the early 60s, people were afraid.

Many chose to flee. Many chose to stay.

He called a meeting with Cuban intellectuals.

His gun was in his holster. 

He placed it on the table.

He was a horror show, 

presented as a fable.

He created labor camps 

to “reform homosexuals.”

The camp’s motto was: 

“work will make you men.”

He also was a racist

What don’t you understand?

He wanted to harvest 

ten million tons of sugar cane.

(The effect on the economy 

was worse than a hurricane.)

He brought the world to the brink 

of nuclear annihilation,

but the will of the Cuban people 

wasn’t on the equation.

In fact, the will of the people 

has never been considered.

Castro’s dynasty bloomed, 

while the country withered.

Cuba IS a dictatorship.

Cuba HAS BEEN a dictatorship.

There’s only one legal party in the land.

Would you please take a stand?

Castro turned milk into powder, 

dreams into nightmares.

He forced Cubans to march 

in the streets and in the squares.

He invented these horrible 

“acts of repudiation.”

[Sotto voce] They are pogroms. 

They are an abomination.

He ruled with an iron fist. 

Raúl was by his side.

He made some strange bedfellows 

while looking far and wide.

Now that the documents 

have been declassified:  

He and Videla 

let their mutual crimes slide.

He loved sending Cuban troops 

to wars around the world.

He didn’t discriminate, 

he sent the young and the old.

Since he wanted to look 

like he was doing them a favor,

he also sent Cuban doctors 

to work as indentured labor.

He executed his generals

the ones who had done his bidding.

He terrorized our whole nation. 

I wish this was just me kidding.

He colonized Venezuela 

under Chávez and Maduro.

To the hunger in the present, 

he responded: “El futuro.”

On 2016, he showed 

that he was just a mere mortal,

and, for Thanksgiving that year, 

he crossed the final portal.

In Dante’s circle of Hell 

where the violent lament,

he’ll hear for eternity 

the Cuban discontent.

Oh, Fidel Hipólito. 

(Yes, that was his given name.)

We are so glad that you are not around.

Yet the repression is just the same.

Oh, Fidel Hipólito. 

History won’t be kind to you.

It will note that you used your henchmen

to impose your point of view.

History will not absolve you. 

You schmuck!

Cubans are in the streets

chanting “liberation,”

while the police enforce

their tactics of persuasion.

The New York Times applauded you

(didn’t call you a dictator).

Che killed for you.

(Did you kill him?)

Allende trusted you.

What about him?

And Díaz Canel…

is the idiot who quotes you.

Feel free to fact-check this song.

And retweet!

What was this about?

It was Fidel Hipólito.

#AgentOrangeVirusMan: An American Nightmare

web-version-Alexis-Agent-orange

In December 2017, inspired by Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton: An American Musical, I recreated Fidel Castro’s history as narrated by the Cuban people he subjugated for over five decades of dictatorship. (You can listen to that song here; trigger warning: it’s in Spanish.)

After the 2016 election, I wrote an opinion piece for NBC News about the moral dilemma that teachers would face in the age of Trump; since then, I have made a point of not normalizing his execrable behavior. Other than tweets (I know, the irony!), I didn’t write anything of greater length about him because I had nothing new to offer that hadn’t been already said by someone else. Until yesterday, when, frustrated by having to advocate for starting the fall semester remotely (isn’t it obvious?), I asked myself, “How does a deadly virus…” and realized that I had to go back to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s song and answer that question and pose others with his familiar beat and his memorable melody.

At home we avoid saying the name of the current president of the United States, as we believe that his ego inflates anytime anyone mentions him. So, to the question, posed by Valerie Block, my wife, of what would I call him, she herself responded on the spot with “Agent Orange Virus Man.” She gets full credit for the title. (Thank you, @vblock12!)

That’s the tea. If you record it, please upload it, use the hashtag #AgentOrangeVirusMan, and tag me on social media.

And remember that Election Day is Tuesday, November 3rd, 2020.

***

Agent Orange Virus Man: An American Nightmare
Music: Lin-Manuel Miranda
Lyrics: Alexis Romay

[Covid-19:]
How does a deadly virus, deeply ignored
by a Statesman, strutting in the middle of a golf course
in Florida with his third wife in their manor,
create such disaster and such squalor?

[US Electorate:]
The tax-hiding con got a loan from his father,
got a lot farther by shouting a lot louder,
by threatening a lot faster,
by pretending to be smarter.
By his teens, he’d learned nothing that really mattered.

[US Electorate:]
And every day while people were dying and being carted
away because Covid, he lied and kept his guard up.
Inside, he was longing for something to be a part of.
The whiner was ready to beg, steal, borrow, or barter.

[Puerto Rico:]
When a hurricane came, and devastation reigned,
the man threw paper towels with contempt and with disdain.
Put a finger to his Twitter, connected it to his brain
and he wrote his first refrain: a dog whistle to white pain.

[US Congress:]
Well, the word got around, they said, “This guy is insane, man.
Let’s get him impeached and see if we can save this land.
Remote education for next fall will be the game, and
the world’s gonna know your name. What’s your name, man?”

[Agent Orange Virus Man:]
Agent Orange Virus Man.
My name is Agent Orange Virus Man.
Four million cases as of yesterday.
Let’s not test more today…

[US Electorate:]
Every time he is criticized, he promptly cries, “FAKE NEWS!!!”
He’s demonized Black people, Brown people, Muslims, Jews…
He’s called for white suburban mothers to rise up from their pews.

[Friendly Reminder:]
So on November 3rd remember this before you choose.

[US Electorate:]
Moved into the White House, and his wife was not by his side,
the inauguration crowd left him with nothing but ruined pride,
a voice saying: “Agent, you gotta fend for yourself.”
He started retweeting and tweeting every thought that crossed his brain.

[US Electorate:]
There would’ve been a lot left to do
for someone more astute.
He wouldn’t have tweeted past midnight
just to make this country fight.
Started talking about hydroxychloroquine,
and when I heard that, I almost lost my mind.
Scanning for every woman he can get his hands on.
Planning for postponing an election as he stands on…
Wait. What? That’s not the Law of the Land.
Congress is not going to back up that plan.

[US Electorate:]
Congress is not going to back up that plan.
Congress is not going to back up that plan.
Congress is not going to back up that plan.
Congress…
Is not…
Scratch that plan!

[US Electorate:]
Agent Orange Virus Man (Agent Orange Virus Man),
we are not going to vote for you (not going to vote for you).
You always double down,
you always have to insult everyone. Oh.
Agent Orange Virus Man (Agent Orange Virus Man),
when people don’t vote for you,
they will know what they overcame.
They will know that they saved the game.
The world will never be the same, oh.

[US Electorate:]
The election is within sight now.
See if you can spot it.
And no more children
coming up from the border
will be locked up in cages
‘cause you shouted, “LAW AND ORDER!!”

[US Congress / US Senate:]
We fought with him.

[Roger Stone:]
Me? I lied for him.

[Anti-vaxers:]
Me? I trusted him.

[Alt-Right:]
Me? I love him.

[GOP:]
And me? I’m the party that propped him.

[US Congress / US Senate:]
Four million cases as of yesterday.
Do more tests!

[Влади́мир Пу́тин:]
Как тебя зовут?

[Agent Orange Virus Man:]
Agent Orange Virus Man!

***
Lyrics: Alexis Romay
Based on Hamilton: An American Musical, by Lin-Manuel Miranda
Music: Lin-Manuel Miranda
Orchestration: The Hamilton Instrumentals, by Original Broadway Cast of Hamilton
Illustration: Garrincha