All those racists I remember were good revolutionaries. I would write their obituaries, from January till December. One was a high-ranking member —and a puppet— of the State. Will my anger dissipate? He was Brown, but passed as white. He was my father. That’s right. He’s still a coward. Checkmate.
I don’t usually write commentary to explain what I write. What I write explains itself. Or it doesn’t, and that’s that. However, I’ve made an exception this time because, after these seventy lines, I still had more to say. I want to highlight the discomfort that confronting racism and its many forms of violence causes in our society —I’m taking about Cuba, yes, and that is also applicable in the United States. But let’s focus on Cuba.
There are people who have told me all my life, in Spanish and in English, “I don’t see race or color,” and, in saying so, have always had the best of intentions. But whoever doesn’t see race also doesn’t see racism. And those problems will not be solved if we prefer to think they don’t exist. To not have to think about race, to not see race, is an immense privilege. I see it every time I look in the mirror. And yes, it’s a social construct, and all that, but I didn’t invent it. It was already here when I got to the party, like Augusto Monterroso’s famous dinosaur.
Since we are at it: it’s also a privilege to not have to think about gender, or money, or sexual orientation, or migratory status, or physical abilities, or about other factors that I don’t mention here, because I don’t see them, because they don’t come to mind at this moment, while I write this.
I’ve never had the option of not thinking of myself as a racialized being, including long before I acquired this vocabulary. I didn’t have that choice when authorities during my Cuban upbringing repeated that racism was a remnant of the past —that thankfully had been eradicated in Cuba—while they taught me to hate my hair. This hair, this beautiful hair. The conjunction of this feeling of racial consciousness with the fallacy that we learn —that we learned— at home, that “the family is sacred,” was the starting point for this cycle of décimas. No, folks. We have to talk about racism, and we have to talk about it in public. And this conversation will have to be uncomfortable, especially for those who have never stopped to think about this subject. Believe me: more uncomfortable —more dangerous!— is racism itself. And another thing: family is who behaves as such. Family is also chosen. (My Aunt Lucy, who is not a blood relative, is more my family than my entire paternal line. I’m making use of this opportunity to send her, publicly, my everlasting love.)
In this week’s column, I maintain my policy of not telling a lie and punching all the way up. Here, as everywhere, the personal is political. Furthermore: my childhood demonstrates the resounding failure of the Cuban regime in promoting and implementing racial justice and equity on the island that I escaped, as so many thousands of my compatriots are doing right now.
I know that the State is a system and, that in my poem, I refer to individuals. But the gears of a society function —for better or worse— because of the people who implement them. These creatures and their sickening racism passed through my life. And they all openly supported “the Revolution,” while reiterating that, in the previous dictatorship, I “wouldn’t even have been considered a person.”
Therefore, I owe it to the child that I was to settle this score in public. I dedicate these rhymes to the racists —of all genders and latitudes— who have defended —and explained to me!— the Cuban Revolution.
The love for the homeland is learned at home. So is racism. Educate yourself, and educate your offspring.
Don’t forget that the dictum of “don’t air dirty laundry in public” is an effective way of protecting those who oppress you.
Tell your truth. Remember, as Audre Lorde said: “Your silence will not protect you.”
The Cuban people have spoken: they have voted with their feet, they gather on any street to talk about what’s been broken for so long that not a token from the government can quench the thirst, the hunger, the stench stemming from that institution that some call “the Revolution,” which digs its grave and its trench.
In Cuba, the Worker’s Union is just a branch of the State. It doesn’t allow debate. It curtails any reunion of people seeking communion of ideas by themselves, while there’s no food on the shelves, and there’s widespread condemnation of the Party as the indignation of the Cuban people swells.
All the news that’s fit to print when the government controls radio, newspapers —their trolls!— in a never-ending sprint that doesn’t mention or hint at the truth, and talks all day and all night, and gets away with lies, alternative facts, and their multiple impacts: that’s the Castro Media Way.
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.”