I will dedicate this event: – to #KeenanAnderson, a high school teacher, who was murdered a couple of days ago by members of the Los Angeles police department, for the crime of being Black and asking its officers for help; – to artist @luismanuel.oteroalcantara and #Grammy-winning rapper@maykelosorbo, both #Cuban citizens who are languishing in prison in #Cuba for the crime of thinking while Black; – to Black women in Cuba and the US, who have to fight against the violence of misogyny and racism on a daily basis; – to descendants of enslaved Africans in every country built upon the rubble of the Atlantic slave trade; – to my African ancestors, whose lineage I do not know due to that form of violence that is institutional oblivion.
The personal has always been political.
As Dr. King said: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Last year, my friend Juan Milà, Editorial Director at Harper Via, called to ask me if I’d be interested in translating the speech I Have a Dream, by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. At first, I thought I had misheard him. I couldn’t believe this monumental pillar of the Civil Rights movement hadn’t been published in book form in Spanish. I said yes immediately…
And now the book is out!
It has been my greatest honor to bring this timely and timeless speech into my native language. I also had the privilege of translating a moving prologue, written for this edition, by Amanda Gorman. In translating both texts, I benefited from wonderful suggestions from my editor (and now dear friend) Ariana Rosado Fernández, as well as from my dear Juan Milà.
In the process, I was aware at all times that this was a speech. Therefore, the text had to sound good. Beyond the content, I had to convey a cadence, a musicality, and a rhythm from one of the greatest orators in the English language. So I recited every sentence and the entire speech, in Spanish, over and over…
For the first few days (or was it weeks?), I still couldn’t believe that I was going to be the vehicle through which Dr. King’s words would reach a Spanish-speaking audience. Yet, rather than intimidate me, that responsibility inspired me and kept me focused and grounded.
Since the final draft, I have lost track of how many times I’ve read my translation out loud. And my voice still cracks, and my heartbeat still races as I read it. This is personal. I have skin in the game. I, too, have a dream. I, too, share Dr. King’s dream. I, too, wonder, with Langston Hughes, what happens to a dream deferred.
My translation of I Have a Dream is available through your local bookstore. You can also ask your public library to include it in its collection. Go ahead, read it. Believe in it. Make the dream come true!
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.”