Me and the Man with the Almond-Shaped Eyes / Somos+, Niurvys Roca

Somos+,Niurvys Roca, 22 February 2016 — Why is it that in Cuba we have elections in the schools, but there are no mechanisms for choosing the officials who represent our country? This is where my suspicion that we’ve accepted a great hypocrisy began. We’re taught from grade school to elect representatives who organize things and see to our needs, but then that doesn’t exist in the lives of Cuban citizens. Yet there once was a time when I believed school was training us to be decent people; I thought everything we learned there would also apply to everyday life later on.

It was the beginning of the school year and the School of the Arts was holding its annual election for the High School Students Association (Federación Estudiantil de la Enseñanza Media or FEEM). The elected student leaders would see to it that everything worked properly, would defend their fellow students’ rights, and would present their classmates’ most pressing needs to the folkloric personages whose job it was to see to those needs and offer solutions to problems. continue reading

We loved those election days. Everyone voted in secret, then students and professors gathered to learn the results. That year was different; my name was being whispered through the halls, and I was elected to represent the students. At first, I was none too happy about it. I thought I should be focusing on my studies; serving in student government would take a lot of time. Later, I realized I could do a lot to help my classmates and decided to take on the responsibility.

It all started off nicely. Among other things, we suggested reforms in areas we didn’t think were working very well. We also proposed ways of listening to students on a more personal level, and means of providing tutors for students who needed remedial training, as well as more hands-on attention for scholarship recipients.

That semester I had to work triple-time. In the morning, I had courses in my specialization, in the afternoon I had other courses, and there were almost always meetings, as well. These were held far from school, which affected the time I could spend in class. I remember getting home after 10 p.m. just to wake up at 4 a.m. the next morning because the P1 bus usually didn’t stop to pick up passengers at my stop. It was exhausting, but always worthwhile.

About halfway through my term as president, a shocking discovery was made: I was not a member of the Communist Youth League! That was when a man — I remember him: tall and dark-haired, with almond-shaped eyes — began coming to see me. Initially, his tone was friendly and concerned, but it quickly grew severe and even threatening. Sometimes I was pulled out of class in order to speak to him. I couldn’t understand how he could be more important than my classes, especially since he always said the same thing.

His concern was that I should become a militant in the Communist Youth League. I gave him the same answer over and over: “My mother lives in a so-called enemy country, and I need what she sends me for food and clothing. I don’t think anyone should be a militant in the Youth League without being a Communist. A good Communist proclaims equality without hypocrisy. To be a Communist, I must eat only what the Revolution provides, and I don’t know how other people do that but I can’t. Maybe I’ll have enough to live on when I start working, and then I’ll think about joining the League. Right now, I have to live up to my ideals, and refrain from proclaiming that everyone is equal, or else live by a double standard in order to appear equal to everyone else and comply with the norm.” I would end up adopting the kind of fake commercial smile that my boyfriend hates, which I put on when I dislike someone but have to get along with them just a few minutes longer.

The man harassed me for weeks. He even forced me to go to meetings where I remember expressing my dissent; my being there didn’t resolve anything. They talked about people in derogatory terms and I was constantly being pressured to join the Youth League even though I’d said again and again that it wouldn’t be possible. It was a tough time, but luckily I knew a million ways of evading the man without him spotting me. My friends, as a joke on him, would tell me when he was hot on my trail, and I managed to avoid 95% of his visits. His ultimatum was that I couldn’t be a student leader because I didn’t have a Communist Youth League ID card, to which I replied calmly, while at the same time letting him know he couldn’t play that game with me, “That’s not for you to decide. It’s for the people I represent to decide.”

I stayed on as president. The man, who couldn’t intimidate me — I only felt sorry for him — never shook any of my convictions: I know reality was not on his side. It was a truly enjoyable phase of my life; studying, writing essays, working on projects with amazing people who were focused on serious plans for their lives, and some teachers I will never forget.  What I’m saying is that the weak minds that threaten us are just that: weak minds, other people’s victims. A man like that was no match for a 17-year-old girl.

I did things right. I wasn’t afraid to express my ideas. I knew the students were on my side because they saw me working hard for them. If we all achieve inner freedom, I am certain that all the tall men with dark hair and almond-shaped eyes will lose their power. No more excuses. Our first step is to gain inner freedom and practice change. If a 17-year-old girl can do it, so can you. Let’s begin by respecting what our hearts dictate, not our material needs, and confronting all challenges directly. There is nothing more beautiful in this short life than to be free within ourselves. If we desire a free nation, then let’s start acting like free men and women. If this idea catches on among eleven million Cubans, Cuba will be ours again.

Translated by Anabel Acevedo, Karina Aguaiza, Nicole Cantos, Kimberly Espinoza, Diego Maya, Ariel Pabon, and Sandy Sosa

An Excuse to Visit Florida / Somos+, Niurvys Roca

1441983797_11125416_10153141503475326_1712893181_n1Listen to the podcast: HERE.

Somos+, Niurvys Roca, 11 September 2015 — I was traveling from New Jersey to Florida with butterflies fluttering in my stomach. It felt like a first date. At the time I was thinking about how great it was going to be to meet Cubans who shared my passion and commitment to bring about real change in our country. I was rehearsing what we might say, what tone we might use so that it what would not sound like a monotone speech to those who have been disconnected from our political culture and to those hoping for a new vision they can believe in. Ultimately, it was simply about the opportunity to speak from the heart without concern for generational differences.

The big day arrived. Though we had had little sleep and were were facing threats of a hurricane, we decided to go ahead with our event. August 29, 2015 was the first meeting of our Somos+ Club. We drank toasts to the possibility of meeting regularly and sharing activities with other clubs that will be starting up soon, working in collaboration under our umbrella organization.*

I have had the opportunity to take part in something that will go down in the annals of our country’s history, a history that has begun and is happening now. To listen, debate and share opinions in one of a series of extended discussions… this is really a dream come true.

Bravo, Somos+ for all the work and interest you put into every topic. I am proud to know we are growing every day, not only in numbers but in human quailty and surprising talent. A special thanks to everyone in the working group that had faith this could be done and risked everything in spite of our inexperience. Now no one shall surrender!

*Translator’s note: Somos+ is a Cuban political organization founded in 2015 by Eliecer Avila, who gained notoriety in 2007 when he publicly challenged National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon during a meeting with Cuban university students.

Leaving the Footprints of Some First Steps / Somos+, Niurvys Roca

Somos+, Niurvys Roca, 22 June 2015 — I inserted a flash drive in my old and slow computer, and a young man’s image appeared, nothing special about it except for his courage in questioning the limitations that we Cubans must endure. I admit that I had to contain an exclamation. Until that moment, I did not think anyone capable of revealing our problems in such a bold way, direct and honest. The next morning, people were talking about it, in whispers, in the schools, on street corners, and even at my workplace.  Later, a silence took over and everything seemed to return to normality — not because it is normal, but because it is the same, that which involves despair, denial and sadness.

Many years after connecting that flash drive, a young man I barely knew asked me, “Do you remember Eliécer Ávila, that guy from the University of Information Science (UCI)? He has a proposal that you should read.”

I thought that Eliécer had been “disappeared,” and I confess that I was very happy to find out that he was active, because this was about a hope for changes for my country. The young man continued, “He’s started a movement called Somos+, but…you know…without Internet access it’s almost impossible to hear much from them. I’ve heard that there’s a girl in Spain who helps out. I’ll try to get in touch with her.”

Meanwhile, a group of friends and I would gather to discuss how we could help Cuba in any way possible and, suddenly, that young man who was now well-known to me, said to me, “We have contact with those who are supporting the movement from abroad!” I knew than that we should take part in our country’s history, and that it was the perfect opportunity to get involved.

Today we really are more, and so many more are joining that, when I try to recall those early days when there were hardly ten of us in exile, it is almost impossible not to share the excitement. I remember a comment about how we should be called “Somos-” [“We Are Less”], which hurt me at that time, but now I laugh about it because time puts everything in its place. You have to be inside of this thing to know how delicious it is to unite with other Cubans who are full of energy, abilities, proposals, curiosity, and genuine desire to do for our country. Today I can only feel pride in what is accomplished if only the individual desires it — all that is obtained when love and dedication are given to something.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison