14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Havana, 26 May 2022 — Luz Escobar must have been “The New Man.” She boarded a train every eleven days at the Tulipán street train station in Havana to get to a pre-university course in the countryside that she hated but needed to obtain the diploma that would propel her towards university. She went through it all: bullying, lice and no water supply. She was the daughter of the Cuban social experiment from which she would end up distancing herself: the ideological alchemy did not work with her.
Luz was not born as a journalist five years ago or even a decade ago. She was practically nursed in a Newsroom. A photographer mother and a reporter father, that girl with abundant black hair grew up surrounded by the typical questions we ask ourselves every day in this guild. The “six W’s,*” or the big questions of the job, she incorporated from a young age as something natural, everyday. She didn’t become a columnist, she grew up one.
This Thursday, in the midst of the daily obstacles of life on this island, the 14ymedio newsroom was jolted. Luz Escobar has just received one of the International Journalism Awards from the Spanish newspaper El Mundo in its twentieth edition. The day’s reporting guidelines took a turn. One of ours, the one who suffered the most from repression and police operations in recent years, had just won such a prestigious award.
Then came the hugs, the tears and the congratulations. There was no lack of those who said that “son of a cat hunts mice,” because of this daughter of a journalist father who has been in the profession for more than half a century and exercising it from within Cuba. But, although the congratulations that bind her to the family may be partly right, this is not the triumph of the family tree or of blood, this is the achievement of someone who tried to fit into the official molds of indoctrination and shook them of … one by one. This is the triumph of Luz Escobar.
Luz’s daughters are two wonderful teenagers. They have grown up hearing police operations that do not let their mother leave her house. They have been harassed in all spaces, even the lowest, which I reserve in this text out of modesty and due to the necessary restraint that must be shown on information involving minors. But they have risen above them with everything and much more. The meanest and the dirtiest has fallen on them.
However, Luz has continued to publish her articles, which focus, especially, on life. She is one of those few street journalists, from corner to corner and from daily stories who remains on this Island where the iron repression has forced so many colleagues into exile. She was there , almost like the first, when a wall collapsed on the corner of Monte Street in Havana; she is seen in several photos reporting from the historic May 11, 2019 march on the Paseo del Prado, and also at the events in front of the Ministry of Culture on November 27, 2020.
Each of these coverages had its punishments and retaliation. If Luz has not told all the details about the penalties she received, it is because she has always preferred to be the source of information, someone who reports from the place, before being an object of the reporting and relating only what happens to her. She has preferred to shed light on others rather than stare at her own navel. The difference is a thin red line, but she has known who and when she should cross it or how best to do it.
Eight years ago, when the newspaper 14ymedio was founded, Luz had two little girls who absorbed almost all her time. She was unable to be a full-time reporter in those early days but she joined the team very soon after. We, jokingly, compared the first months of this Newsroom with the stage in which the foundations of the Yugoslav model building where our headquarters are located in Havana were dug.
When the excavations began to raise the building, in that distant 1981, the waters did not take long to cover the hole where the columns were going to melt. The first builders, who – besides being unintentional builders -were those who would inhabit this ugly block and they had to submerge themselves in the mud and the miasma that drained towards the crack in the earth. Later “microbrigadistas” continued to arrive, but the initial sacrifice was unique and highly valued almost 40 years after the building was completed.
Luz was not totally dedicated to the hole, but she reached the top. She rose from the sewers of a system that only accepts their orders, to fly above all of them and all of us. She has done journalism where many believed that only obituaries could be written. She overcame the personal and collective traumas that successive economic crises and surveillance left us. She broke with the paranoia although the paranoiacs continue to watch her.
The train whistle sounds. She no longer goes to a rough concrete block where she is forced to work and pretend. It is the whistle of the profession, as pressing and unappealable as the cry of a hungry child in her cradle. Luz knows that there is no other: journalism or journalism; write or write; narrate or narrate The mice are the ones that hunt the cat in this case, the fierce feline of a regime that, although it appears to be invulnerable, is afraid of journalism.
*Translator’s note: Journalism’s key questions: Who, what, when, where, why and how.
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