Cubanet, Rafael Alcides, Havana, 10 April 2015 – Thinking of my son Reuben (whom I have not seen in twenty-one years, five more than his age when he emigrated in 1993) I wrote in 2003 a text collected in a booklet in 2011 which was published by Mangolele, in Logrono, Spain. Here it is:
Miami is far away.
As far as a remote planet.
And in that remote planet
today lies a part of my heart.
In Miami, Lord,
in that remote planet
that was so close
in the days of Pan American.
I never traveled by Pan American. When I was in Miami in 1959 (as part of an official delegation attending the July 4 celebrations) I went on the ferry, and returned from Tampa by Aerovías Q. Nor was I a shareholder in Pan American. But the name Pan American, like all the names of my past, formed a part of my identity.
I remember them, however far away they are, they give me back my sky, my streets, my people, the odors of my neighborhood, they take me back to certain days, certain events, and then, suddenly, unable to abstain, the word “Camagüey” brings me the vision of Ignacio Agramonte, machete held high, with this thirty-five immortals on that afternoon of victory when he snatched General Julio Sanguily from the well-armed Spanish column of one hundred and twenty soldiers who had taken him prisoner.
For an instant, the past and my cultural self were then something so much of the present, so timeless, that not even Agramonte and his legendary cavalry were beings of the past, nor was his corpse burnt after death because it frightened the king’s soldiers*, nor did any one of his immortals grew old. All of them were, to me, like in their portraits, or perhaps they had just departed on the 1:00 pm train to almost surely return in the evening.
Triggering fantasies and truths that, equally, can, and in the Cuban case, make such patriotic attributes as the flag and the shield, the tocororo**, and the flower called mariposa, to Ingelmo shoes, for instance.
Today, when everything we see and touch in Cuba is Chinese or comes from Brazil, or Chile, or Spain, or the United States if it is something to eat, because from food to ideology we are ruled by foreigners, today young Cubans have to show their identity card to verify they are Cubans.
It was a disgrace that I didn’t know in my past when I so hungered, like I was talking about the other day in a dinner table conversation with my son Rafael, who is twenty-one and like the young of all times needs to complete himself knowing the world where he was born in a time before him, this region of the past where the young were not, and that later they books tell them about with the gaps that books usually have, especially when interested hands wrote them. I lived in a Cuba where the mark “Made in Cuba,” present even on my toothbrush, reminded me of my nationality and reinforced it. Other than the vehicle fleet and electronics, almost everything else in those times was “Made in Cuba.”
And as one lives proud of the pride of their country, I was proud to know that many Cuban products were equal in quality with the best brands in the world, and even superior to them. All this in a republic fifty-six years old in 1958, and in a Havana that, outside the center, was less than seventy years old, and then with painted houses and reputed to be among the most beautiful cities of the world. They were killing in those times, the dead appeared every day, but not even Havana stopped growing (its three tunnels and most important buildings and hotels and hospitals were built between 1952 and 1958), nor can we forget the new production every day of tires, footwear, textiles, preserved foods. (We had seventeen brands of soft drinks.) Because, curious dichotomy, the killing went on on one side and the industry on another saying without lying, “To eat what the country produces is to make a homeland.”
Many of these productions, it is true, were made with imported supplies coming partly or entirely from the United States, cut off after 1959 by the economic embargo law imposed on the socialist government, but it is a calamity that cannot explain the total absence of 99% of the manufactured goods circulating on the island of the patriotic mark “Made in Cuba” that, in those remote days of Pan American, was a source of such pride to us, who also felt ourselves to be a proud product “Made in Cuba.”
*A fragment lifted from this poem.
** Cuba’s national bird