My United States / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo


In my Cuban childhood, during the horrendous ‘70s, years of scarcity and closure, the United States was a mythical space. It was the unknown, the outside, the other, freedom, illusion: a chimera of hope in the midst of the sterilizing infirmity of Real Socialism. In my childish imagination, perhaps because the maps imported from Eastern Europe were painted that way, the United States was colored gray. And this cold gray stood out marvelously against the rabid red of the political banners of my country, perverse propaganda that still invades Cuba’s classrooms, with parents unable to avoid (or even complain about) this mind manipulation of their own children.

In myths, as in the promised land, the visionaries rarely get to live. I was lucky: I write these lines in the mute morning of Manhattan, where I am now after three months traveling from coast to coast to multiple universities and cultural institutions, the government and the press of this continental country.

I have no family in the United States. I came completely alone, direct from my eternal neighborhood of Lawton to the capital Washington DC. At the Havana airport they took my documents for an hour without explaining why: they wanted to see my reaction as takeoff time approached and I remained abandoned in the chilly room. In short, they played with me like a fierce feline that teases its prey before devouring it. The objective, perhaps, was to make my last memory of the Island a bitter experience filled with disgust. They almost managed, but no: my last memory of Cuba is a vision filled with pity for a people trapped in this belligerent logic, be they victims or executioners.

As soon as I got there, I was at the Tech@State conference, with the redemptive possibilities of the new digital media and social networks, but also the technological tyranny that authoritarian states employ to stifle freedom of expression. Thus, from the beginning I understood the full magnitude of how the repressive Cuban experience is common even in countries with democracy. The struggle for fundamental rights does not end when a dictatorship falls, rather it remains against the despotisms of control that are attempted from any power.

Next Yoani Sanchez, blogger of Generation Y, appeared with me at the New School of New York. In a packed theater, she and I discussed the free future of Cuba and the civil education of our citizens, today so ignorant about rights and so intolerant in social life. We were even subjected to “acts of repudiation” by a little group of Americans who escorted us around the Big Apple as if they were our bodyguards. We also suffered the anti-Cuban rudeness of the Cuban government, who with an official Protest Note blocked our presenting in a room of the United Nations, and we had to improvise a press conference in the hallway of some offices where very few from the public could fit.

Along with Yoani Sanchez I was received both by senators and the White House. I hallucinated on seeing the high level faces I’d seen only on a TV screen. The transparency of the institutions of government in Washington DC is impressive, as are its monumental spaces. My subconscious was waiting to see armed elite troops in the “heart of power,” but what I saw was an army of students who laughed as they crossed security barriers to get an early idea of who and what mechanisms lead their country. No police, for example, asked me for identification right in the street, as is common in Cuba without any reason: the oppressors there are bored and annoying passersby with impunity is the source of their authority. That is called barbarism.

Shortly after Yoani Sanchez left the United States, Rosa María Payá arrived, the young daughter of the martyred founder of the Christian Liberation Movement, winner of the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize: Oswaldo Payá Sardiñas (1952-2012), who died violently in unclear circumstances, while the Cuban government offered the hypothesis of a “traffic accident,” which the surviving witnesses then denied as soon as they were deported from Cuba to their home countries.

With Rosa María Payá it was the city of Miami we inhabited. A Miami every minute more merciful to those who were tortured in Cuba and driven into exile. A commercial, cosmopolitan Miami where so many spies infiltrate who come to commit crimes and, yet, a Miami ever more tense but without forgetting its worthy pain. A Miami, fortunately, where 101% of Cuban culture is lovingly preserved, so that sooner or later it can be restored to the desert (and deserted) soul of our Island now in the materialist hands of an octogenarian clan.

We occupied there, together or separately, the major radio and television channels, each speaking our bit of truth to an audience of perhaps millions not only in the United States but in a great part of America. There I saw her return to Cuba in a strangely cold sunrise and I felt that, with just a 45 minute flight, I should also be there, in the land that I miss and that I do not want to be far from, but there are men there disposed to the worse so that there will be no democracy coming in a future of freedom, which will never come to Orlando Zapata Tamayo, Juan Wilfredo Soto, Wilman Villar, Laura Pollán and Oswaldo Payá.

In the U.S. I have given lectures on the Cuban blogosphere in universities in Pittsburgh, Princeton, Providence, Boston, Los Angeles, New Jersey, La Crosse, Madison, Durham, and other cities. On all the campuses I have been treated with respect by faculty and students, full of questions, sometimes so naive that it makes them vulnerable to the rhetoric of an expert from the regime who narrates the world of his image and convenience.

I have seen Cuban State Security agents dressed as diplomats and academics, as at the LASA 2013 event, where dictatorially it is Havana that imposes its mediocre monologue. I have met exiled families in every corner of America, each imagining a lost nation which perhaps very few will return to, not now, not ever, but a nation whose well-being concerns them every day and for which they would give the best of themselves. It’s a poignant diasporic homeland: an intimate unrenounceable homeland where the Castro regime is a nightmare from which they awoke to move the next generation to safety, so that the anthropological damage would not become congenital.

I have most loved Cuba under the snow and in a grove of trees as beautiful as they are unnameable. I have missed my dogs and cats. In return, I have tried to illegally feed a squirrel, but they are wild and fortunately don’t trust me: they don’t recognize me as Orlando Luis (nor do I).

I call my 77-year-old mother almost daily, thanks to a system of Cubacall that the Cuban government tries to block, because it puts a strain on their monopoly prices. She is happy that I am no longer in the post-communist cauldron, but sounds very concerned about what a perverse power can do to me. And it’s not the “long arm” of State Security: State Security has been located here for decades (the decency of democracy is fragile faced with the brazen). My mother María is of the generation of fear, but she is completely justified in fearing the death throes of the State establishment’s dying beast. Thus, when she says goodbye she always tells me, “Landy, don’t say anything.” And I carry the blame of never pleasing her, because her only son keeps talking and talking: words embodied in my throat that come from you and you, and you know it, right?

I do not want to stop breathing in the United States. The air is clear as midnight in the higher latitudes (I didn’t even sneeze). Here I saw snow for the first time and found it warm. Here I felt the emptiness of ancient and classical pieces in the Metropolitan Museum, for example, so often seen as reproductions in books, and I assumed that the originals are exhibited in Hollywood stage sets: tinsel as the flow of desire and a measure of the truth. Here I have been celibate rather than celebrated, because it is in the U.S. where I wait for the beautiful digital eyes of my intangible love to recognize me (in an afternoon after autumn: forgive the terrible poetry of the Southern Cone).

In addition, I wish to visit two destinations at the limits: Puerto Rico and Alaska. In many ways, Cuba fully vibrates here: that left on the Island could interpret it as an imitation kidnapping. We don’t need it. We lack nothing, Cubans in this university of opportunities called the United States, where everything is within the reach of a click and of our ability to be self-sufficient and good people.

We can leave the Cubag Archipelago in peace in the hands of an uncivil military that could already be in the majority, along with the corrupt and the marginal: the fabric of the nation must be mended from scratch, from the unknown, from the outside, from the other, from freedom, from illusion, from a mirage of hope on this side of the Malecón.

Hence, I sometimes fantasize with the idea of founding a new territory, a natural reserve of happiness, a micro-nation that could end up being an economic power and an example of respect for others and the natural environment. A little piece of land bought in the State of California, for example, where law would barely need to be imposed because no one would conceive of harming anyone. A planetary refuge with human values, where no power would mutilate our spirituality nor humiliate our biographies, be they inspired or not by some God.

A country not “with all and for the good of all” (that Marti demagoguery where no one fits, and that drags us from the Republic of the Revolution to the Counter-Revolution), but rather “with each and from the good of each,” because we are not a mass but individual people and we are born and we die individually, preferably privately. A Cuba without caudillos that doesn’t have to wait until the end of the Castro regime to be its antipode, even geographically.

Homeland is not Humanity. Homeland is behaving here and now with humanity.

Translated from Diario de Cuba.

2 June 2013