Our Golden Years / Rebeca Monzo

Artwork by Rebeca Monzo

Rebeca Monzo, 30 September 2018  — I was preparing for my golden years with the expectation that they would be enriching, that my social life that would be an active one. I collected books and music which I would share with friends. I certainly did not expect to face a very difficult financial situation. My expectations were predicated on the assumption that I would enjoy a minimum level of comfort. It would also be the time when I could most enjoy my family. There was nothing to suggest that I would not be able to continue working to support myself, that my children would no longer live in Cuba, or that I would barely know my granddaughters or not be able to care for them. I have had to rethink my life, to look for other options while weighing the cost of starting over.

By the end of the 1980s I had decided to quit working for the country’s sole employer: the state. I was able to join the Association of Cuban Artists and Artisans. This decision improved my quality of life and provided me a modicum of independence. My income was no longer tied to a job that paid poverty level wages.

An artist does not grow old; she remains creative her entire life. This has allowed me to remain financially solvent. Even though I have not been able to achieve all my aspirations, I am happy with everything I do.

Today, I consider myself to be a reasonably independent person, someone who has achieved a lot. I don’t get stuck, I don’t get depressed, I don’t get lonely. Instead, I change course. I spend what little free time I have with friends, which partially fills the enormous void.

But in spite of all my physical and emotional efforts, I still do not have the basics. I cannot count on having a good diet. My clothing, a refection of foreign fashion trends, is provided by relatives who live overseas. Even thinking about a vacation is out of the question. Going to Varadero, or even to a hotel pool, is a luxury. In spite of advances in telecommunications, family interactions are practically nonexistent given the very underdeveloped state of technology here. Because I lack the necessary support and am horrified by local hospitals, I live in fear of getting sick. Given the imbalance between income and prices, it is impossible to save. The most basic, routine expenditures are major concerns. As a person who has always tried to do the right thing, I find all this frustrating.

I move in a social circle of elderly people which is shrinking. The loss of friends becomes ever greater. Many leave for Miami, others for the cemetary. Relations with younger people are also reduced because they have other interests and, it should be added, few of them like to spend time with us. They often see us as a hindrance, in a general sense, and believe our disappearance would improve the quality of their lives.

In the 1960s those of my generation lost a large portion of their families and friends to large scale emigration. We had to build new families and make new friends. Then in the 1990s we had to do this all over again.

Near the end of 2000 I was able to travel to Miami where I met with lost family members as well as friends from childhood and adolescence. As childeren they had been evacuated out of Cuba as part of Operation Peter Pan, with hand-painted signs pinned to their chests. They are all retired now and enjoy a high standard of living. They have nice homes and modern cars. When they came to see me, they were well dressed and, with great tact, gave me a lovely wallet with cash inside. Me, the “barbarian” who had stayed in Cuba.

Who is the real barbarian? There were no outright rebukes but I felt I had been brought down a notch.

In Cuba the old class structure was replaced by one based on absolute power.

I belong to a generation that remains trapped between a pre-1959 Cuba and one that has no relationship to established social norms. This makes us misfits, unable to adjust to the current chaos. We are paid our insignificant salaries and pensions in Cuban pesos but are expected to live as though we were paid in convertible pesos.