The Concept of Fatherland / Ángel Santiesteban

THE INDEPENDENCE heroes of America agreed that the continent is one Fatherland. And I felt that my love was much larger than the Island, so much so that I brushed aside other things and thought at some point that I had confused my own borders and felt I belonged everywhere. With this doubt that crushed me, the first thing I tried was to sort things out for myself, that it was really a Fatherland. What we knew as the Fatherland was the ground, the earth where we walked. Thus, the human being born on it was not a part of this Fatherland; nor were the trees, the fruits, the rivers, the animals, the flowers, the country. So I came to the conclusion that we were no more than objects, tools, ornaments, available links for the concept of country, that we were to be used on a whim and at convenience, especially by the politicians who developed this concept in their favor. What seemed unfair to me, that the surface was not at our service, but rather the contrary; the territory had not been created for us to establish ourselves on it, to use it to our advantage, to sustain the life and survival of the most important factor: the race. Instead, we had been conceived to safeguard the borders, to be the guardians of our assigned space. And I felt uncomfortable.

And I began to distrust a certain nationalism that conditions governments, like the concept of Fatherland. Who invented it? What is a country? Who decided for me the boundaries of my mother soil which I should love and where I should die? Perhaps the fact that some men put themselves ahead of others in the conquest is enough? If the Portuguese had reached the Isle of Pines first, would it them not be part of our Fatherland? And yet now we must die for it? Marti wrote a letter from his exile on that island and said that he was far from the Fatherland.

In one of the many wars, now almost inexplicable, that existed at the time, couldn’t half of the island of Cuba have been divided like Haiti and the Dominican Republic, who do not even speak the same language on that same piece of land, knowing moreover, the latter island was part of ours and was separated millions of years earlier by a seismic event, and that Cuba in its was separated from the rest of the continent by a similar phenomenon?

If Jamaica had remained under Spanish dominion would it be a part of the so-called Fatherland, as the Isle of Pines is now? If the islands that are still colonies of the great powers are threatened with a war with the neighboring island, to which would they feel patriotic? Fatherland? What, then, is the Fatherland? What is a country? Does Fatherland have the sense of the material environment in which we grew up? Is it nostalgia? Do those who live in Los Angeles feel that their Fatherland is Mexico, or the United States? The generation of children that nobody wanted, while they were at the Guantanamo Naval Base, which territory did they feel themselves to be in?… Is the mere fact of history and geography enough to govern human feelings? Does a country’s sky matter? Whom do the stars belong to? What is heaven? The earth rotates without cease and this blue cover goes to cover other portions of the earth, of other Fatherlands? Is the sky we see today the same as yesterday or tomorrow? And do the stars move with the dark mantle as if they were attached to a curtain?

Which is our warm water? The water collides with the walls of the Caribbean like a ping-pong ball, or the ball flying into the goal after slipping by Cuba, playing goalkeeper, and the rest of the Islands playing defense. Who manages the water around us, how can we not let them go and join those who cross the ocean to reach another continent and vice versa?

Which is the earth that holds our ancestors and their traditions, if our ancestors were in Europe and Africa for many more centuries than they were in America?

What is the Fatherland?

Which is the Fatherland?

Where is the Fatherland?

I know they are naive questions, silly, pure common place; but many of their answers have served as political slogans and much blood has been shed for them. I knew, or could understand, that the Fatherland is the “Social Being,” a condition of life that is ours at every time, that characterizes us as a people. The way of eating, walking, talking, gesticulating, making love, looking, breathing; but I also came to the conclusion that all of those details were living inside of me, they were similar and part of “me,” then if I could wander from one side to another with all of them, I would be connected to something more solid and eternal: I would belong to the party of the creation, and to a Fatherland without limits or adjacent boundaries, finally, as Jose Marti — the Apostle — said, “Fatherland is Humanity.” In an interview I conducted with Gastón Baquero, the great Cuban poet who lived in exile in Spain for more than thirty years, he said that he had never been away from the island because he had brought it with him, within himself; everything that interested him in the universe was there, within… “I take my country with me, in my inner castle. Wherever in the world you find yourself, you are the same distance from the stars.”

Perhaps it all is nothing more than the identity that surrounds us from birth, the little habits that, coming together, form and define us? Is it nothing more than the codes and symbols in which we were educated and grew up despite our subconscious life?

And so it is not worth so much sacrifice, the true Fatherland is inside us, in the interest we are able to pursue, in our ambitions and dreams: The rest is silence.

Photo: AP

November 24, 2010