The Words of a Newcomer / Ernesto Morales Licea

In this moment as I write, sleeping very close to me is my niece Elizabeth. I must be aware of her angelic dream: she is only nine days old. The magical aura of helplessness surrounding her cradle, her woman-in-miniature expression, inspires a protective tenderness that is, I believe, universal.

But I can’t stop thinking of something, in this moment while I type the first of my blog posts from the United States: my niece and I are nothing short of colleagues in this business of the newly born. A sensation strange but true, with my twenty-six years I am very little different from a baby of nine days. We both have little idea of how to face the world from this point forward.

To say my arrival in Miami was risky is true but inexact. Let’s say rather atypical, convoluted. I, confronting the regime of my country, and lover of limited experiences, wish I could relate the Hollywoodesque story of how I managed to escape at night, on a raft, with coyotes guiding me to the border. But luckily I cannot.

I arrived in this country on December 28 aboard an American Airlines plane, with only the shock of the tense months of my recent life. That is: months in which I was misdiagnosed with cancer; months of a burlesque campaign to present me as a sex merchant; the constant danger I faced for refusing to renounce my individual liberties; stories that will keep for the future, when I need to tell my niece — and my own children — how life was lived in that country, with so much hatred and evil embedded under the skin of a nation.

However, truth be told, my departure from Cuba, for legal reasons, and detached from any political situation, did not suffer from a single monkey wrench from the Government of the Island, as it would have been both possible and thinkable in terms of previous experiences. Rather, the opposite: the Exit Permit — which came within a record time of 11 days — is difficult to write about without hanging a much deserved adjective in front of it: aberrant.  I suspect that my native country’s establishment did not want me very much.

Thus, just one day before my visa would irrevocably expire, I stepped on American soil with the only certainty being that from now on nothing would ever be the same. My fellow passengers, two Cuban-Americans who had just visited the island after decades of absence, gave me my first ten dollars as a sign of good hope, nor could they resist the temptation to take a picture of my face during landing: they were present at the opening of my story as a new exile.

Have I had time to think and analyze, to draw sharp conclusions or form categorical judgments? Definitely not. I, an avid sniffer and listener, who always wants to understand and question, have spent too much time training my perception to the new environment and fighting a phlegmatic headache that always threatens to arrive but fails. In short: Only five days after moving out of the country, and almost off the planet, I now dedicate myself to train my brain for what will continue to be my intellectual work.

But I have my suspicions. Many suspicions. And the first one is this: within a very short time I will begin to tolerate even less what is happening in my country. What I have left behind. Very soon, once the initial shock wears off, I will feel even more resentment against those who have deprived my friends, my family, and all humble Cubans of a universe of possibilities like those I am just getting to know.

It is not about shiny material things, which inevitably also arise; it is, rather, about the indescribable pain experienced on seeing proof of everything that millions of Cubans have been denied. It is the feeling of guilt that sticks in your throat when, suddenly, you find yourself enraged in the aisles of the supermarket, as happened to me two nights ago in “Publix” where there is scarcely a basic need that cannot be satisfied. Meanwhile, that memory of yours, doing the best you can year after year to put a lousy plate of food on the table, it hits you without mercy.

I suspect, also, that each day I spend in a place where respect for differences of opinion is the law, I will be further inoculated against intolerance and exclusion; a place where, as happened to me two nights ago at “Casa Cañí” restaurant, I can openly debate politics with no one around me having to whisper lest the machinery of repression — tape recorders, informers — be launched against them.

And at the same time, I suspect that soon I will also come to know the stains present on this new reality: not even in a respectable democracy have we Cubans left off stigmatizing those who think differently from us, and displaying some features we carry as contraband under our skin: verbal aggression, lying as a method of destruction.

Among other reasons, because too many repented and converted, too many victimizers now pass as victims, milling about in this dazzling city that has honorably sheltered the honest and persecuted. And from the wise words of a reader who is now a friend, “Crossing the Straits of Florida does not purify.”

So for all these reasons I will continue this blog. To fairly and objectively dissect this reality that is as Cuban as the Havana Malecón and unmet dreams. Above all, because unlike the environment in which The Little Brother arose, the one from which I am writing today celebrates differences and disagreements as the engine of evolution. A handful of intolerant orthodox can do very little, when “democracy” is perhaps the most used word among those who inhabit this great country.

One of the questions I have had to hear most frequently from the moment I decided to change the context and leave for the United States, is: “What will happen to your blog, now that you won’t be living on the island itself?” My answer is two-fold.

First: The commitment to a personal truth that is restricted only to a particular framework has no validity. I think that while I feel myself part of that blessed Island as did the Apostle, Celia Cruz, the Communist Party militants; while I do not renounce my honorable state as a Cuban who loves his land, and precisely because it is condemned to unhappiness, there is no justification to abandon this intimate project that has already contributed so much to my personal and professional growth.

And second: To those who fear that my distance from the Cuban reality will affect the objectivity of my texts, I would suggest they comb through the sharpest and most worthy books, articles and essays published over the last several years on the subject of my country. Save minor exceptions, they all belong to authors who have not lived in Cuba for some time. If not, ask Eliseo Alberto, Carlos Alberto Montaner, Manuel Díaz Martínez, Raúl Rivero, Jesús Díaz, Amir Valle, among a long list of others.

It is not the absolute proximity to social phenomena which guarantees a work of real value, but perseverance, analytical study, and continuous improvement. As in all fields of human existence.

My commitment to the word is even stronger than to the democratization of the Island: to write, I believe, is the only thing I can never stop doing. Whether from a humble provincial town, with the aroma of coffee and a haggard sun, or from a cosmopolitan city an hour away by plane, it’s the same: I am determined never to shut my mouth.

January 2, 2011