Thursday, March 10, 2011

White Russians no More

I remember it vividly even though I was very young, because it was a remark about a situation I knew nothing about!

It happened in 1960, after the Cuban Revolution had started -when my Uncle Paco Ichaso was finally released from prison, where he had been brutally jauled, as he was writing his daily op/ed article at the then very venerable El Diario de la Marina newspaper. This also happened the day before he would ask for political asylum at the Mexican Embassy in Havana -and fly to exile in Mexico where he died barely 2 years later at age 60- and he made this comment , almost in a jocular way - to all of us in the family who were there to say farewell, since we never saw him again:

"I hope it does not happen to us like it did to the Russian exiles in the 1920's. Even today, 30 years later, they all get together in New York City and every year celebrate their wish for a Russia free of communism, and their return to their country"

Well -- this definitely HAS happened to over a million of us, Cuban exiles, that have been leaving the island in huge numbers and however we can do it, for 52 years! And here we are, still talking about Cuba. Wishing for a free Cuba. Thinking of one day returning to a new Cuba. Etc,

Well --in my case it would be a 'return' with one purpose: to show my daughter -who has grown listening every possible story, anecdote and family 'cuentos' about Cuba and knows more about my country than many people who lived there all their lives- the places where her mother lived, went to school, dreamed, played, walked....And the actual places where those stories and anecdotes took place in the lives of her grandparents, her father, her uncle, etc.

I know that all in 'my' Havana is destroyed --and most of those memories when confronted 'in person', will melt away into grime and sadness. But still, I feel that she will like Cuba. Havana, even in its decrepit state of destruction, IS a beautiful city --and she will know how to look beyond the surface and guess how wonderful it all was. The ocean will be there, the blue skies, the amazing light that bathed Cuba, the landscapes, like my favorite Pinar del Rio's Viñales Valley, the beaches, the old cobblestones, the old churches...She will undestand 'why' her mother and her grandparents talked about it so much! She will get to know about Cuba´s charm and mystique - with her mother showing her the once-magical places.

Besides this rite of passage for Mari-Claudia my daughter, I dont think I have any other reason to go back, even after Cuba becomes a democratic country again. That first visit will probably be the One-and-Only. For me it will be like an exorcism that will rid me of so many tears shed, and so many nightmares that I go back and cant get out. And maybe I could also take home some of my parents ashes. Not 'all', but some --since they also loved the United States --and my father adored living in New York! But a visit to the Cementerio de Colon I will definitely make, in honor of my grandparents, aunts and uncles buried there.

But that would be it. I will never live in Cuba. I will never move there. Is over. It is a harsh reality --but it is true. But I will always cherish the wonderful memories of the 19 years I lived in the island. Even the horrible years I lived under Communism, the Ration Card, etc. were important ones, because they showed me its horrors and taught me the value of individual freedoms.

I left Cuba later than most my friends because my father did not want us to leave him. He loved the Revolution, and we had to stay until he finally signed the papers so my brother and I could leave with our mother. And when his world of blind idealism came crashing down with a vengeance, it was a horrible thing for my always non-conventional and very rebellious father -- and it cost him to work in a Labor Camp, to be expelled from the Writer´s Union, for his books to me removed from the Public Libraries, and much more... Maybe that is why he never talked about 'returning' ?...He never imitated those White Russians in New York who toasted the past!
Many times I wish I was more like him, but I am like my mother whose nostalgia for Cuba lasted until the last day of her life!

Still, I sadly have to admit that my nostalgia is calming down, is less jagged and much more serene. And I have made a promise to myself that I will refuse to give Fidel Castro and his cohorts one more minute of my strength and efforts. So, I have a 'last visit' to Cuba pending. Pending until there is freedom! The island is my beloved country, where I definitely was -like the title of my 1999 documentary- "branded by paradise" -- but now I realize that I need to live more for the present and the future -and less on the past.