Verbs and vestments: to leave (I)

By: Antonio López Sánchez

Sandra Ramos Lorenzo (La Habana, 1969). “La maldita circunstancia del agua por todas partes”, 1993. Calcografía sobre papel; 682 x 988 mm. Arte Contemporáneo (1979-1996). Colección Arte Cubano.
Sandra Ramos Lorenzo (La Habana, 1969). “La maldita circunstancia del agua por todas partes”, 1993. Calcografía sobre papel; 682 x 988 mm. Arte Contemporáneo (1979-1996). Colección Arte Cubano.

there is a family photo
where we cry at the end.
Carlos Varela

Perhaps in our country, as perhaps in few places in the world, the choice to move to another place, or to stay in this one, has had multiple and complicated connotations, especially in the last six decades. A universal, natural process, like that of emigration (and that, for the sake of survival and better living conditions, beyond the social is inscribed in our animal genes), in Cuba it has been, at times, the same silenced or rarefied than even sought out or celebrated.

Beyond the social systems where one lives, the condition of an island of insurance influences the psychological perception that we have about going somewhere else. Where there is no damn circumstance of water everywhere, Virgilio Piñera would say, just walking forward is enough. You cross a border, another one of those diabolical human inventions that they separate, and you are already in another country. Although the soil and the air continue with the same colors, smells or climates, some brand, perhaps another language, will welcome you to a new place more or less similar to your origin. Here, the coasts are the thresholds that mark the beginning and the end of every journey. The horizon is always a question, a curtain that hides a tempting or demonic beyond, according to the criteria of each one.

The truth is that leaving, that very personal and personal decision, in our country has very special characters. Such an act, in its most public social connotations, can turn the person who assumes it into a hero or a villain (or in both categories). The ideology, the economy, the public positions here and there, the attitudes, behaviors and affiliations of the person, also here and there, all these ingredients make a complicated mix, unique for each case.

However, and looking at something further than the achievement of success or failure after the first leg, there are some components of the story that are little or nothing seen. The decision of a person to cut his roots, to leave behind childhood, memories, habits, places, his culture, the air that has surrounded him from birth to departure, surely must cause tears and breaks in some inner corner. In the deep place where the memories are kept, surely a forced callus begins to grow that tries to close any sentimental spill and thus correct any possible weaknesses.
Some defend themselves by erasing all connection and turning off memories, food, music and reconvert to the new place and their customs with all their might, without looking back. Others set out to help save entire families and, by dint of uninterrupted and sacrificed work, put together the saving remittances that keep many household economies afloat on this side. There are those who, shielded in politics, then wield hatred and, although until yesterday they were the most silent and quiet, today they incite, attack and judge loudly from networks and digital pages. The worst thing is that imperative and falsely jingoistic tone with which they push and accuse those who, on this side, are too busy with their daily sustenance to be part of the thousand and one revolts that are organized from safe shores and computer screens.

Another hateful reverse is in those who have decided to erase legacies, works and meanings, which do not belong to anyone in particular, but to an entire people. Deciding that such music, such painting, such literary work, such home run, such historical event where such a person was, should disappear or should be cut from the memories of a country, is one of the most vile actions that can be committed with a fellow man. Erasing history is also erasing essences, roots, prosapias. A nation is not made better by disappearing its supposedly dark sides, or rather, those opposite sides or those classified as incorrect by a particular social system or time. Many of these legacies make our Island shine in art, music, and sport. They make us great, far beyond politics.

The saddest chapter of such decisions has undoubtedly been in the moments when some majorities have judged those minorities who decide a game. The repudiation rallies, that fascist and terrorist act, are an aberrant manifestation of the worst of the henchmen of certain people. The most terrible thing is that they are made in the name of a social process whose assumptions and statements claim to be in favor of raising men and women to the most dignified and humane level. Those who stone facades, harass entire families with offenses and violent attitudes, regardless of the presence of the elderly, women and children, cannot be the bearers of a higher and altruistic political system. None of those can be called progressive, humanist, or revolutionary.
Arranging the departure, casting luck and roots elsewhere is a decision of a private, individual nature, which does not admit the judgments of others. Like any human act, it has benefits and burdens, good and bad consequences, both for those who assume it and for those who receive or fire those people. Sometimes it is easy, from the outside, to applaud or censure such decisions. Who will know, in truth, how much is left, how much is lost, what pains or joys they feel, by virtue of the dream of other vital gains.

Leaving involves assuming new habits, new places, new positions, new attitudes in the face of a thousand new elements. Leaving, even if material and spiritual success is achieved, always entails leaving something behind, closing paths, no longer having two or three “something” that were once one’s own and that were even believed to be indispensable. Leaving, withdraws from friends, places and memories. Leaving, even on this island, has meant not only firing people. Actions, places, products, habits, routines, courtesies, stories, arts, and even roots and behaviors that once seemed imperishable and so rooted that they would never abandon us have gone from Cuba and to nowhere, or only towards the fading. Many, moreover, did not even do it in search of new horizons. They just left and that’s it.

It should, that side of the coin, have its reverse on the back. There should be some return, tangible or at least imagined, that helps to alleviate the long “in the meantime” of the absences left by the games. Some time, some hope, some horizon, should come closer from time to time and convince us that one day, perhaps the going will become less necessary, or perhaps, less painful and definitive. Who knows, maybe, by then, maybe even all the comebacks will be more possible.

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