*A text written by Gabriela Guerra Rey (Cuba), first read and extracted from ‘Hellena from Everywhere’ Book Launch at La Ninfa Eco on 29th July 2021. Translated by Gaby Sambuccetti
Since the beginning of time, human beings have created laws, agreements, conventions, conditions, policies, and we have cultivated religions and ideologies with the same enthusiasm; we have established a certain ‘order’ for the majority, without forgetting ‘minorities’. And by minorities, I meant those who want to live their own life experience, trying not to break the rules imposed by others and without becoming the culprit of a normative system that never stays up to the expectations of its own personal philosophy.
From my perspective, this is one of the greatest dramas of our civilization and another one is our inability to recognise that the worse decisions we have made against our planet, and against ourselves, respond to a very primitive human condition: ambitious selfishness.
It is incomprehensible that our bills and power still move the world, and not the heroic forces such as beauty, art, imagination, nature, or love. They are much more profitable regarding our well-being and it is essential for our society’s implications.
Identity, dignity, belonging, homeland are some of the concepts along with ambition and power that have locked us in a distorted vision of what life means. I am saying this from my own experience. I am a migrant, an expatriate, a woman who faced my homeland conflict from the womb. Despite what has been written in recent years, I have a lot to say about this.
But today my intention is to give flow to the streams that run terrified from the marrow because of the unfortunate circumstance in which we have brought the world that belongs to us, and I am using the word ‘belong’ in a broad sense.
I left Cuba for good in 2010, with a Borges’ book under my arm, a few dollars earned under extreme circumstances, I tucked them into my bra while I was afraid it could be taken away, and I was terrified and experiencing ‘real pain’ from my gut. In Cuba, I learnt to be afraid, but we don’t talk about it because survival was and still be our real Lecumberri.
The first five years were marked by sadness and nostalgia, physical and mental suffering, anguish and affliction, and all was caused by the war that was being fought within. A war was placed between ‘how I understood the world’ and ‘everything that we had to believe’. For the next five years, I felt able to write and tell my visions, even with my mistakes.
The possibility of a real and effective connection with other human beings through our works of fiction is minimal for a writer. We all have truths to say, even if some do not resemble others. Respecting this crucial and irrefutable fact means, at least, a reduction in the existential violence to which we got used.
I come from a deeply Cuban home, originally Spanish and African. The holiness of the orishas is my amulet, as well as the memory of a grandfather who fought against neocolonial dictatorships and the poetic presence of a father, who remained in Cuba because he believes in his fellow citizens and poets. My home was as loving and imperfect as any other. I learnt from incompatible ideological positions to respect other people’s opinions and to stand by my own. On the other side of that border, there is an overwhelming condition for human beings: intolerance.
I feel Cuban because I believe in Cuban music and literature; because I discovered universes with my first friends who were indeed Cubans and I love many Cubans who are still in Cuba, but also in Mexico, in France or at the end of the world. I am Cuban because for me all the seas smell like Boca Ciega, and the sunsets are the same as Havana Malecón. But twelve years of self-exile taught me that the fundamentals always follow us. We carry them on our backs or arms: our country, our home, the names of those we love, our dreams, and our ability to create. And I also realised that all that pain I felt on my island was a jail built by others or myself.
Sixty-two years of revolution have untangled the principles of the new man. My Cuban citizenship is no longer locked in a land that its own men have hurt, first with so much blood and later with so much hunger. A few days ago, Yomil, a Cuban artist, said on social media, “We ate our fear when we are so hungry”
Our educational system, churches, and governments forgot to plan strategies and policies to learn how to think and feel, for ourselves. We are becoming impoverished in our schools, at the core of our families and institutions believing in who provides and not in who dreams and works for a peaceful, deep, happy, and lasting existence.
Fear is at the end of the corner, it isolates and separates us from happiness. Fear makes us slaves. And, of course, I am not just talking about the fear of Cubans to say how they feel and to stand up for a change, I’m talking about the terror of death and the fright of swapping the word homeland for living. I am talking about all the distress that we can have.
Hellena and Tassos are the main characters of my new novel, and they are terrified of the world, but they will try to challenge the fear in order to find the only force that can save them which is love. Today, in the middle of the pandemic crisis, separated from my family, from so many loved ones, hurt even in my dreams by the precariousness of how life is on my island, exhausted from reconsidering the most elementary questions… There is only one thing that interests me at this moment and is that you are here, that literature keeps us together, that the beauty exists and is accessible, and that love creates bridges that cross the voids of time, geography, and brings us together in this impoverished Earth which worth the effort of changing it.