The Decade of Goodbyes
(English translation of “La Década del Adiós”)
By Luis F. Brizuela Cruz
There are very few words that encompass more than the word “Goodbye”. It can be formally casual or transcendentally emotional. It can reference an instant which defers a reencounter or suggest the nostalgia of a time lost to us forever. Many times the uncertainty of its use is what makes its context immeasurable or undecipherable. It carries traces of longing from the precise moment in which it brings closure to a time or space, yet, simultaneously it is enveloped in a certain sense of divinity. In the minds and hearts of many, it can mark the end of an era or serve as the threshold of a destiny yet to be forged. Its etymology is infinity.
The sixth decade of the twentieth century can be called “The Decade of Goodbyes” for every single Cuban, not just those who left Cuba during that period. Historically, it was the epoch of the first dramatic goodbyes for the people of this Caribbean island, who went from carelessness to captivity and from distraction to consternation, all within the approximate time frame of those ten years. The Cuban exodus has since continued and the goodbyes have not ceased from tearing down souls, separating families and forever diminishing a culture. We Cubans are all children of goodbyes.
Today I would like to speak, however, about other goodbyes. Those almost inadvertent details which are mostly individually memorable and often escape the context of history; yet they remain as background music in our imagination or some ulterior pictorial dimension in the photographs of a family album. Those trivial details, which become more noticeable with the passing of time -as memories and nostalgia begin to gain on us- they are also “goodbyes”.
I remember walking with my dad around my hometown of Sancti Spíritus in the fall of 1968, just a few months after the so called “Revolutionary Offensive” by the government confiscated all the remaining small businesses across the island. Along the way we met with the shoe repairman, the cab driver, the ice cream man and listened to their outcry and longing for a recent past that now appeared to evaporate in front of their bewildered eyes. It was as if with their anguishing comments they were disbelieving all they had believed in up to just a few months before. It is worth mentioning that what came to be known cynically as the “revolution of the heel” did not let the symbolic guillotine drop on the necks of all Cubans at the same time, but rather it gradually descended on the various social classes, until our conceited population in its entirety received a dosage of humility and poetic justice. We must not forget that when the thugs from the Castro regime first came during the early sixties for the possessions of the rich, those in the upper middle class and the powerful enterprises that generated work and economic vitality, the other groups rejoiced with the prospect of the campaign that would level the playing field and redistribute the wealth of the country. Shortly thereafter, however, the “revolution of the heel” went on stepping on the “heels” of those who followed in the social hierarchy and the ones below laughed disdainfully as they claimed their own version of “social justice”. And so, it went on until all of us sooner or later confronted the gibbets of our culture and we were left with nothing, except our “goodbyes”.
Many said “goodbye” to their loved ones and to their personal possessions, but the vast majority said “goodbye” to their dreams. The disorganized and careless Cuba of the pre-Castro era had it all; corruption, abuse, inequality and injustice, but it also had dreams. Over the years I have learned of many stories of success, most of which involved those from the lower spheres of society. I have met parents who through their dedication and effort were able to build a better future for their children. I have known couples who started their journey together at a very young age and worked their way up to prosperity aided basically by their tenacity and principles. I have spoken to farmers who were illiterate, yet their children obtained an education as a result of the collective progress of the country and the hard work of their parents who labored in the farms of private landowners with whom many of those farmers developed a mutually rewarding relationship. Cuban workers in those days, for the most part, also enjoyed the freedom to move around in search of betterment. It must be mentioned that there were some avaricious landowners who practiced scams and also abused their workers, like the notorious case of one in the town of Birán, Oriente, but those were rather the exception than the rule. Of course, we are referring here to the time before the triumph of the revolution headed and subsequently stolen by the son of that conning and despotic landowner from Birán.
From that moment on everything started to extinguish. In typical communist fashion the system consumed all the wealth from the coffers of the nation and the incoherent slogans put out by the government eroded the morale and the spirit of the Cuban worker, this all in the absence of any authentic incentive for progress. Therefore, there would be no adequate replenishment of the wealth of the land, as this is only feasible within the fundamentals of capitalism. We Cubans started to change and became robots at the mercy of the whims of a psychopath with the absolute power to enslave six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven million souls inside the captive island. Hence, the apprehension that comes along with the constant notion of parting became ingrained in the Cuban psyche.
During “The Decade of Goodbyes” the photographs from the pre-Castro era started gaining more relevance, as it became increasingly difficult to take new pictures. The now filmless cameras and the staplers without staples became -among so many others- obsolete objects from a bourgeois past. The old pictures transformed into priceless possessions for the Cuban families that were able to flee Castro’s inferno, as they also did for those left behind in physical and emotional captivity. Since it was extremely difficult and dangerous to leave from Cuba to the United States bearing personal belongings, many exiles would rejoice when years later they would receive old pictures sent to them by relatives and friends. Those who remained in the island would part with their pictorial memories to help mitigate the nostalgia of those distant from home… and then in a house in Miami, an apartment in Union City or another remote site of our adopted homeland a family would gather to relive the remembrances depicted in the pictures. Even the secondary image of a refrigerator, a television set or an old portrait in the background of an old family photo would incite a melancholic reaction about a yesterday turned into another goodbye.
Other decades have passed and Cubans have accumulated more nostalgia and more goodbyes. In recent times, however, with changes resulting primarily from the desperation of the failed Castro regime, new tourist cameras have invaded the island to capture the new Cuban reality –in some instances the mascaraed version choreographed by the government and in others the crude reality of a land that time forgot. The new images now have the digitalized hues of a new millennium and many of the pilgrim photos from the sixties have been shelved or put away in drawers. Yet, we, the protagonists of so many goodbyes, continue our march in the infinite procession of our Cuban exile toward a future as uncertain as our past and our present. We may never know what supreme judgment dictated the nomadic destiny of our culture or if our sociological process was meant to serve other nations to try to prevent its replication. It is, however, unquestionable that our history already runs parallel to that of other errant groups perpetually compelled by the imminence of the eternal exodus.
March 10, 2014
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