Cristina Garcia - Dreaming in Cuban
January 11, 1959
My dearest Gustavo,
The revolution is eleven days old. My granddaughter, Pilar Puente del Pin, was born today. It is also my birthday. I am fifty years old. I will no longer write to you, mi amor. She will remember everything,
My love always,
So ends Cristina Garcia's novel, Dreaming in Cuban. Like many contemporary Cuban-America novels, at the heart of the
story is separation, the resultant confusions and misunderstandings, and the remarkable efforts taken to reconnect lives and loved ones. The distances created by the embargo, forbidden love, and even death, are overcome through secret letters, visions and apparitions, prayers and trances. Many are the mediators and go-betweens. Garcia suggests it is our dreams and desires that we speak freely. And that we draw strength from those who give it, who are not always the ones expected to protect us.
Religions and spiritualities are part of these coping mechanisms. The women in the book commit themselves to Catholicism, Santeria, and the revolution. Often faith of one is rejected by another, while certain beliefs must always be expressed in secret, amongst the poor.
The violence of loss and separation is evident, as is that of the Cuban exiles loss of identity. The intrinsic violence of the revolution (and pre-revolution dictatorship) receives little mention. But the fear of attack haunts the lives of the Cuban islanders, and even those exiled, who see communism in every shadow. And in lives marked by restriction and frustration, violence is enacted to punish, revenge, and escape.
I read this book accompanied by memories of Cuba and my own mixed emotions about the revolution. Can a forty year revolution remain revolutionary, or has the daily struggle for physical and ideological survival trampled down creativity and individual freedoms?
"The leaders forget what they looked like themselves fifteen years ago," the only young man in the group pronounces. "Today, they'd be thrown in a Social Disgrace Unit with drug addicts and maricones. Look at me. They say I'm rebellious, but it was rebels who made the revolution!" (108-9)
I thought about the scarcity of food (even with my privileged tourist status), the shells of once grand buildings along the Malecon, cheap seats at the ballet, black hens ready for sacrifice, an old woman's kiss goodbye, sunset through the banana leaves, the dancers of the gods, fresh orange juice and coconut palms. Most of all I thought about the blue of the sea. And how we all paint Cuba in our own colours, illustrating our ideologies and utopias.
"I can paint you any way you like," Pilar tells her grandmother (232). So she paints the elderly Celia, 'dancing flamenco with whirling red skirts and castanets and a tight satin bodice'(233). But mostly, she paints her as she sees her, in blue.
Until I returned to Cuba, I never realized how many blues exist. The aquamarines near the shoreline, the azures of deeper waters, the eggshell blues beneath by grandmother's eyes, the fragile indigos tracking her hands. There's a blue, too, in the curves of the palms, and the edges of the words we speak, a blue tinge to the sand and the seashells and the plump gulls on the beach. (233)Cristina Garcia (1992) Dreaming in Cuban New York; Ballentine Books. Photo: Varadero beach, by Alison Mann.