One thing that has really impressed me during my six weeks here has been the incredibly high esteem that Cubans hold for their culture. Music, literature, art, architecture and cinema are essential parts of the life here, and I am glad that I got the opportunity to experience that. As I sit in the airport waiting for my flight back to Miami, trying to sum up a trip that is just about as un-sum-up-able as anything I’ve ever done, one image sticks with me—a scene from the movie Memorias de Subdesarollo, an older Cuban movie I had the chance to watch during my trip.
Memorias, considered one of the best Cuban movies ever made, is about a middle-class man who decides to stay in Cuba during the early years of the Revolution despite the fact that the rest of his family flees to the United States. The movie was recommended to me for the scene in which the protagonist sits in the audience of a round-table debate among writers, in order to see in action what I had been reading transcripts of in my research. One of the most analyzed scenes of the movie is when the man looks at Havana from a telescope on his balcony, showing how although he decided to stay he still feels separated from what is going on around him. The scene that stuck with me, however, is when he invites a young girl up to his apartment. As she is looking around at the pictures of his family, she asks if he is a revolutionary. He says no. She asks if he is a counter-revolutionary, and he says no again. So, she says, you’re nothing. The shock in the man’s face shows that he knows it is true—he is nothing.
Such a simple scene really had a big effect on my trip and my project. There had been a glaring hole hanging over my work since I got here: Why? Why did these writers feel the need to analyze and dissect a revolution that many thought they weren’t a part of? Why did so many writers take such strong positions? Why did they fight so hard for the right to create literature the way they wanted, and why did they care so much about how other writers did things? The answer: they didn’t want to be nothing. Being nothing is a scary thought, especially in a time when both heroes and villains are being born everyday. Cortázar knew that, as did every other writer that gave his or her opinion on what was happening in Cuba. Maybe yelling at writers in a room full of intellectuals wasn’t the most effective way to participate, but it was something.
As sad as I am for this trip to be over, I am excited to find out where all the work I have done here takes me. Hopefully I will be able to create something special enough to match how amazing this last six weeks has been.
Posted by Sam Ginsburg — MA Candidate at CLACS at NYU