some additional thoughts on “Becoming Cuba”
I sat in on a post-show conversation with the actors today, and was delighted to hear one of the actresses identify herself as a leftist, speak about the play from a feminist perspective, and use words like “occupation” and “colonialism”, while thinking about how different Cuba would have been if the US had not “intervened” in the war—basically leaving in the air the fact that the revolution of 1958 was a direct result of lingering American “intervention” in the area following the war, and the de jure 3 year occupation.
Later in private conversation, she told me about a relative who was in Cuban during Castro’s early days and lost a small business—a pharmacy—to the Communist-style nationalizations then taking place throughout Havana. My father has the same story, and I think it is this loss of private property that irks Cuban exiles the most.
In the play, the loss of private property is depicted twice, one on-stage, the other recalled in conversation. Both represent dramatic turning points in the characters’ lives; “Manny”, the young, male revolutionary, sets a fire to the family sugarcane plantation, and his mother’s home, rather than have it fall into the hands of the Spanish.
Later, at the climax of the play [SPOILER ALERT], Adela, the lead character who has been struggling throughout the play with choosing sides, finally does, and her decision is visualized through the symbolic burning of her beloved pharmacy. This time, the action is not so much to prevent it from getting into the hands of the Spanish, but more to reflect the shedding of her loyalist sympathies, and the beginning of her process of “becoming cuban”.
In both cases, the acts of burning are revolutionary and in service to the revolution.
For those Cubans that left the island early on, or let the resentment of those nationalizations fester for years to come, I wonder how things would have been different if there had been this spirit of willingness for personal sacrifice. I feel like this is what the play is trying to get across; why has my father harbored such anger over the seizure of that pharmacy?
Looking at the period in between the “end” of the US occupation in 1902, and Castro’s revolution, we find a Cuba beset by North American influence. And the North America of this era had achieved the peak symbiotic relationship between public relations (advertising) and consumer goods. Propaganda pioneers such as Edward Bernays set the stage for a culture of ultra-individualism and materialism…in this context, it is no surprise that many well-off families in Cuba would have nothing of redistribution programs at the expense of their personal property and profit.
There’s something here that I’m still exploring, something about the need to let go in order to make something larger than oneself work.
My apartment and most of my material possessions burned down in the summer of 2010…it was the best thing that could have happened to me.