Reports from Cuba: A Christmas divided between ‘here’ and ‘over there’

Yoani Sanchez writes in 14yMedio from Havana via Translating Cuba:

Cuba, a Christmas Divided Between ‘Here’ and ‘Over There’

At this end of the year, many of us Cubans remaining on the Island experience the December Celebrations through those who have emigrated.

It’s time to see them in the photos they send on WhatsApp. They smile in some square with a Christmas tree behind their backs. Other times they are sitting at the table with full plates, lit candles, bubbly glasses and colorful decorations. This end of the year, many of us Cubans who remain on the Island experience the December celebrations through those who have emigrated. We breathe a sigh of relief as we conclude that they have been saved from the abyss.

“Tostones or yucca?” a neighbor asks her husband regarding the menu for Christmas Eve. Alone, after the emigration of their two daughters, they try to maintain the tradition and, despite the hardships, will celebrate next Sunday with their family. The problem is that they no longer have relatives in Cuba to invite to dinner, grandchildren to entertain with gifts, or plans to make with their children, in this land, for 2024. They are as alone as the star that shines on the tip of the tree.

“I don’t care, if it’s just you and me,” he responds when faced with the options to eat. Retired and, at the time, a defender of what he now contemptuously calls “this thing,” my neighbor knows that last summer, when he turned 79 and gathered his daughters, his sons-in-law and his grandchildren in a photo, he was also achieving a now impossible snapshot, which will never be repeated. Valencia, Miami and cold Stockholm are the new homes of those who, just a few months ago, posed in the image with him, a cake, some beers and Negrito, the family’s elderly dog.

For weeks now, the couple has only smiled when she, more skilled with technology, comes almost jumping to tell them that “the girls” [her granddaughters] wrote to her, that one is doing well in school and the other is making new friends. She is moved when she hears how her eldest daughter’s husband is happy “frying hamburgers and earning real money for the first time,” although in Cuba he was an engineer. If the neighbors ask her, she always repeats: “Well, they are doing very well, at least they are not here.”

“Here” It is the place where next Sunday the two elderly people will put out the tablecloth embroidered by the grandmother, who died ten years ago, they will take out the tall glasses and the porcelain vase, with flowers of an intense blue color. “Here” they will uncork the cider that the youngest daughter sent them, they will eat slowly, they will tell each other anecdotes about when the oldest of the grandchildren fell trying to take his first steps or about that moment when one of the sons-in-law had an accident on the motorcycle. Then the desserts will arrive, the toast will arrive and they will once again review the most recent photos received from “over there.”

“Outside,” their daughters and grandchildren will have known nostalgia, snow and multiculturalism for the first time. They will take selfies in front of the illuminated windows, they will try to call “the old people” who remained on the Island three times in the day, but the poor quality of the internet service in Cuba will frustrate a part of those desires. “Outside,” they will meet friends again, get to know other people, enter a new work environment and will also go through the difficulties of a newcomer. “Over there” has become their “here.”

In Cuba, the grandparents will have agreed not to worry them. “Don’t let them see us sad,” she says. “Let them not be distressed for us,” he adds. So to calm any concerns, this Sunday night they will play music, film a short video while uncorking a bottle, show Negrito sleeping on an armchair and, just a week later, they will add other images throwing a bucket of water from the balcony of the house to ask for a better new year.

“Here,” everything now focuses on not disturbing those who left. So that they do not see the loneliness in which thousands, hundreds of thousands of people have been left. My neighbors don’t want their daughters to see how they look at someone who didn’t have room in the last lifeboat. From “here” It is time to encourage the emigrants and live through them, in the photos they send from “over there” by Whatsapp.

1 thought on “Reports from Cuba: A Christmas divided between ‘here’ and ‘over there’”

Leave a Comment