The issue of being 7 or 8 years old when an ogre appears in your life disguised as a messiah is a terrible fact. And it occurred in my poor and unusual story, that when I was 7 or 8 years old, Fidel Castro appeared in Cuban history and took power. And from there, everything in Cuba began to become “exceptional.” Exceptional in the most pejorative sense of the word. Because the deception was for the worse not the better.
As a child, I was taught under the ideological standards [of communism]. Since childhood they instilled in me ideas which didn’t mesh with the national, republican ideals that previous generations had learned. Therefore I was a Pioneer, I studied in a highly ideological school, in a highly ideological secondary school; I say secondary because here in the United States secondary is what is called high school and it’s a highly ideological institution. I tried to comprehend the government’s formula of social economics which was being…or better said, had been installed in my country. I asked myself many questions and I didn’t have answers for them.
I discovered that my country was wandering with no purpose and towards nothing. It’s precisely that in 1980 in front of purely fascist events [by the government], brutal acts that were directed against the Cuban population wanting to leave the country through the port of Mariel and the events at the Peruvian embassy, which led me to understand that I was living inside a broken society, anti-democratic, totalitarian, and quite parallel to fascism. Because between totalitarian communism and fascism, the differences are very scarce and barely ideological.
[Pioneer movements are a common feature in communist societies. They are youth organizations operated by the party that indoctrinate students in communist ideology. In April 1980, thousands of Cubans seeking asylum stormed the Peruvian embassy. The incident attracted international attention and put pressure on the regime to relax its emigration restrictions; Mariel Port became the primary exit point for Cubans fleeing the country. Fidel Castro (1926 - ) led the Cuban Revolution and seized power in 1959. He established a communist dictatorship in Cuba and led the country until 2008.]
From there I had the noble occupation of teacher. I was a professor of physics, chemistry, and mathematics at the secondary and pre university level which they call middle school and high school here [United States]. Later I began to work as a literature advisor to the Ministry of Culture because I had graduated from college as a philologist [one who studies the relationship of languages to one another, and their history, especially based on the analysis of texts], better said I am licensed in Languages in Pan American and Cuban Literature with a little bit of art history and philosophy, etc…which was originally called in Cuba a Doctor of Philosophy and Letters; a career that, of course, one knows a lot but doesn’t really do a lot…one would say it’s not that practical.
After being a teacher I began to work as an advisor of literature in the Ministry of Culture which is really what I like to do; write, create literature and books. I won some national prizes, for literature and also for journalism. I made some trips outside of the country and discovered that the world was not small, like our Cuban village. And I better understood that phrase written by [Jose] Marti that says, "The prideful villager thinks his hometown contains the whole world." Because we thought that Cuba was the center of the world but in reality the world is, as the writer Pio Baroja said, “wide and strange."
[Jose Marti (1853 – 1895) is recognized as Cuba’s national hero. Marti was a writer and essayist who advocated for Cuban independence from Spain. Pio Baroja (1872 – 1956) was a Spanish novelist.]
Upon my return, I began to understand some of the reading that had been banned [in Cuba]. From [Immanuel] Kant to [Friedrich] Nietzsche, from [Georg Wilhelm Friedrich] Hegel up to I don’t know...[Auguste] Comte, [Herbert] Spencer, from... because, remember we had studied philosophy, and history from the point of view of these [communist] manuals from the government and we had not been exposed to the original sources, the philosophers, the true historians.
When we discovered this, we realized even more the dreadful [communist] mechanisms which had been established in Cuba. By 89, I had spent many years working as a journalist in various areas of the Cuban press, and in 89, I told the director of the newspaper, "Look, I'm tired of writing lies. I'm tired of writing a complacent newspaper. I'm tired of painting a pretty picture, when in reality the quality of life in Cuba is catastrophic.”
In June 1989, I quit. I spent a few years working as a literature advisor for the Ministry of Culture and already in 92, I decided that no, not even as a literature advisor could I support the burden on my conscience. In 1993, I won my last literary prize for a children’s book I wrote. I had abandoned adult literature, conceptual literature where there were too many dangers, and I had dedicated myself to children’s literature which was less ideological.
I could fantasize a little more; one was allowed a little more free rein of the imagination, and to the wisdom, and enchantment, the magic necessary to captivate children.
[Immanuel Kant (1724 – 1804) was a German philosopher who commented on reason and morality. Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 – 1900) was a German philosopher who commented on religion, morality, contemporary culture, and science. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770 – 1831) was a German philosopher best known for his commentary on philosophical idealism. Herbert Spencer (1820 – 1903) was a British philosopher who commented on evolution and classical liberalism; he coined the phrase, “survival of the fittest.” Auguste Comte (1798 – 1857) was a French philosopher who commented on the relationship between social evolution, science, and scientific methodology.]
In 93, when I won my last literary prize, I realized that the national prize that I had won was a check for 1,000 Cuban pesos. And that amounted to $6.16. . In the Plaza de Armas, this is an old colonial plaza in Havana in front of the Governor’s Palace and the “Palacio del Segundo Cabo,” a very touristy area, there were already some booksellers who sold books on their own.
And I asked one of the booksellers for a book of mine that was on display; a book that had been published a few years earlier called A Day of Paul, a book of poems for children. And the bookseller tells me, "Look, the Cubans don't buy here." I say, "What do you mean the Cubans don't buy here?" "No, no... We sell second-hand books but we sell them in dollars to the tourists.” "Well, I want to know, how much is that book worth?" He says, "Well, it’s worth $5." Immediately I said well, I just won a National Literature award for writing a book... I just won $6.16 and a second hand book of mine is sold in a kiosk and is worth 5 dollars, I cannot continue writing here. Apparently here you have to dedicate yourself to selling books.
And so three weeks later, I became a bookseller there in the Plaza de Armas, and I devoted several years, two years, to selling old books in the Plaza de Armas, selling old books, elated by my earnings; I had never earned $50 in one day, and standing there selling books allowed me to make these profits. That’s the salary of three or four workers in a month and I was making that in one day by just selling books.