by Carmen Peláez
“Caballero, it’s only water. We aren’t actually made of sugar.” I offered trying to neutralize their collective terror. They weren’t only staying out of the rain, they were obsessed with it. How long would it last? Would it get stronger, lighter… would there be flooding? I figured it was just something to talk about. In Cuba, people will talk for three days about the most insignificant occurrence only because it has occurred.
But then Nena, an older friend of mine said, “No ‘chacha-you don’t understand. Every time it rains in Havana buildings collapse. People never know if their building is next.” Because people have to wait on lists for the government to fix their homes, Cuba is in a general state of disrepair. Even the lightest rain shower, especially the lightest rain shower, seeps into the walls and when baked by the sun, weakens the structure bringing seemingly solid building crumbling to the ground.
This month’s Paz Sin Fronteras concert made me think of those rainy days in Havana. From a month beforehand the storm was brewing in Miami. A few old school “patriots” headed out to the streets to do things that would ironically warm a dictator’s heart like burning effigies and breaking apart CD's. But most Cuban Americans didn’t take the bait and it wasn’t as divided down generational lines as reports would lead us to believe. It seemed to be divided more down common sense lines-as many in my grandparent’s "historic exiles" generation, whether or not they liked the idea of the concert, refused to engage in such sensationalistic and misguided displays.
Moreover, many of us passionately defended Juanes’ freedom of expression, without knowing if we’d be sorry for extending our jugular for a Latin American rocker not particularly known for his politics. But inaction was not an option no matter how heated the debate got. It was time for courage and risk, on our terms but it didn’t make it any less frightening. As the clouds rolled in and the concert began, I was afraid to answer my phone not knowing if I’d get electrocuted.
I was as emotional as the next exile seeing the million plus Cubans fill the Plaza on their own volition. But overall, I didn’t find the concert particularly entertaining or moving and even though some very strong statements were sprinkled throughout the concert, I was left a little empty. It wasn’t until the next day that I realized what happened.
I found myself thinking about the actual audience reactions to the concert. They didn’t applaud or even pay much attention to the regime supported/supporting artists. Young Cubans cheered wildly for the foreign acts most of whose songs they’d never heard before, not because they had to but because they represented something different. They looked happy and loose and free, something that, on my trips to Cuba, I had never seen in person.
I thought of all the exiles updating their Facebook profiles and calling each other to confirm what was said and what wasn’t said and whether they were able to see the concert on TV or on their computers.
And it hit me. Cubans on the island and Cubans in exile spent an afternoon together without fear, repercussions or any visible limitations on how they could take it all in — a wonderful moment in our painful and divided modern history.
That’s when I realized that the Cuban government has taken on the qualities of those old Havana buildings fighting to stay standing. Tired and hopeless they give some semblance of shelter, of the devil you know, of what you’ve grown up with but little else. Our momentary unity showed us that we can be the rain that makes its way deep into those thick but compromised walls. Slowly, we can trickle over Cuba; an evolved exile community and a resolved Cuban populace determined to close the book on the boorish revolution. And together we will watch the sun bring a new day forward in a unified Cuba libre.
Carmen Peláez was born in Miami to Cuban parents. She is a playwright and actor currently residing in Brooklyn, New York.