Cuba: Our 90-mile Danzón May Be Eternal. So here's to More Pastelitos and W.B. Yeats in 2022.
Updated: May 21
El compromiso de los bailadores, en la Habana como en la 'Souwesera,' es un espejo de los deseos pa' los que bailan con lo que era.
The dancers' moves, in Havana as in Southwest Miami, is a mirror of desires for those who dance with what used to be or was" - Lyric from "El Danzón de Noventa Millas"
I wrote "El Danzón de Noventa Millas" ('The 90-Mile Danzón') back in 2010. It was originally conceived as music for a documentary on the hyper-hypocritical U.S.-Cuba polemic called Will the Real Terrorist Please Stand Up? The lyrics speak directly to a decades-old song and dance of bullshit between two governments and Cubans living on both sides of the 90-mile stretch of the Straits of Florida, the body of water between Cuba and Key West. The Danzón (/dance/-/own/)is a Cuban ballroom dance(and erstwhile musical genre, a la Pluto and its planet status:))whose origins are English (via 17th century 'Country Dance'), Spanish (1800's Danza) and French (via French immigrants fleeing the Haitian Revolution). Its all too unsurprising 'Whitey-Euro' monarchial origins weren't lost on me when I wrote the tune, of course, but it was the dance itself, with a kind of 'one step forward, four steps back' stylized pointlessness that I clung to in terms of metaphor. It perfectly captures the polemic, the posturing, and, ultimately, the follies of the so-called Cuban sovereignty debate.
This is a retrospective on 2021 Cuba. Sorta. Looking back on last year, specifically in regards to what happened (or what failed to happen) in Cuba, I realize more than ever that when it comes to my parents' homeland, my family and I have always been bound up in some sort of personal vortex spinning parallel to our countries' histories and politics.
Eckhart Tolle and the new ghost of Thích Nhát Hanh would kill me for saying this, but I dwell in the past. Like a lot. Indeed, nearly all of my artistic identity and output is based there: my parents' Cuba, my son-of-Cuban exiles experience growing up in South Florida, lifetimes of memories -- mine and/with my family's -- rolled up or stacked like a huge, existential pastelito version of Yeats' 'Second Coming' gyre. Instead of an ever-unfurling gyre, a series of interpenetrating histories whose intersections mark cataclysmic or 'Big Change' events, what we have here -- between the U.S. and Cuba -- is more like an accordion, seemingly ever expanding and contracting, but just as patterned and eternal-feeling as Yeats' conception.
"¡Hasta la victoria siempre!" "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold!" "La historia me absolverá." "The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity." Che, Yeats (cum Achebe), Fidel, Yeats. Our pastelito accordion/gyre is ever full, alive and well in this new year just as is was in 2021.
"Patria O Muerte" and "Patria Y Vida" are but the latest outer layers of the pastel we made last year. As evidenced by the mass, sham trials taking place on the island now (to say nothing of 600+ desaparecidos/disappeared, minors being held/sentenced, hunger-striking artists, et al) expansive-globalized waves of Cubans seeking asylum in places as far flung as Greece and a host of American-led protestations and advocacy movements both sides continue to devour that damn pastelito while arguing over crumbs and forgetting that we ourselves are its bakers. The continued existence of the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp, the bloviating obstructions-to-progress of U.S.Senators like Bob Menendez and Marcco Rubio, and the GOP's pandering to Latinos in general, and Cuban-Americans specifically (to say nothing of the latter's arrogance)are but new-old layers of guayaba y queso crema. I, for one, am tired of eating this shit.
"Surely some revelation is at hand" said Yeats, mocking me herein via his poem, "The Second Coming"since I'd just asked myself (again) when, if ever, the U.S.-Cuba polemic would actually change. Maybe it never will. One thing is certain and still holds in some key ways: the U.S. side of polemic has been at work as early as the 1790's, when records indicate that the U.S. considered the nascent lil hot spot (aka Cuba) part of its dominion. Don't get me started on Spain. From its very beginning, upon the extermination of its indigenous people, and for most of its history, Cuba has been much more of a cog (monarchial, then capitalistic) than anything resembling its so-called gilded age of deco design opulence, and babaloo-infused mythologies that many of my fellow Miami Cubans and Camilla Cabello's songwriters would love to return or revert to.
I've written so many songs chronicling my family and their experiences. I'm currently producing a podcast with my mom and am working on yet another memoir drawing upon boatloads of combined memories, bitter, joyous, drunken, and driven Cuban relatives --- many of them believing, to their dying days, that a return to Cuba was imminent; that a restoration or redemption of what Cuba was before Castro could actually happen. More and more of those relatives are no longer here. Nearly all of seem to have forgotten or simply cast aside the fact that post-colonial Cuba was a perennial hot mess. Turn gyre, turn.
But to reserve or direct Yeats' poem to a particular society, epoch or country is missing the point as badly as an American arguing in favor of "American democracy" in Cuba. Maybe what's been happening between us is so reified by time that change, if it ever does come, will come in the form of (yet) another revolution...of the gyre turned by some highly organized factions. As it now stands, the U.S. democracy is as disputable as it is imperiled, given the twin facts of our establishment as a Republic alongside the super-divisive state of our Oligarchy. So, hell, I really don't think "our" way is at all the "right" way for Cuba. More on this later...But first, just one more bite.
Our pastelito, like any memory, is much bigger than perceived at first bite. Every conversation, recounting, or song lyric that ever was or came to be for me uncoils this Cuban-American gyre bit by personal bit. Historically, the uncoiling is writ large by countless books, scholarly articles, post-revolution political triumphs, inanities and inhumanities on both sides of the U.S. - Cuba polemic to the point where that old tune "Stuck in the Middle with You" never rang so true as it does for many a person trying to make sense of a place like Cuba, or the Cuba encased in the amber gemstone of hearts and minds belonging to people who have either never been there or who were born there but left it long ago.
2021 was quite the year for my parents' homeland. Not since 1994's Maleconazo had there been such widespread protests. So what happens now? So what do I think needs to happen? Stick around. I'll put on my Walter Mercado turban and tell ya what I think in the next post.