Monday, October 13, 2008

The Ghosts of Communism

In 1959, with the rise to power of the Castro brothers, life as we new it had changed forever. My family came from Quivican-a little town south of Havana. My father ran a small welding business, from our house, but under Communist rule, free enterprise is not allowed and the welding shop was closed. My father was so angry and frustrated, that he buried most of his equipment in our back yard. He figured, that at least that way, the government couldn't get the satisfaction of stealing what he worked so hard for.

He raised pigs and sold them for profit, but that too had to end. Raising and killing your own pigs for food was prohibited. We weren't allowed to raise and kill our own farm animals and the authorities branded each one. Everything belonged to the State.

If you didn't participate in the Revolution, the police would call you in for questioning. My father was called to march on the streets, because everybody had to get prepared to defend their country. He hated that with a passion and eventually got sent to a work camp. Work Camps, by the way, were started by Argentinian Revolutionary and murderer, Che Guevara.

With the Communist Revolution came the firing squads, the disappearances, the massive exodus, the food rationing and the long lines. I can't tell you, how many times we stood in line for bread or any other item, only to get to the front of the line and be told, they were out of it.

While the regime wasted our resources, and sacrificed the lives of thousands of Cubans, spreading the seeds of communism, we had to survive on the few crumbs allowed by the rationing card issued to each family. Toilet paper was no where to be found, so we used old newspapers, when we could get them.

From the time a person entered kindergarten, the state kept a cumulative file that would follow you for the rest of your life. This file documented every thing or anything you had ever done. I lost count of how many times I heard my teachers in school say how much the revolution had done for us. The math didn't add up. If it was so great, why did so many people leave, and why was everyone so afraid?

Suicide was very high. I can't still remember conversations about people as young as fifteen, locking themselves in the bathroom and setting themselves on fire. Just behind our house, an old man who lived with his sisters hang himself from a tree. A man taking his cow out to pasture, found him when the cow wondered near the tree. My brother being the nosy person he was, ran over to see, when he heard. He said the man still clinched his tobacco in one of his hands; needless to say, that image gave him nightmares for years.

There was a house on each street, whose job it was, to keep tabs on each neighbor's comings and goings. They knew what time you left your house, what time you got home and who your friends were. They knew what you read, what you ate and what time you ate it. These were the CDR or Comite de Defensa de la Revolucion (Comity of Defense of the Revolution). One year sometime in the seventies, during election time, my mom, who was a rebel, decided to go visit her sister in a neighboring town. She said she wasn't about to participate in a election with just one candidate. It was a nice try, but not successful. Our CDR watch found out from the neighbors we were and went all the way to her sister's house to pick us up so she could vote. We had no choice, but to get in the car and my mom reluctantly voted for the one and only candidate-Fidel Castro.

The police kept a close eye on every person. One day, as my father sat in the movie theater, one of our towns policeman, asked him, "why do you always sit in the same seat?". There was no particular reason; my dad was just a bit obsessive. He had obviously been following him for sometime. It was this same policeman, who personally confiscated my father's hunting rifle, the year he filed papers to leave the country.

I was six years old, my brother was one, when my father left Cuba and I will never forget that day, for as long I live. His flight had been canceled two times before, so when he carried me on his shoulders that day I thought he would be back, just like the other times, but he didn't. The following weeks are very blurry, but I recall my mother telling to stop waiting, because he was not ever coming back.

We were denied an exit visa. It was standard procedure to let the husband leave without his family. It was their way of punishing us for not conforming and when young kids where involved, they had the opportunity to indoctrinate them. It would be another eight years before we could see my father again. Every family had someone that had left Cuba, via somewhere in the world.

My mother was a seamstress and a tailor, a trade also practiced by her maternal grandfather-a Spanish immigrant, who left Spain during the Civil War. I recall getting up in the middle of the night and seeing her sitting in front of the sewing machine. She had an old Singer with an electric pedal adapted to it. When I was 12, she gave free enterprise a try, when she started giving sewing lessons from our house. I recall that time as a very special era in our saga. It was refreshing to see all these women standing around a big table learning to make patterns and designing clothes. I meet my best friend during that time, when her mother joined the class. It was really nice, while it lasted; some lady in town, turned my mom in and she was called in to the police station and asked too join the Federation of Women and give classes for the state. She refused and that was the end of our little adventure in Capitalism.

We bought some things in the black market, as did most people. My mom had to cook the pork meat in the middle of the night, to avoid being discovered. Pork had a really strong odor back in Cuba. I don't know if it was the way pigs were raised, but It doesn't smell the same here in the US. Buying contraband of any kind, was punishable with jail time and food was no exception. The government didn't give a crap if we had enough food or not.

When we were finally given permission to leave, our house had an inventory done and everything in it was documented by the authorities. A few days before departure, they had us vacate the premises and they sealed it.

To this day, the house that my father built and baptized with the name Villa Zurama, is owned by the Cuban government.

I will forever be hunted by the ghosts of communism.
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pablito305 said...

This is reminds me the stories of papá as tell about the family famr in Santa Clara, my family also as escaping the the civil war in Spain and wishing for a better life in Cuba but then the Revolución in 1959. Then me here now in US and somethings in the political arena scare me for fearing that people even here would welcome socialist ideas, they must be reasonable in thinking of something that sounds good but does not work. What happened for a belief in God, in morales, in working for make ones life the best it can be. If people want the government to take care of them then they will see what happens after that, I don't want to be here to see it. I just hope we keep freedom here. Libertad por tú y me!

~Zurama~ said...

I would hate to have to go somewhere else again. If this country goes to the dogs, there's no where else to go.

Elemaza said...

Hello, Zurama, welcome to the Cuban blogosphere. I feel so fortunate my parents sent my sisters and I out of Cuba in 1961 via Operation Pedro Pan. It wasn't easy to be a thirteen-year-old Cuban refugee then but infinitely preferable to being subjugated by Castro. What he has done to us as a people, and what his terrorist goons have imposed for nearly fifty years is a nightmare that will be very hard for all of us to wake up from. Fortunately, those of us here do live in freedom so is it possible for each of us personally to do something to guarantee that freedom prevails. Even if all one does is write the truth, that is still a positive action. Cuba's hour of liberation is at hand, the people there know it and are more and more anxious to break their chains. We must do everything we can to help them.

Anonymous said...

Zurama, I believe you've captured the the real story of the revolution with this beautiful, poignant post. Welcome to the Cuban blogosphere!

Anonymous said...

You have a powerful voice and even more powerful story and it is heartbreaking.

Although we do have problems here in this country we will not fail, and there will always be a place for honest people in need to come to.

This country--our country--yours and mine, isn't perfect but as long as we have powerful voices such as yours that speak out and stand up for what they believe we will survive.

Thank you for sharing your story.

~Zurama~ said...

Thank you Elemaza-Iloved your blog, will drop by from time to time.

~Zurama~ said...

Thank Ziva. It's important to share our stories. Even the United States has to be vigilant, because freedom is not always as secure as we think.

~Zurama~ said...

You are very welcomed papercages. I am happy to tell my family's story. I love this country and I agree with you that, it might not be perfect, but it sure is close to it. I know I sound partial, but I can't help how I feel about America :)

Patty said...

Hi Zurama

I was touched by your story and families plight. I can't even imagine growing up under what you have seen. It scares me to think our country is at risk of losing many of the freedoms we have if McCain/Palin don't prevail.
I found your post through a twitter link I followed as I have been following the election coverage closely. Your story seems to echo others who came from communist countries and see the direction our government wants to take our country. It is scary to think the idea of hope and change could lead people to believe it is going to be better than what we have already. The theme of hope and change has been a consistent theme it seems when past socialist/marxist/dictators have come to power in other countries. It is frightening to think the youth of today are ignoring the truth all in the name of hope & change, which is still very vaguely presented by a performer as a candidate.

Feel free to join me on twitter @littlebytesnews. I'd be interested in learning more about your story.


Erin said...

Your heart can never belong to the state, that is the one thing I have learned from the Cuban American Community.
When you write, you write in color. You can make a American white chick fell Cuban. Thanks for allowing me into your heart.