Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Achy Obejas: In These Times - Worth Reading (II)

You know something about Cuba is "worth reading" when you get recommendations for it from both the strident critic of the Cuban government Ernesto Hernandez Busto at his blog Penultimos Dias, and from the self-described American-Cuban (para no decir Cubano-Americano) and passionate defender of the revolution, Walter Lippmann, who runs the CubaNews Yahoo news group. (Still, Val Prieto over at Babalu doesn't seem too thrilled about it - but what else is new!)

Enter Achy Obejas and "Inside Cuba: Voices from the Island."

Going "live" next week on its website (though some articles are available on-line now) is the special December "Cuba" edition of the alternative monthly magazine, In these Times. (I went to three different magazine kiosks here in Manhattan yesterday and still haven't yet found a hard copy - I guess it's tough times for independent meida both in Cuba and the U.S. - remember A.J. Leibling's wise words: "Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.")

Culled together by the intrepid Cuban-American writer, editor, and translator, Achy Obejas, this "The Revolution at 50" anniversary edition of the magazine features an excellent collection of essays and articles by Cubans on the island. Apart from this needed focus on "voices from the island," the selections in the magazine priortize culture (broadly defined) over academic, political, and economic analyses.

In Obejas' words, here "you'll find literary writers, rather than academic experts. They are not dissidents, though each is critical in her or her own way."

That said, many of the topics and writers featured here have recently been fodder for the so-called "cyber-wars" in the Cuban media. As always, Achy has her finger on the pulse of the island. This includes a selection of posts from the independent blog, "LGBT Cuba News Today," created by "The Reinaldo Arenas LGBT Memorial Foundation," detailing gay life and struggles in today's Cuba.

There is also an article on "Guerrilla Blogging" by none other than Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, the writer and photographer recently roughed up by state security agents in the company of Yoani Sanchez. Other essays include a history of Cuban rock by sci-fi writer and all-around roquero Yoss, and a reprint of an article by Jose Alejandro Rodriguez, "Against the Demons Who Kidnap Information," critical of the lack of "real news" in Cuban newspapers that originally appeared on the website of Juventud Rebelde. (I'd link it through hypertext for you here but it seems to have been itself "kiddnapped" from the website only a few hours after it first appeared.)

(Oh, and I almost forgot, there's even an article by the always fertile, thoughtful, and provocative Leonardo Padura, "How Cubans Resolve to Survive," whom I featured in my previous post).

Here's a taste of what's in store for you from the lead article, "Welcome to Cuba," by Obejas herself:
"I know few Cubans, and not just in Miami but in Havana too, who want intervention. The vast majority of us – here and there and everywhere – want reconciliation, an end to estrangement, greater civil liberties on the island, a more efficient and open economy, peace and friendship with the U.S. But we want to figure this out amongst ourselves, among Cubans.

"I know this is hard sometimes for my non-Cuban friends on the left, who are so invested in Cuba they feel it’s practically theirs (and so invested sometimes, that they’re loath to see the evidence with their own eyes of anything that might contradict their ideas). But it’s not. Cuba’s ours.

"I know it’s hard to imagine that the crazies in Miami should actually have a say in Cuba’s future. But they should, yes. When I’m in Cuba, I tell them that. And in Miami, I don’t shy away from saying that those who stayed in Cuba are the ones who need to make the decisions, the ones who need to figure out what’s best, and that those of us who have chosen to live abroad – for whatever reason – can only have an auxiliary role.

"Cuba is for Cubans.

"The most crucial lesson I’ve learned going back and forth – I still do it, at least once or twice a year – is that we have to listen to each other, really listen. For me that has meant acknowledging that my parents were, in fact, right about many things."

PD: If you like what you read here from Obejas and others, I highly recommend the collection of Cuban short stories (from Cubans on the island and in exile), edited and often translated by Obejas herself, get ahold of a copy of Havana Nior.

Lots of good stuff here from the following writers: Leonardo Padura, Pablo Medina, Alex Abella, Arturo Arango, Lea Aschkenas, Moises Asis, Arnaldo Correa, Mabel Cuesta, Yohamna Depestre, Michel Encinosa Fu, Mylene Fernandez Pintado, Carolina Garcia-Aguilera, Miguel Mejides, Achy Obejas, Oscar F. Ortiz, Ena Lucia Portela, Mariela Varona Roque, and Yoss.

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