Five years ago, when we started this blog, we felt an urgent need to create a space for conversations about the bridges to and from Cuba that were unfolding at that historic moment.
Keeping to his promise to improve relations with Cuba, Obama had restored ties in 2015 and visited the island in 2016. Overnight, Cuba became a wildly popular destination. Commercial flights from the United States became available. Americans who’d never visited, and Cuban exiles who’d never returned, rushed to the island. It appeared that our Berlin Wall that separated the waters between Cuba and the United States would soon disappear.
We were excited and worried. The reopening of the U.S. Embassy in Havana filled us with hope for a more peaceful future between the two nations that defined our dual identity. But everything seemed to be moving too quickly, too chaotically. Airbnbs, restaurants, and boutiques sprung up all over the island and mushroomed in La Habana. Some Cubans were benefiting, but many were being left behind.
As poets and writers, we were concerned with the exoticized image of Cubans and Cuban Americans that were circulating in the media. Cuba was turning into a backdrop for fashionistas. A beloved place, a fraught place, that is home to so many of us, both in reality and in our imaginations, was being lost. We wanted to recover that home and articulate its meaning in this virtual space. And so, our blog was born.
Neither of us could have imagined that relations with Cuba would deteriorate to the degree that they have under Trumpian rule. The negative publicity toward Cuba and the shutdown of most commercial flights to the island have devastated the burgeoning private sector economy. It is truly shocking just how much has changed in the last five years.
Many now view Cuba as a forbidden place, even more distant and unreachable, alone and isolated by the sea once again. What bridges can we speak of now?
In this time of uncertainty, we feel a sense of urgency and wish to reignite this virtual space to offer new reflections, new forms of expression, new commitments to keeping Cuba on our radar. As the pandemic brings the world together in unexpected ways, we want to shine a light on Cuba from many perspectives and keep building bridges through stories, testimonies, and reporting. After our hiatus, we are back, and looking forward to featuring exciting voices and visions.
Thank you so much for joining us in this endeavor. We are grateful to all of you who’ve been supportive of our efforts and welcome all of you who are new to our blog. We hope you will keep in touch and share your thoughts with us and our readers.
Ruth Behar and Richard Blanco
July 3, 2020
There’s no denying that the invisible Berlin Wall across the straits between Cuba and Florida is beginning to crumble. Unfortunately, the political buzz, media hype, and appearance of numerous instant experts are furthering an exotic and distorted image of Cuba as a franchise. Consequently, the more subtle and poetic voices of those who have been experiencing Cuba for a lifetime—loving, grieving, and dreaming in Cuban—are being shut out. Noticeably absent are the real lives and complex emotional histories of thousands of Cuban-Americans and Cubans across the globe, including those on the island.
In response to this absence, Ruth Behar and Richard Blanco have joined their minds and hearts to create this blog as a forum for sharing and cataloging those real-life stories across the spectrum of race, geography, generation, class, religion, ethnicity, and gender of Cubans everywhere. Engaging the power of storytelling, the blog’s purpose is to build bridges that connect Cubans everywhere and lift the emotional embargo among us all, as we move forward together with our apprehensions and hopes, questions and convictions, doubts and dreams, into a new era of US-Cuban relations and the Cuba of tomorrow.
Featuring a wide range of contributors, the blog provides a place for poets, authors, personalities, scholars, and celebrities to share stories that lay bare the laughter and sorrow of being Cuban. Stories conveyed through personal narratives, poems, photo essays, interviews, surveys, and analyses. Stories that aren’t afraid to speak from an emotional register that breaks the heart and tries to heal it too. Stories that sooth and illuminate, as well as provoke and challenge perceptions, gradually building to a crescendo of voices that speak with passion, urgency, and unforgettable presence.
Throughout their 20-year friendship, Ruth Behar and Richard Blanco have written obsessively about the search for home and longing to keep Cuban roots alive through memory, literature, and cultural heritage, while also engaging with the unfolding realities of the island. Back in the early 1990s, as a way of healing the psychic wounds brought about by ideological divisions between Cubans who stayed on the island and Cubans who left, Ruth conceived of the idea of Bridges to Cuba/Puentes a Cuba, an anthology of voices that remains a landmark publication to this day. Edited by Ruth, it brought together, for the first time in English, many voices of Cubans of the second generation, both on the island and in the diaspora. Bridges to Cuba/Puentes a Cuba, opened a window onto the meaning of nationality, transnationalism, and homeland at the time, and created a space for reconciliation, imaginative speculation, and renewal.
Now, more than two decades later on the cusp of historical changes between the US and Cuba, this blog brings together Ruth’s notion of “bridges to Cuba” with Richard’s notion of the “emotional embargo.” For it is not simply a political and economic embargo that needs to be “lifted,” but also the weight of an emotional embargo that has kept Cubans collectively holding their breath for over fifty years. As poet and author, Richard has dedicated his life’s work to understanding that embargo, dealing with matters of the heart and spirit that policies and politics don’t really address. Namely, those stories sprung from a deep well of thought and feeling that need to be told in order to emotionally reconcile the diaspora of our various Cuban identities and claims as we move toward the post-embargo world of tomorrow.
Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Spanish translations by Gabriela Jauregui, Jennifer Bowles, and Federico Pous