Margarita Alarcón Perea
Senel Paz wrote the short story El Lobo, El Bosque Y El Hombre Nuevo also known as Strawberry and Chocolate initially as part of a larger project, a novel, La Catedral del Helado. The short story version garnered him the Juan Rulfo Award for short story narrative and then Juan Carlos Tabio and the late Tomas Gutierrez Alea (Titón) turned the story into a film that became the first post 1959 Oscar nomination for a Cuban film.
The title for those who have never been to Havana may seem a bit awkward unless you know someone who has told you that in the capitol of Cuba there stands a building right in the middle of the downtown area that resembles a Cathedral much like the one designed by Oscar Niemeyer in Brasilia, surrounded by vegetation which serves only ice cream. Flavors like chocolate and strawberry, vanilla and mint and many others. Senel didn’t write a story about fatty foods and cholesterol, or cavity control in children younger than 14; he wrote a story about intolerance.
I remember those years at Havana University reading a photocopied stapled at the corner print of the original El Lobo, El Bosque Y El Hombre Nuevo handed to me by a good friend after the warning: “be careful, there is a big ruckus over at the Law Faculty over this one…” I read the story in one sit down and cried. Finally someone was proving that the pen was mightier than the sword right in our own neighborhood! Talking sense about an issue that had done so much harm to so many people. The story revolves around homophobia but that is just the front, what it really speaks to is intolerance, on any level.
For reasons that I could get into but won’t, Cuba post 1959 has gone through numerous stages of intolerance. Beginning when the first wave of exodus, followed by the country being back-stabbed with Operation Peter Pan, then it was the Grey Period, where intellectuals were pretty much cornered into non existence simply because somebody gave new meaning to the phrase “within the Revolution everything, without the Revolution nothing”. Then came the 1970´s when those who had left the country tried to make peace and found that the home they had left behind was compliant but the new found one was not, then came those who didn’t trust those who left and came back or the family members of those who had remained. It goes on today. It’s an ongoing battle that sees no end in sight because the players are one and the same, they are Cubans and Cubans by nature are as fun loving a people, as they are stubborn.
An article in the New York Times, which is as sad as it is hilarious, speaks to this very issue. Ozzie Guillen, who is currently managing the Miami Marlins, has been sanctioned because in an interview for Time Magazine he said something positive about Fidel Castro. You simply can’t get away with such a thing in Miami even if you are a professional baseball player and Venezuelan. By the way, I don’t want to pick on Miami for the sake of picking, I’m pretty sure that had he been the manager of the New York Yankees or the Chicago Cubs he would have gone through the same or similar, only in general the hype in Miami regarding Cuba is always newsworthy.
I recently met people who I would normally have had no business or reason meeting but circumstances brought us together. We are so very different on so many levels it’s like mixing vinegar and oil, yet because we spontaneously decided to keep the intolerance factor at bay, we not only communicated, we actually found ourselves pondering bipartisan, bipolitical, biCuban solutions to the reality we´ve been living for so very long, a reality that has one way or another defined us. Basically, if you were born on the island before or after 1959 and have never left or had any desire to do so, then you are by definition a communist and bad or good depending on the intolerance factor. By the same token if you were born before or after that defining date of ´59 and live in the US you are placed in the opposite category by definition, in both cases a definition based on intolerance, hate and I beg the reader forgive me, stupidity.
Cubans, the commonsensical ones, on either side of the Florida Straits are just like any other islander out there, we have yet to define ourselves because at any given moment we are made up of both tidal waves and low rising tides, we move like the water in time with the phases of the moon, we can’t be circumscribed to any preconceived politically convenient definition.
The only thing “defining” about our reality is that we are still stuck in the corner of intolerance.
Senel Paz´s “new man” still has a very long way to go on both sides of the equation.