Migration and imagination in contemporary Cuba

Material Information

Migration and imagination in contemporary Cuba
O'Shea, Patrick Kevin
Publication Date:
Physical Description:
vi, 114 leaves : ; 28 cm


Subjects / Keywords:
Cubans -- Attitudes -- Mexico ( lcsh )
Cubans -- Attitudes ( fast )
Emigration and immigration -- Government policy ( fast )
Emigration and immigration -- Government policy -- Cuba ( lcsh )
Cuba ( fast )
Mexico ( fast )
bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )


Includes bibliographical references (leaves 109-114).
General Note:
Department of Humanities and Social Sciences
Statement of Responsibility:
by Patrick Kevin O'Shea.

Record Information

Source Institution:
|University of Colorado Denver
Holding Location:
|Auraria Library
Rights Management:
All applicable rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
Resource Identifier:
166253693 ( OCLC )
LD1193.L65 2007m O73 ( lcc )

Full Text
Patrick Kevin OShea
B.A., University of Colorado at Boulder, 1996
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver and Health Sciences Center
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Social Science

This thesis for the Master of Social Science
degree by
Patrick Kevin OShea
has been approved

OShea, Patrick K (M.S.S., Social Science)
Migration and Imagination in Contemporary Cuba
Thesis directed by Assistant Professor James Igoe
This thesis examines the contemporary Cuban nation as a fragmented product of
the existing patron-clientage system through an investigation of the current Cuban
migratory policy. It is based on field work that was conducted primarily in the cities of
Puebla, Mexico and Mexico City, Mexico between September 15 and December 18 of
2006. Ethnographic research focused on the personal narratives of Cuban immigrants
living in Mexico and their transnational experience as members of a fragmented Cuban
nation. This fundamental condition of fragmentation derives from a patron-clientage
system of control in which being in-favor or out-of-favor with the state is crucial to
determining a persons condition of life. The migratory policy of the Cuban government
provides an example of how this system operates in contemporary Cuba. Certain benefits
exist for particular types of Cuban migrants depending on their relationship with the state.
Such discrepancies in the patron-clientage system fragment the population by creating
spheres of difference within the society. These spheres of difference are negotiated
everyday in the imaginations of the Cuban people. For every individual migratory
narrative, there is a corresponding imagined Cuba that derives from the distinct life
experience of that Cuban inside of the patron-clientage system, on and off the island.
These differences fuel a battle to discover the authentic Cuba through a symbolic war of
selective memory and nostalgia. Inside the existing system of patron-clientage, migration
and imagination figure heavily in the formation and re-formation of contemporary Cuba.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis. I recommend its

I would like to give thanks to my advisor, James Igoe, for his contribution and
support to the writing of this thesis. I also would like to thank my committee
members Andrea OReilly Herrera and Michael Ducey for their participation and

1. INTRODUCTION......................................1
2. BATTLE OF IDEAS..................................10
Our Ideas Are Our Weapons.....................10
3. A FRAGMENTED NATION..............................25
Migration and Patron-Clientage Relations......25
Comemierdas at a Pig Slaughter.............25
Excessive Paternalism......................31
My House, My Rules.........................41
4. IMAGINING CUBA...................................63
Migration and Cuba as an Imagined Community...63
Migratory Matrimony........................63
Conditional Imagination....................74
The Authentic Cuba.........................89
5. CONCLUSIONS.....................................100
A. METHODOLOGY.......................................108


One of the basic questions that must be asked in order to gain a full
understanding of international migration is: What are the forces in sending
societies that promote out-migration, and how do they operate? (Massey, et al,
2002). The following thesis paper is intended to provide a rudimentary sketch of
the forces that operate inside of contemporary Cuba. A cultural foundation is
present which nurtures a patron-clientage system of control in which being in-
favor or out-of-favor with the patron is crucial to determining a persons condition
of life. This system has its roots in the Spanish colonial period of Cubas history
but has never truly been uprooted from the political fabric of the country. The
present-day migratory policy of the Cuban government provides an example of
how this system operates in contemporary Cuba. An examination of Cuban
migration also reveals the complex nature of Cubas current system which has a
tendency to be reduced in the public forum to a society being held captive
according to the whims of one powerful man. It is important to clarify that this
thesis is not an analysis of the antagonistic relationship between Miami and
Havana or between the government of Fidel Castro and the government of the
United States nor is it about the special conditions surrounding Cuban migration

to the United States. By focusing on the lives of Cuban immigrants living in
Mexico, this thesis attempts to normalize the discussion about Cuban migratory
policy and the effects of the system on the lives of Cuban citizens and how they
envision the transnational world around them and their place in it.
The location of Mexico for the present study was chosen for its historical,
geographical, political, cultural, and linguistic connections with Cuba. Cubans
have had a presence in Mexico since the Spanish colonial period and have
included such notable Cubans as Jose Maria Heredia, Josd Marti, and Fidel
Castro. Very little work has been done regarding the Cuban population in Mexico
but the significance of Mexico in the Cuban narrative is, as will be shown later in
the text, substantial. The setting of Mexico is uniquely suited to analyzing the
Cuban nation, its fragmentation and its migration process. It allows the discussion
to be removed from the special circumstances of the U.S. context on the one hand,
and on the other hand, because of its shared border with the U.S., does not
distance the discussion completely from that crucial context.
Preferential status is given to Cubans under U.S. immigration law not
afforded to them by Mexican immigration law. As Fidel Castro put it, If a
Mexican goes to the U.S. illegally, hes expelled. If a Cuban enters illegally, hes
given a house (Bardach, 2002, 233). An amended version of the original 1966

Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson, the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1996
provides for a special procedure under which Cuban natives or citizens, and their
accompanying spouses and children, may obtain a haven in the United States as
lawful permanent residents. On September 30,1996, Congress enacted the Illegal
Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA). After serious
consideration of IIRIRA, the Service established that a Cuban native or citizen
who arrives at a place other than an open port-of-entry may still be eligible for
adjustment of status (US Citizenship and Immigration Services, 2007). This
exception is commonly known as the Wet-Foot/Dry-Foot policy that stipulates
that any Cuban who reaches dry ground on U.S. soil is automatically considered
eligible for adjusted status and will not be sent back to Cuba. Such a policy does
not exist between Cuba and Mexico.
This difference in migratory experience is the first step in identifying the
distinction between the Cuban experience in the United States and the Cuban
experience in Mexico. This distinction in turn gives us a more complete picture of
Cuban migration and thusly a more complete impression of the contemporary
Cuban nation. Because of the special status afforded Cuban migrants by U.S.
migratory policy the full breadth of the effects of Cuban migratory policy on the

citizens is not revealed within its confines.1 In order to achieve a more complete
composition of the mosaic that is the Cuban nation, it is necessary to seek the
narratives of members living in other transnational contexts. Therefore, it is
important to be able to locate the discussion of Cuban migration and its
subsequent effects of the Cuban nation in the context of a country like Mexico,
providing a normalized look at how the Cuban migration system operates.
The field work for this thesis was conducted between September 15 and
December 18, 2006 and consisted of semi-focused interviews and participant
observation of Cuban immigrants living primarily in Puebla, Mexico and Mexico
City, Mexico. The interviews were aimed at collating personal experiences and
attitudes toward transnational relationships and the factors affecting these
relationships. I began to become acquainted with Cubans who would then
recommend that I speak with someone they knew. Using this snowball technique,
I established contact with sixty individuals of Cuban origin who were currently
living in Mexico twenty-five of whom became the ethnographic backbone of this
thesis. The informants were not chosen according to any discriminating
1 In addition to the Cuban Adjustment Act (1966/1996), which provides a haven for any Cuban
who reaches American soil on their own accord, the U.S. makes available 20,000 immigrant
authorizations each year to Cubans as set forth in the U.S.-Cuban Migration Accords of 1994. This
is a system that is unique to Cuba and separate for the worldwide visa lottery for which Cubans
are also available (source: U.S. Department of State). This type of migratory accommodation is
not available to Cubans by any other country in the world.

characteristic other than their Cuban nationality. In fact, in addition to the Cuban
informants there were several informal discussions with Mexican citizens whose
perspective informed the direction of this work, although those discussions were
not directly incorporated into the text.2 All the individuals and families
encountered during the field work are greatly appreciated for their cooperation
and contribution to this work. Their narratives have guided the focus of this work
that will attempt to illustrate the contemporary Cuban nation as a fragmented
whole through the use of the personal narratives of its members, both on and off
the island.
It is the fundamental condition of fragmentation shared by all Cubans that
makes the migration narrative a very effective framework within which to
examine contemporary Cuba. Migrants both act and are acted upon with their
reference to their social, cultural and gendered locations. The interaction between
structure and agency accepts the fact that migrants shape and are shaped by the
context within which they operate (Brettell, 2000). A study of Cuban migration
helps to uncover the underlying dynamic within which the citizens operate on a
daily basis as a byproduct of the system they live in. Currently, certain benefits
2 All interviews were conducted in Spanish and translated to English for this thesis by the author.
All citations from Spanish language texts were also translated by the author.

exist for particular types of Cuban migrants depending on their relationship with
the state. This ever-present negotiation of the patron-clientage relationship colors
the experience of each Cuban and encourages certain strategies to be employed.
For example, the current system rewards a person who pays a foreigner to marry
them. Under the stipulations of the Permiso de Residencia en el Exterior (PRE),
because a person is married to a foreign citizen, they will be afforded unlimited
visits to Cuba if they choose to live abroad. On the other hand, balseros who take
off in a boat are not allowed to re-enter the territory of Cuba for a period of five
years because they violated Cuban migratory controls and left the country without
permission. These discrepancies in the patron-clientage system fragment the
population by creating spheres of difference within the society. These spheres of
difference are negotiated everyday in the lives of the Cuban people. Each Cuban
carries with them a vision of what Cuba represents depending on their personal
life experience. These life experiences are products of the patron-clientage
system of control. A man who can visit Cuba as often as he likes holds on to a
picture of Cuba that is distinct from that of a man who was forced into exile to
avoid political persecution. For every individual migratory narrative, there is a
corresponding imagined Cuban nation.

Benedict Anderson (1983) contends that all nations are imagined
communities. He defines the nation as an imagined political community but
clarifies that by defining a nation as imagined does not mean that it is fictitious.
On the contrary, Anderson establishes that nations are very real but that they are
all imagined communities because the members of even the smallest nation will
never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet
in the minds of each lives the image of their communion. In fact, Anderson states
that all communities larger than families or small villages where all members
know each other through face-to-face contact (and perhaps even these) are
imagined (1983,15). However, he explains that the nation is limited to boundaries
beyond which exist other nations. That is to say, for example, that although the
nation of Cuba exists beyond its physical borders because of migration, it is not
unlimited in its reach. Not every person in the world belongs to the Cuban nation,
just as Cubans do not belong to every other nation of the world. It is the profound
sense of fraternity between its members through their commonalities (geographic,
political, linguistic, cultural, ethnic, etc.) that has made so many people over the
centuries to be willing to die for their country (1983, 16). This sense of
comradeship holds together a community, no matter how fragmented it might be
geographically. Anderson notes that communities are not differentiated by the

style in which they are imagined (1983, 15). It is these national imaginings as
Anderson refers to them that this thesis examines in the context of the Cuban
migratory system.
The present work is not intended to be an exhaustive examination of
Cuban migration, of the Cuban nation, or of the Cuban imagination. The primary
intention of this work is to examine more closely the various imagined
communities (Anderson, 1983) that comprise the larger imagined community of
the nation of Cuba through the personal experiences of its members. Through the
use of personal narratives the following chapters will study contemporary Cuba as
an imagined community through the eyes of various members of that community.
The second chapter will provide a narrative backdrop for a discussion of the
symbolic negotiation of Cuba as a nation. The third chapter will focus on the
fundamental condition of fragmentation, its origins, and its consequences. One of
the principal questions of this chapter will be how the interaction between the
individual and the state produces this fragmentation. How do political and
personal experiences affect each other? This chapter will examine how the
current system in Cuba translates into the fragmented realities of its citizens. The
fourth chapter will discuss how this fragmented reality has affected how the
Cuban nation is imagined by its members? The differences of the various existing

imagined Cubas, result in a battle of these differences in an attempt to discover
the authentic Cuba through selective memory and nostalgia. In addition to its
visceral political history, Cuba is a nation fragmented by its own imagination.
This essay is a voyage into the Cuban nation as an imagined community, and all
the twists and turns that come with it.

Our Ideas Are Our Weapons
In the early morning hours of Thanksgiving Day 1999 a five year old
Cuban boy by the name of Elian Gonzalez was discovered in an inner tube
floating off the coast of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Found by a man who had taken
his boat out for a spin with his cousin, the boy was brought ashore and treated in
an area hospital where he was eventually released to the uncle of his father and
taken to the great-uncles Miami home. Elian was one of only three survivors out
of a party of fifteen people who embarked on a journey from Cardenas, Cuba
across the Florida Straits to Miami in a makeshift sea craft. Chiring the
treacherous voyage, the party was met with a vicious storm that ruined their boat
and left them with only two large inner tubes which they tied together with rope
and then tethered Elian to as a precautionary measure. All passengers survived
the initial destruction of their boat but one by one they begin to die at sea,
including Elians mother and her fiancee. The other two survivors, a young
couple, made it to dry land at Key Biscayne near Miami about thirty miles south
of where Elian was rescued. Eli&ns father, still in Cuba, did not know of the trip
until the boy and his mother were already gone. Now, upon hearing the news that

Elian was in Miami at his uncles house, he waited for his son to be returned to
him. His relatives in Miami however decided to keep the boy with them. Over
the next seven months Elian would become the symbolic center of an
international custody battle not only for a boy but also a custody battle for a
Our Ideas are our Weapons, reads a painted wall in Havana. The mural
is part of the constant reminder to Cubans that they are engaged in a symbolic war
that is not a conventional war fought with guns but rather it is a war that takes
place in a mental landscape and is fought with inventions of the mind: ideas. The
story of Elian Gonzalez very directly relates a case of Cuban migration in post-
communist Cuba and illustrates how an examination of Cuban migration reveals
the elemental conditions of the contemporary Cuban nation. It tells the tale of a
divided Cuba. A family separated by distance but also by events and ideas. The
Elian case shows how this fundamental condition of fragmentation produces a
culture of difference and nostalgia that then result in a battle over the authentic
Cuba, a battle of ideas, which manifests internal conflict not only at the national
level but also at the familial and individual levels. This incident was not merely
about the little boy who lost his mother at sea and who had a loving father who
wanted him back, and some might argue it was not about the boy at all.

In her book Cuba Confidential (2002) journalist Ann Louise Bardach
documents the activities of the Elian Gonzalez incident from both sides of the
Florida Straits. Each side staked their claim to the national identity, claiming that
their Cuba was the only Cuba, going to great lengths to portray their ideas, then-
way of life, their memory, their nostalgia, and their principles as the most
authentic, righteous, and moral. The struggle for Eli&n represented the visceral
nature of the forty year feud between the Cuban exiles and Fidel Castro. Fidel
Castro denounced the Miami Mafia and the kidnapping on a weekly basis,
constantly pointing to the fact that the boy had a loving father in Cuba who
wanted him back. On the Miami side, as Bardach comments, If Fidel Castro
wanted the boy returned, then they were damn well going to keep him (2002,
As the news of the boys rescue broke, the powers that be of the Cuban
exile community in South Florida mobilized and descended on the small house of
Elians great uncle Lazaro including members of the United States Congress and
Hollywood actors. The Miami brain trust devised a three-prong strategy that
included getting Lazaro permanent custody of the boy, constructing legislation
that could supersede the courts including three bills regarding permanent
residency, political asylum and citizenship, and a public relations onslaught to sell

America that Elian needed to be saved from clutches of Fidel Castro (Bardach,
2002, 79). The boy was showered with all sorts of gifts, from a puppy to a full
scholarship to a private school for Cubans in Miami, and according to the boys
father he was offered $2 million dollars to move to the U.S. and stay there with
his son (Bardach, 2002,100). Photos were released of the five year-old having fun
at Disney World and clowning around with neighborhood kids at a party for his
sixth birthday. The propaganda was not all puppies and ice cream however. A
billboard was erected that featured a picture of Eli&n with a sinister Castro
looming in the background. Along side Fidel and Elian were pictures of Adolph
Hitler and Joseph Stalin and it read: A Crime Against a Child is a Crime Against
Humanity (photo section of Bardach, 2002).
On the Cuban side, Fidel Castro and his inner circle immersed themselves
into the Elian drama. The decision of the Miami relatives to keep Eli&n and not
return him to his father was, as Bardach describes it, a gift from God for Fidel
Castro. To the horror of his critics, Castro claimed the moral high ground. He had
grasped immediately that no matter the outcome, the situation would be a win-win
for him and a black eye for the Miami exiles (2002,16). If Castro got Elian back
it would be a big international victory, if he failed to get him back it would once
again look like the United States Goliath was bullying Cubas David and would

win him international sympathy and support. An old hand at propaganda wars,
Castro initiated a relentless campaign for Elians return. For six months the all
Elian, all the time atmosphere dominated Cuban life, in the press, in the streets,
and in the schools. Banners were hung in the streets of his hometown. Childrens
programming and cartoons were interrupted on television for Elian updates (2002,
13, 17). One of Elians school friends told Bardach that they wanted Eli&n to
come home so we can do something else (2002, 13).
While the Elidn Gonzalez story captured the imagination of two nations, it
is important to emphasize that it is an especially notable and unique example of
something that pervades the Cuban nation regardless of the geographic location of
its members. The made-for-television media circus of the Elian incident is
reflective of more mundane, but no less significant, ideological struggles that
define the lives of all Cubans. These struggles are in turn expressed in the
production and reproduction of narratives, not only in the media but in the daily
interactions of all Cuban people. The lines of these narratives are drawn by the
fundamental conditions of Cuban life and these defining characteristics demand
difficult either/or decisions from all the members of the Cuban nation. The
common experience of all these people, regardless of where they position
themselves vis-a-vis these dichotomous lines, is the experience of fragmentation

that calls forth stories of a whole Cuban nation as seen from the fragmented
perspectives of its various members. The Elian Gonzalez story is but one
example. These stories, in one form or another, are literally happening to, and
being told by, Cubans every day all over the world.
On a warm night in July on the coast of Cuba near Havana, three men are
saying goodbye a friend who has decided to take his chances out at sea and head
for Miami. Suddenly, the Cuban authorities arrive and the men are forced to make
a difficult decision. From their point of view there are two options. They can
either take their chances on going to jail for trying to leave Cuba illegally (or for
helping someone leave illegally) or they can take their chances out at sea. They
decide to take their chances at sea. As happens many times, their boat gets caught
in the currents of the Florida Straits and is pulled into the Gulf of Mexico. After
three days a sea, they land on the shores of Mexico near the city of Cancun where
they leave their small boat on the beach in the middle of the night and head
inland. Now on dry land in Mexico, they are confronted by a completely different
set of decisions. They have already left Cuba illegally and are in Mexico illegally,
so the plan becomes to reach the northern border with the United States where
they can legally cross into the U.S. under the protection of the Cuban Adjustment
Act (1966/1996). From there they hope to eventually make it to a friends house

in Miami. However, before they even have a chance to make it out of the Cancun
area they are picked up by Mexican immigration officials and taken into custody
for illegal entry into the country. The men claim that they want to be returned to
Cuba. Ninety days later, on October 9, 2006, the Cuban government has not
responded to the requests of the Mexican government to deport the men back to
Cuba, so the authorities are obligated under Mexican law to release them under
the condition that they leave Mexico within three days. With returning to Cuba no
longer an option, and no money in their pockets, these men will soon be headed to
the United States (three of the four balseros, personal interview, October 10,
In December of 2005, world renowned Cuban trumpet player Arturo
Sandoval played a gig in Mexico City. This was no ordinary gig however. It was
a funeral for two Cuban balseros whose bodies had been discovered in the Gulf of
Mexico and brought ashore. A Cuban identity card was found on the body of the
female victim which set off a string of telephone calls that eventually identified
the second victim. They were two of a party of five, none of whom survived the
voyage. The Cuban government refused the repatriation of their bodies for burial
in Cuba despite the request of their families in Cuba to have them returned. The
Asociacion Civica Cubano-Mexicana organized a funeral service for the deceased

in Mexico City at which Sandoval played the Cuban national anthem. About the
incident, Cuban bom immigration attorney Eduardo Matias L6pez Ferrer writes in
the associations website magazine Revista Patria, Castrista hate follows us even
after we are dead, the violation of our most elemental human rights reaches those
who did not even leave, the family that cannot even give a holy burial to their
dead, because the totalitarian system unlike the rest of the countries of the planet
Earth, does not permit the return of the bodies: even the dead put fear into Don
Tyrant (
The cases of the balseros in Mexico and the Cuban balsero funeral in
Mexico City offer stark contrasts to the case of Elian Gonzalez. In the case of
Elkin, the Cuban government was extremely responsive and eager to get the boy
back to his father in Cuba. However the Cuban government did not accept the
request by the families of the deceased balseros found in Mexico to have their
bodies returned to Cuba for burial nor did it accept the return of the balseros who
claimed that they wanted to go back to Cuba. In fact as Bardach notes, all the
hoopla surrounding Elian only served to underscore the official silence about the
thousands of Cubans who had drowned in the sea, including the fact that there
were no funeral services or memorials for Elian deceased travel companions. The
government did however seize their homes and assign them to other families to

help relieve the housing shortage in the country (Bardach, 2002, 12). It is
important to note the different circumstances of the individual cases themselves.
Elian was a five year-old boy who could not be held responsible for his mothers
decision to take him out of Cuba illegally. All the balseros in Mexico could be
considered adults who decided to leave Cuba illegally with full knowledge of the
consequences of that decision. That being said, these contrasting cases reveal
how the image of Fidel Castro, the Miami Cubans and Elian Gonzalez is only one
of multiple images present in the Cuban narrative. It is critical to examine the
complete Cuban nation in all its forms, in all its locations, in all its complexity.
The various narratives of Cuban migration reveal the condition of todays Cuban
nation whose continuity has been interrupted.
Since 1959, as Cuban historian Rafael Rojas notes, Cuban culture has
experienced a split in which political and ideological identities play a determining
role (2006, 12). This split occurs on multiple levels and in multiple locations and
reflects the fragmentation of Cuba. The difficulties presented by that
fragmentation are evident in the national and cultural identities. Each Cuban
carries with them a distinct Cuba based on both their collective and separate
experiences as a member of the dispersed Cuban nation. Due to its diasporic
nature, this nation no longer exists exclusively within the physical borders of the

island of Cuba. In fact, this phenomenon is occurring worldwide. As Malkii
states, There has emerged a new awareness of the global social fact that, now
more than perhaps ever before, people are chronically mobile and routinely
displaced, and invent homes and homelands in the absence of territorial, national
bases not in situ, but through memories of, and claims on, places that they can
or will no longer corporeally inhabit (1992, 22). The Cuban population fits
Malkiis profile of a displaced people who must invent its homeland through
memories because it no longer physically lives there. In fact Rojas contends that
inside the Cuban nation there exists a civil war that over time has morphed from
a tactical war of gunfire and espionage to a symbolic war of the memory.
The cultural war becomes more symbolic, waged, first and foremost,
in the terrain of the memory. The Elian case and the battle of ideas
begun by the Cuban government in
1999 are recent episodes of that symbolic war.
Rafael Rojas, Tumbas Sin Sosiego, 2006,14
The memory of each Cuban becomes the weapon of choice and these memories
depend heavily on the context of the personal and collective experiences of that
member of the Cuban nation. In the case of migration, each time that a person
leaves the island of Cuba the physical lines of the nation are crossed. As
illustrated in the cases of Elian Gonzalez and the balseros in Mexico, when this
geographic line or political border is crossed, the conflict between the various

representations of the Cuban nation becomes less of a dispute over the physical
territory and more of a dispute for the national legacy, the dispute for the
symbolic inherency of the country (Rojas, 2006,14).
What does this war of memory implicate for the contemporary nation of
Cuba? For one, it implicates a more tangible separation between the nation and
the state. In Modernity at Large, Appadurai points out that all over the world a
...battle between imaginaries of the nation-state, of unsettled communities, and
of global electronic media is in full progress (1996, 198). On the internet, a
plethora of websites produced by Cubans who live in all ends of the globe, such
as,, and project their
Cuba to the world. The national identity is no longer negotiated through the
image crafted by the state, although it is most certainly not immune to it, nor is it
negotiated exclusively inside the political borders of the state. Contemporary
nations and their cultural identities are now negotiated in the imaginary social
spaces that allow members of a nation to participate in the cultural dialogue of
that nation without physically living in that country. The nation and nationalism
become aspects of a transnational social space that is not limited to any one
geographic locale but crosses territorial boundaries and temporal space and lives

in the imaginations of all the people who belong to that imagined community
(Anderson, 1983; Appadurai, 1996).
Does this mean that the nation does not exist and is a fictitious place
concocted by our imaginations? On the contrary, Anderson clarifies that
classifying the nation as an imagined community does not mean that nations do
not exist or that they are fabricated by the human mind. As mentioned in the
introduction, according to Anderson all nations are in fact imagined communities
because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their
fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives
the image of their communion (1983, 15). Cuba, for example, most certainly
exists in a physical and geographical sense but it is also a nation of over eleven
million people who obviously do not all know each other personally. This is
where their imaginations draw a line around their common origin or shared
experience to frame the national and cultural identity. In fact, Cuba is more
defined geographically than many nations in the world. As an island (although
technically it is an archipelago), the political borders of Cuba are very firmly
defined. In fact, it is this very rigid definition that aids in the creation of such a
strong imagined community. It is because of the rigidity of Cuban life
(geographic, economic, and ideological) that imagining has become intricately

woven into the everyday lives of the Cuban people. Leaving Cuba is not as
simple as walking over an invisible line or swimming across a river. Leaving
Cuba takes some imagination. Daily survival as a Cuban demands the negotiation
of an imagined social space. It demands invention.
In Cuba there exists an omnipresent daily practice of survival that people
call an invento or the process of inventor. On the streets of Cuba, inventor means
doing what it takes to survive. It means coloring outside the lines and going in
search of whatever will satisfy the need that is not being met inside of the
prescribed boundaries. Many times this means disobeying the parameters set by
the system and stepping into the illegal world of the black market. When a need is
not being met by the system, they invent a way to meet this need with the
resources available at the moment. For example, Manny lives on the outskirts of
Havana, Cuba and makes his living selling lobster illegally on the black market.
He has created a special box that contains hidden compartments inside where he
can store the lobster without being detected by authorities. Then, he sells them
secretly on the streets of Havana. He makes good money but if he was ever caught
by authorities he would face lengthy prison time. He says that everyday he runs
the risk of going to prison and he spends his life looking over his shoulder simply

because he wants to improve his economic situation (Manny, personal interview,
December 8,2006).
Improving ones economic situation in Cuba can itself become an illegal
activity. The government can cite people for illicit economic activity which means
that they are earning more money than the state allows an individual to earn. So
any money over a certain amount is confiscated and becomes property of the state
(Lopez Ferrer, E., personal interview, October 10,2006). The ubiquitous nature of
the Cuban state in the lives of its citizens results in the practice of inventor as a
way to negotiate this ever-present force that colors their life experience. Upon
examining the fabric of the Cuban nation it is discovered that in a very real sense
the daily practice of inventor carries over from the realm of the economic into the
realm of the mental and emotional concepts of self, family and nation. If a
fragmented nation or family or self is not meeting a particular Cubans social,
emotional or intellectual needs, they invent a Cuban nation that does meet those
This is not to say that this Cuban nation is only imaginary or that it does
not exist. The individual invention of a particular Cuba in ones imagination
does not change the reality on the ground. Cuba continues to be a very real place,
a very real entity, and a very real community, on and off the island. It is,

however, fragmented. It is this fragmentation that causes a Cuban to use the Cuba
that does exist, the Cuba that has existed historically, or the Cuba that person
wishes existed to create the Cuba that meets his or her needs. In some cases this
means emigrating or going into exile. In some cases it means reaching into the
national or personal past and finding that piece of nostalgia that would best
represent the Cuba that this person needs. In other cases it means ignoring some
aspects of reality in order to justify or solidify the image that has been created.
The pervasive need to inventor manifests itself in the creation of various Cubas.
As Cuban immigrant and current Mexican citizen Luis Angel Arguelles Espinosa
writes in his unpublished testimonial La Modernidad y yo (Modernity and Me),
each person has a particular image of his or her country and therefore there exists
a Cuba for every existing Cuban and so each person can say I am Cuba and
his or her vision is as respectable as any one elses (2006, 3). Like scattered
pieces of a broken mirror, each Cuban reflects a particular image of Cuba. Each of
these images of Cuba however comes from common experience. The common
experience is the fundamental condition of fragmentation.

Migration and Patron-Clientage Relations
We may have been guilty of excessive paternalism
Fidel Castro, 1993 (Bardach, 37)
It is difficult to explain to all of you just how bitter it has been for me
as a person the necessary and useful step of leaving Cuba.
- Fidel Castro, 1955 (Tello, 13)
Comemierdas at a Pig Slaughter
You didnt hit the heart! shouts one of the older men at the young man
with a small machete in his hands. The shirtless, well built, young man steps
away from the squealing pig writhing on the ground at his feet and shouts back at
the older man. They exchange words as the life slowly leaves the pig. The older
man tells the younger man that he killed the pig wrong and the younger man tells
him that how he did it is fine. The exchange includes profanity and shouting but
not apparent anger. One might think that they were shouting to be heard over the
squeals of the pig but in fact this was close to the tone of voice they had used the
day before to say hello to each other. Now that the pig has stopped moving
another man, whose backyard is being used for the slaughter, begins to pour
boiling hot water over the pig and the younger man begins to scrape off the skin

where the water was poured. The water is used as a conduit to facilitate the
skinning of the animal. Two minutes dont pass before another of the
approximately ten spectators present pipes in. You comemierda, he says,
youre gonna run out of water! The administrator of the hot water treatments
doesnt break stride but does snap off a reply and the whole congregation laughs.
From the gallery more comments are made, replies are given: You dont know
what the hell you are doing!, You come do it then!, Give me the knife!, I
bet you that you wont have enough water!, I bet I will! Most of the men
watching the pig slaughtering claim to have a better way to do it. The pig is
skinned in a timely fashion and they do have enough water to do the job, but none
of those facts have stopped the onlookers from putting in their two cents and
taking shots at those who are doing the job. On that day, I was watching from an
adjacent backyard and one man looked across at me, pointed at the scene and
exclaimed, Asi somos los cubanos! That how us Cubans are! (Havana, Cuba,
December 10,2006)
The big problem of Cubans according to Antonio Corzo, both abroad and
on the island, is that each one of them is a jefe (boss or chief) and once they say
the way things are no one can say anything to the contrary and that means that
everyone else is a comemierda (shit eater). In this sense a comemierda refers to a

person who does not know what he or she is talking about. At a diner in Mexico
City Antonio, a longtime resident of Mexico and director of outlined his general opinion that it is because of this
attitude that they can never come to a consensus. He describes this as a basic
Cuban characteristic despite their ingenuity, work ethic and general intelligence.
Everyone thinks that they are right and he points to the lack of organization and
unity among the Cuban exiles in Mexico as proof and proceeds to generalize that
lack of unity to all Cuban exiles. Antonio contends that Cubans cannot even
agree what to do when the Castro regime inevitably ends because everyone thinks
their ideas are the only correct ones. He said that his head was bitten off by the
exile community when many years ago he suggested one-time Revolutionary
hero, subsequent political prisoner and current exile martyr Huber Matos as a
possibility for a post-Castro president of Cuba. If the opposition cannot present a
unified front, he laments, they will not be represented well in Cuba when the
opportunity for change arises. He then goes on to say that the most famous on-
island Cuban dissident Osvaldo Paya was going to come to Mexico in November
2006 and that Antonio was planning on giving him a piece of his mind. He says
that Payd has his project (Proyecto Varela) and to Payd it is the only project.
Could Antonios comments be evidence that he too is subject to being a jefe and

will not accept ideas that run contrary to his own? (Corzo, A., personal interview,
October 26, 2006) In 1973, Bender noted that ...the political strength of the
Cuban exile community even on the anti-Castro question is diluted by the fact that
there is still no generally recognized leader or groups of leaders around whom a
cohesive, anti-Castro movement can be organized. Bender added that
Politically, disunity continues to be the distinguishing characteristic of the Cuban
exile community in the United States (1973, 275-276). At the time of Benders
research, Cuban fragmentation was visible in the United States and it is visible in
Mexico. The lack of a generally recognized leader and a cohesive opposition
movement existed in 1973 and it exists today.
This idea that Cubans think they are right and that everyone else is wrong
suggests that perhaps this characteristic of fragmentation that disables the process
of arriving at consensus can help explain the endurance of the Castro regime. If
Antonio is right in saying that it is because of this attitude that Cubans can never
reach a consensus, then it would suggest that the only way to bring a consensus to
a room full of uncompromising know-it-alls is for the most headstrong and
audacious jefe of them all to impose his ideas on the rest. Basically, it is a game
of may the strongest comemierda win. If everyone thinks they are right and
will not accept compromise, the only way to bring order to such a scene is to have

one person dictate. If this does not happen, consensus will never be reached. In
the history of Cuba, this has generally been the case. After Spanish rule ended in
1898, the U.S. officially called the shots until 1902 and some would argue
continued calling the shots through puppet regimes until Castros triumph in
This patron-clientage system is an inherently fragmenting process. People
are forced to choose sides and depending on which side a person chooses, the line
is constantly being walked between being in favor or out of favor with the
victorious patron. Can a functioning democracy exist in a world of jefes and
comemierdasl What does this character mean for the future of the Cuban nation
of Cubans on the island and abroad? It could mean that much like the pig
slaughter that I witnessed in that backyard in Cuba, many people will argue about
the right and wrong way to do it but in the end the man with the knife will kill the
pig in the manner he sees fit. This culture of comemierdas and jefes lends itself to
the need for one person to tell the rest of them to shut up and listen to him. The
resulting patron-clientage system creates a fragmented populous where being in
favor or out of favor with the patron is paramount. Privileges or favors are traded
for compliance to the terms set by the patron. In the case of Cuba, the privilege
that is negotiated is that of movement and access to resources. In the sense of a

nation as an imagined community, the style in which a community is controlled
by its government speaks to how the nation is imagined by its members. How the
Cuban nation is imagined by it members also illustrates how it is controlled.
In Cuba, the patron-clientage system is not only a result of the political
confines of the communist economic system, but it has also been derived from the
personal and political history of the Cuban national family and its paternal leader,
Fidel Castro. As seen in the story of the pig slaughter, on an island of would-be-
kings only one can ride into town and sell the entire nation on the best plan for the
country. In the pig slaughter, the man who had the knife decided how the pig
would be killed and skinned. The others disagreed about how it should be done,
but in the end, the man with the knife called the shots. Creating a nation is similar
when a patron-clientage system is already in place. Cubas history has never
moved away from that systemic foundation built during Spanish colonialism.
Then, after a long battle for independence from Spain, Cuba was first occupied
and then subject to the United States effort to expand its territory and influence in
the Western Hemisphere. Fidel Castro inherited the patron-clientage system in
both his political world and his personal world. In Cuba there is the preexisting
condition necessary for the patron-clientage system as seen in the scene of the pig
slaughter. The patron must convince them that his way is the only way otherwise

a consensus is never reached. If the people are on his good side and do as he asks,
small favors are given to keep them on board. Like the lady who bragged to me
about her little electric teapot, You dont have those up there do you, she
affirmed, that is a little gift from Fidel to us (Havana, Cuba, December 2006).
He is a father taking care of his children.
Excessive Paternalism
In 1999, Castro would admonish the Miami family of Elian Gonzalez for
the kidnapping of the five-year-old boy when he had a loving father who
wanted him back. The similarities to what happened with his own son are striking
only in 1956 it was Fidel who refused to return a six-year-old boy to a loving
mother who wanted him back. In September 1956, Fidel Castro arranged a phone
call from Mexico with his ex-wife Mirta Diaz-Balart. During this phone call it
was agreed that their son, Fidelito, would visit his father for fifteen days in
Mexico. Castro sent his sister Lidia to pick up his son in Havana with the
promise that the boy would be returned to his mother two weeks later. Two
weeks passed and the boy was not given back to his mother. Two months passed
and the boy had still not been sent back as promised to his mother. In fact, not
only had Fidelito not been returned to his mother but he had been in a sense given

away to someone else. As Bardach reports, in what amounted to a will, Fidel
Castro bequeathed his only son to trusted friends in Mexico in the event of his
death. Castro was about to embark on a dangerous journey that would take him
across the Gulf of Mexico, into the Sierra Maestra of eastern Cuba, through two
years of war, and eventually on a victorious ride into Havana as the new leader of
Cuba. In a letter written the day before he left Mexico on his historic
revolutionary voyage, Castro wrote that, I am making this decision because I do
not want, in my absence, to see my son Fidelito fall into the hands of my most
ferocious enemies and detractors, who in an extreme act of villainy...disgraced
my home and sacrificed it to the blood tyranny they serve (Bardach, 2002,47).
These most ferocious enemies were his former in-laws, the Dfaz-Balart
family. At twenty-two years old, Fidel Castro married Mirta Diaz-Balart, the
daughter of a friend and close political ally of Fulgencio Batista, Cubas president
in the 1940s. In 1952, Castro was a candidate for the Popular Assembly when
Batistas military coup thwarted his chances of winning as well as derailing the
prospects for democracy in Cuba. Fidels brother-in-law Rafael Dfaz-Balart was
named Deputy Minister of the Interior by Batista and his father-in-law was also
given a position in the new government. On July 26, 1953, Castro declared war
on Batista, and on his in-laws, when he led the attack on the Moncada military

barracks in Santiago de Cuba in an attempt to seize enough weapons to supply his
supporters in Santiago and start a fully armed rebellion against Batista. The failed
attack led to his arrest and imprisonment for twenty-one months. During his time
in prison, Mirta filed for divorce and took their son with her to the United States.
The idea of his hated batistiano in-laws taking his son from him, and to the
United States of all places, infuriated Castro. One day I will be out of here, he
wrote to his sister, and Ill get my son and my honor back even if the earth
should be destroyed in the process. In 1955 Fidel, along with his brother Raul
and the other Moncada attackers, was released under a general amnesty given by
Batista. On July 7, 1955, Castro left Cuba for Mexico carrying everything he had
to his name in a leather suitcase. I leave because they have closed to me all the
doors for a civil fight, he wrote in the magazine Bohemia (Tello, 2005,13).
The fight picked by Castro against Batista was not only an ideological one
of principle against imperialism and foreign interests in Cuba it was also a fight
against his own family. The Batista government was in bed with the American
mafia and companies like United Fruit Company that Castro so despised.
Whether consciously or not Castro was also waging a symbolic war against
himself. Fidel grew up on one of the largest estates in the Oriente province of
Cuba thanks to business between United Fruit Company and his wealthy

landowner father, Angel Castro. In a sense, Fidel himself was a product and
beneficiary of the very same system he was now fighting to bring to its knees. His
in-laws were part of that dictatorial government that supported such political
conditions in Cuba and in his mind these people were trying to steal his country
and at the same time they were trying to steal his only son. From this more
personal perspective, Castros rebellion looked as much like a family vendetta as
it did a revolution of principle.
In the letter in which he left his son in the custody of Cuban singer
Orquidea Pino and her Mexican husband, Castros reasoning for not sending his
son back to his mother eerily echoes the arguments used by Elians relatives in
Miami decades later. He writes: because my wife has proven incapable of
breaking away from the influence of her family, my son could be educated with
the detestable ideas that I now fight...I am leaving him with those who can give
him a better education, to a good and generous couple who have been, as well, our
best friends in exile...And I leave my son also to Mexico, to grow and be
educated here in this free and hospitable land.. .He should not return to Cuba until
it is free or he can fight for its freedom (Bardach, 2002, 47). The recovery of
Fidelito was also quite similar to that of Elidn. Although absent of the media
fanfare of an international incident that accompanied the Eli&n affair, Fidelito was

also recovered at gunpoint, in his case by Mexican authorities along with Cuban
officials and his mother and his uncle Rafael. Two years later when Castro
toppled Batistas government, he took back his son and his country (Bardach,
After the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, Castro was going to
make sure that parental control, of his child or of his country, would never be
forfeited again. In fact Castro has attempted to run a country of eleven million as
if it was a family of eleven. He is a national father who has a very specific vision
for the lives of his children. Much like in a fundamentalist family, the rules of the
house are very strict and must be followed. These rules are generally put in place
by the head of the household with the belief that they will produce what is best for
the family. However, excessive control over the destinies of its members most
often leads to the fragmentation of a family. A controlling fathers tight grip on
his children leaves little room for personal freedom or growth outside the
stringent image of what the father wants for his children. Inside of these highly
restrictive climates, the children seek out an escape. Some seek refuge out of the
house, sometimes temporarily, sometimes for good, while others search for an
internal escape while still living in their fathers house that allows them to cope
with the restrictions that have been placed on them. There are children that will

rebel while still living under their fathers roof and this conflict inside the house
will sometimes lead to the child being disowned by the father and not being
allowed to step foot back in the house. The fundamentalist family/controlling
father metaphor reveals the harsh reality of family politics. In a very real way his
personal decisions and preferences have determined the destinies of millions of
Cuban lives and millions of Cuban imaginations.
As Bardach notes, for Fidel Castro, and many Cubans, the personal is the
political (2002, 36). The personal story of Fidel Castros family feud has
become the political story of Cubas national family and the political story of the
Cuban national family has become the personal story for millions of Cubans.
Fidel Castros personal and political experiences that drove him to the sad,
solitary and hard (Tello, 2005, 13) world of exile has become a daily reality for
millions of his countrymen. The anguish that made him swear to get his son back
even if the earth should be destroyed in the process (Bardach, 2002, 46) is an
anguish felt by almost every Cuban alive today almost all of whom have at least
one family member living somewhere outside of Cuba (Matias Lopez Ferrer, E.,
personal interview, October 10,2006). In 1955, at the age of twenty-eight, Castro
wrote, I almost cried when I got on the plane (Tello, 2005, 13). Roma, a
Cuban woman in her thirties, did cry when she got on the plane in 2006 that took

her from the only reality she had ever known to live in Mexico. I was very
depressed, she said because I had just said good bye to my son and my
husband (Roma, personal interview, November 29, 2006). Now living near
Puebla, Mexico with her sister and her mother to help out with what she would
only refer to as a family situation, Roma has not seen her son or her husband
since arriving in Puebla almost one year ago. She would have preferred to stay in
Cuba and she views her move to Mexico as something she had to do to help her
family resolve their situation rather than as something she would have chosen for
herself. Castro viewed his move to Mexico as something he had to do in order to
continue his political struggle against Batista. Now Roma is separated from her
son and her homeland just as Castro was over fifty years earlier. The fragmented
condition of Castros personal life in 1955 is analogous to, and perhaps even
prognostic of, the fragmented condition of contemporary Cubas national, family
and individual lives.
Since 1959, there has been a constant flow of emigration out of Cuba
which has been accented by periods of massive emigration. A revolution is any
fundamental and complete change and from the beginning the Cuban Revolution
produced these types of changes. Some Cubans welcomed and embraced the
changes while others rejected them and emigrated. The three most prominent

periods of massive emigration are generally considered to be from 1962-1965, the
Mariel Boatlift of 1980, and the balsero crisis of 1994. Emigration has been
constant however, and generally it has come at the cost of Cuban families. In the
case of Tomas and Sara, they left Cuba in mid-2006 to embark on a six-month
journey to Miami to fulfill the wishes of Saras elderly mother that all her children
be reunited in Miami. Their voyage found them first in Colombia, then
Venezuela, then Mexico, and finally in Miami. In their effort to reunite with
Saras family however, their twenty-three-year-old son was left behind in Cuba.
Tomas said that now his only goal is to work in the United States and earn enough
money to get their son to Miami to be with them (Tomas and Sara, personal
interview, October 10, 2006). One part of the family is reunited and another part
is separated.
Just as the Cuban family has been fragmented by the battle for the nation
of Cuba, so have individual Cubans. Individuals struggle each day to reconcile the
differences between the Cuba they remember, the Cuba they live in, and/or the
Cuba they left behind. Cubans are divided and in conflict with themselves. This
experience of fragmentation for each Cuban is a microcosm of the experience of
the entire Cuban nation. Although he spends most of his day to day life in Mexico
with his wife and child, he maintains a delicate balancing act between Mexico and

Cuba, between his two families, between his two realities, between his two
identities. I divided myself, Alexander told me in his car outside of my
apartment in Puebla, Mexico, I have my family there and I have this here
(Alexander, personal interview, November 11,2006).
Antonio Corzo believes that the Cuban government uses the fragmentation
of the Cuban nation and the Cuban family as a means of controlling individual
Cubans. A person's need to be with his or her family is used as leverage by the
Cuban government. The biggest mechanism of control used by the Cuban
government is a persons ability to go back to Cuba, claims Antonio (Corzo, A.,
personal interview, October 27, 2006). People who do obtain the ability to leave
Cuba have to maintain a tenuous relationship with Cuba in order to still be
allowed to return to Cuba. Cristian is an artist who left his children in Cuba while
he works in a gallery in Mexico City. He is constantly trying to maintain his
relationship with Cuba in order to be allowed to remain legally out of the
country with the ability to return. He says, It never really interested me to stay
outside of Cuba illegal because I still have my whole family in Cuba. I have my
kids. So, fighting with Cuba was fighting at the same time with my family. I
mean if you stay out of Cuba illegally you do not have the right to go to Cuba for
five years, in the case of the artists. You cannot return to Cuba until after five

years, so I always try to maintain that condition of being able to go and come
back (Cristian, personal interview, October 26, 2006). The line must always be
walked in order to maintain the balance that keeps you legal with Cuba.
These temporal, spatial, and bureaucratically mandated lines define the
manner in which Cubans live their lives and therefore the ways in which they
think about and imagine their lives. This is true in most societies. Each society
creates laws that its citizens must abide by if that particular society is going to
function. Lines must be drawn to distinguish what is acceptable behavior and
what is not. However, if the lines drawn restrict too many aspects of individual
lives, the person can be squeezed into tight comers and forced to make decisions
that disobey the rules. It is through this interaction between society and the
individual and the symbols used in this interaction where a reality of its own
begins to be constructed (Mead, from King & Cuzzort, 1976). The following
section will take a look at the Cuban nation in terms of this symbolic interaction
and how the contemporary individual and community are held together, or split

My House My Rules
The present system of patron-clientage in contemporary Cuba has as one
of its major negotiated commodities the ability of movement. Due to its
geographic reality as an island, mobility outside the lines is already a precarious
proposition. There are only two ways off the island, by water or by air. With
famous cases like those of Elian Gonzalez and the balsero crisis of 1994, the
illegal departures by sea have become the predominant images of Cuban
migration and mobility in the current system. By glancing at the balsero aspect, it
might be assumed that risking ones life over shark infested waters was the only
way to leave Cuba and that all exits were strictly forbidden. Why else after all
would someone risk their life unless it was absolutely the only option? Further
investigation reveals that, like most aspects of Cuba, migration is much more
complicated. What may appear to be the relationship between an iron-fisted
authoritarian dictator and his trapped subjects who are so desperate that will do
anything to escape is in fact a complex patron-clientage interaction in which all
parties both act and are acted upon. A look at the system of migratory controls
currently in place in the Cuban system and the manner in which a Cuban citizen
must negotiate their ability to physically move beyond the borders of their country

reveals how the different modes of migration in fact impact how the symbolic
interaction between state and citizen produces fragmentation.
As previously mentioned, there are only two ways to leave the island-
nation of Cuba: by sea or by air. Generally speaking those who leave by sea do so
illegally. However, such illegal exits through the air are highly uncommon and
generally speaking leaving on an airplane means getting the proper legal
authorization. To do this a Cuban must acquire the specific exit permission
required for their particular purpose of travel. On the webpage for the Ministerio
de Relaciones Exteriores de Cuba (Ministry of Foreign Relations), also known by
its acronym MINREX, there is a list of the various migratory permisos or
permissions required by the Cuban government for any citizen who plans to travel
outside or re-enter the borders of Cuba.
The most general of these permissions is the Permiso de Viaje al Exterior
(Permission for Foreign Travel) (PVE) which permits a person to travel outside of
Cuban national territory as a non-emigrant for a period of eleven months. People
who hold a PVE must get in contact with the closest Cuban consulate and pay the
duty for each month of their stay which can be paid in one lump sum or in
payments according to the travelers wishes. According to one female informant
who was traveling back to Cuba from Mexico in November 2006 after visiting her

parents for nine months, the duty for traveling abroad as of that time was about
forty U.S. dollars per month abroad although there was no rate available on the
MINREX website. Cubans who wish to solicit the Permiso de Viaje al Exterior
(PVE) before Cuban immigration authorities on a temporary or permanent basis
will require, the website specifies, a letter of invitation made in their name and
individually, by a Cuban family member or friend (resident in a foreign country)
or a foreign citizen. The person who extends the letter of invitation must do so
from their country through the Cuban consulate in that country
( consulares.aspl.
In the case of Tom&s and Sara a separate letter was extended for each of
them as individuals, not as a married couple, by an acquaintance in Colombia.
The Letter of Invitation is valid for one year from the date on which it is legally
approved in the Cuban Consulate and the holder of the letter will be able to travel
wherever they want or wherever the person who extended the invitation decides to
take them. It is because of this stipulation of a one year limit, that Cristian must
have the art gallery that he works with submit a new letter of invitation each year
in order to extend his stay in Mexico. A Letter of Invitation will not be able to be
granted to those Cuban citizens who find themselves completing official missions,

labor contracts, or representing an official Cuban institution
( consulares.aspl.
The distinctions inside of the Cuban governments own description reveal
the patron-clientage relationship that is working behind the scenes and how the
conditions of the permission change depending on the condition of the
relationship between each individual and the state. For example, Cubans who get
married to foreign citizens can obtain a different permission that carries with it
distinct conditions. The Permiso de Residencia en el Exterior (Permission for
Foreign Residence) (PRE) is granted to Cubans who get married to foreigners and
want to establish their lives abroad for an undetermined period of time. People
who have a PRE are able to enter and leave Cuba as many times as they wish and
return definitively to reside in the national territory of Cuba
( consulares.asp). This is the
permission that Alexander has by virtue of being married to a Mexican and his
PRE states that it must be renewed every two years (Alexander, personal
interview, November 11,2006).
Alexanders life in Mexico began as a member of the Cuban military
stationed at the Cuban embassy in Mexico City. It was during a party held for
groups sympathetic to Cuba where he met his current wife. A friend of hers was a

member of a group called Amigos Por Cuba (Friends For Cuba) and that landed
her an invitation to an event at the embassy. Alexander was on duty at the time
and assigned to work the event. After that first encounter they began to see each
other secretly because, as Alexander claims, Cuban military personnel stationed
abroad are not allowed to socialize with local citizens. On one occasion, he was
relegated to the embassy grounds after missing his curfew on a night that he went
with her to a party. She would pass by the embassy everyday at the same time and
he would stand at a window and wave to her. Eventually his time in Mexico
ended and he went back to Cuba. A mutual friend visited Alexander in Cuba and
brought him a letter from her. He sent one back and through that communication
they decided to try and make their relationship work. Two weeks later she was on
a plane to Cuba. It was at this point that he decided to tell his commanding officer
in Cuba that he was going to resign his post because he was in love with this
Mexican woman and wanted to live his life with her. Alexander says his superiors
could have told him that he could resign his post but that he was not going to be
able to leave the country for five years even if he married her. Luckily for
Alexander, he and the head of the department got along and because of his
exemplary service the department head respected him and let him resign without a
problem (Alexander and wife, personal interview, October 12,2006).

Much like Alexander, those who maintain positive ties with the patron-
clientage system of the Cuban nation are given preference over those who might
live contrary to the patrons wishes. The trade off then becomes loyalty to the
system. As favors are exchanged, the patron constantly reminds the client to
whom she owes her good fortune. Gabriela is a naturalized Mexican citizen who
has lived in Mexico for the last ten years and is privately contracted at various
universities as a choral instructor. Bom in Havana, Cuba, she traveled to Mexico
for the first time as part of a vocal group in 1996. Following much success, they
did several other tours over the years until the group dissolved and each member
began to work in Mexico on their own. At some point in 1999 Gabriela decided
that it was best for her to stay in Mexico and earn money to send back to her
parents and young son that she left behind. She began to apply for work as a
choral instructor at different universities in central Mexico and she eventually
landed a position in Cholula, near Puebla. Gabriela believes that she owes
everything she is today to Cuba. In fact, she believes this so fervently that she
still belongs to the state run Cuban company that she has always worked with and
continues to pay them from her salary. I could have left it a long time ago, she
confirms, adding that she continues to contribute because, I want to (Gabriela,
personal interview, November 16, 2006). For Gabriela, it is important to give

back to the education system because she feels that she owes her training to the
Cuban state.
The patron of the Cuban state engendered a sentiment of indebtedness and
Gabriela continues to produce as a client. Cuban author and Mexican citizen Luis
Angel Argiielles Espinosa contends that this feeling of indebtedness is part of how
the Cuban state tries to guarantee the loyalty of its professionals, particularly its
artists: by making them feel like they owe who they are to the Cuban system
(Argiielles, 2004, 125). In his testimonial, La Modernidad y yo (Modernity and
Me), Argiielles Espinosa recounts an occasion when he was working at the Centro
de Estudios Martianos (Center for Martian Studies)3 and discovered a high level
communique on the floor of the mens bathroom. It was a letter dated June 9,
1992 from the Minister of Culture at the time Armando Hart Davalos to the
General Manager of the Cuban National Ballet Alicia Alonso in regards to a
Cuban dancer named Julio Arozarena. The letter was found on the floor of the
mens room because during the decade of the nineties there was a complete
shortage of everything in Cuba, including toilet paper and so many times they
recycled old documents for use in the washrooms (Argiielles, 2004,122).
3 In this example the term Martian refers to the school of thought based on the work of Cuban
figure Jos6 Marti.

Arguelles kept the letter and includes the entire text in his book. For the
purposes here it will suffice to say that several letters had been passed regarding
the dancer Arozarena and that he had toured with the Cuban National Ballet in
Europe and decided to stay when he was contracted by a company in Belgium.
When Arozarena visited Cuba on vacation the Ministry of Culture, per the
instructions of Minister Hart Davalos himself, did not grant the dancer permission
to leave Cuba (Arguelles, 2004, 123). This example illustrates the volatile nature
of the relationship between the state and the individual in Cuba. In the case of
Gabriela, a singer who continues to give money to the Cuban government while
living abroad, the relationship remains in tact. In the case of the artist Cristian
who continues to play by the migratory rules by having the art gallery he works
with submit a letter of invitation every year in order to prolong his stay in Mexico,
the relationship remains in tact. But in the case of the ballet dancer Arozarena
who left the Cuban company to take a job in Europe without going through the
proper channels, the relationship becomes conflictive.
Such is the relationship between Cuba and Rafael Rojas the Cuban
intellectual who left in 1991 to accept a full scholarship to complete his doctorate
at El Colegio de Mexico in Mexico City. Rojas was a rising star in the Cuban
intellectual scene when he graduated from the University of Havana in 1990. His

thesis had been published and well received in the academic community in Cuba
and he had the support of his mentor, a well respected Cuban historian named
Manuel Moreno Fraginals. It was Fraginals in fact, a student at the Colegio de
Mexico during the 1940s, whose recommendation Rojas attributes to helping
secure him a spot in the doctoral program. After a little bureaucratic difficulty, his
exit was approved and Rojas left for Mexico where he would spend the next four
years taking classes and the following three years doing his dissertation. He
received his doctorate in 1998 and had been working at the Colegio as an
instructor since 1997. He won an award for his book on the history of relations
between Mexico and began to write articles expressing his opinion about Cuba in
the Madrid based magazine El Encuentro con la Cultura Cubana (Encounter with
the Cuban Culture) in 1996 where he later became an editorial director. In 1998
he published his first book entirely about Cuba called El Arte de la Espera. All
his success abroad created friction on the island (Rojas, R., personal interview,
October 26,2006).
It was in 1994 that Rojas hit the point of no return to Cuba. That year, still
as a doctoral student, he attended a conference in Cuba commemorating the 50
Anniversary of the magazine Origenes. During a roundtable discussion Rojas
says he was aggressively criticized as well as in the official newspaper of the

Communist Party Granma the next day. As he was leaving Cuba, he was stopped
at the airport by state security and held for questioning about his activities in
Mexico and his positions. It was, as he describes it, a friendly interview after
which Rojas determined that he would not be able to travel to Cuba again and he
has not returned since (Rojas, R., personal interview, October 26, 2006). In the
footnotes of his book Argiielles recalls a meeting he attended where the Minister
of Culture specifically called out Rojas for abandoning his country and becoming
a traitor to his nationality (2004,124). Rojas had committed the cardinal sin in the
patron-clientage relationship. He had received the education and training as a
scholar and then used it to express opinions that were critical of those who
provided him with that education.
A harder rain falls when critical opinions are expressed while the client
still lives in the patrons house. In a one month span of 2003, 78 dissidents were
imprisoned in Cuba for counter-revolutionary activity. It all began in the first
week of March when a group of dissidents delivered a signed petition to the
European Union representative in Cuba urging the EU not to sign a pending trade
and aid agreement with their country because of human rights violations (BBC
News, March 13, 2003). Several days later a dozen dissidents were arrested for
having contact with the top U.S. representative in Havana at the time, James

Cason (BBC News, March 19, 2003). Over the next three weeks, 78 dissidents
were rounded up and imprisoned and over 30 were convicted on charges of
plotting with the U.S. to undermine the Cuban government with sentences as long
as 27 years in prison. The EU Commission, as well as the White House, called for
the immediate release of the dissidents and human rights groups worldwide
denounced the trials (BBC News, April 9, 2003). For Cuban writer and literary
critic Jose Prats Sariol this was a wake-up call.
Before the crackdown of Spring 2003, Prats had believed that there was
room for dissent in Cuba, but when the mass imprisonments began his eyes were
opened to what he now describes as a totalitarian dictatorship where there is no
room for dissent. In response of the imprisonments and in defense of his fellow
writers, like poet Raul Rivero, who were targeted in the crackdown, Prats wrote
an article against the regime in July 2003 in the magazine Vital out of Pinar del
Rio, Cuba. Soon a friend of his who holds a high post in the Communist Party of
Cuba came to visit him in his home and asked Prats to go for a walk. On this
walk the friend told Prats that it would be best for him to leave the country. Prats
claims that the conversation happened on a walk instead of in the doorway to
avoid being heard by the potential recording devices might have been planted in
the house. Prats contacted his network of acquaintances and friends abroad which

included several internationally known and award winning authors and the plan
was set into motion. He was scheduled for a literary conference in Puebla,
Mexico in October 2003 and then later was supposed to give a three month course
in Alicante, Spain. Unbeknown to the Cuban authorities, instead of traveling on to
Spain, Prats stayed in Puebla under the protection of the Casa De Refugio Del
Escritor (House of Refuge of the Writer), part of an international organization set
up to give refuge to writers facing persecution (Prats Sariol, J., personal interview,
October 19,2006).
The rules of negotiation seem fairly clear cut. If a Cuban abides by the
rules set up by the system then limited freedoms are afforded. A person is
rewarded for playing by the rules, no matter how restricting they might be. Why
then, dont all the Cubans just follow the guidelines and reap the benefits that
Gabriela, Alexander and Cristian enjoy? For his entire life until 1995 ArgUelles
did just that. Luis Angel Argtielles Espinosa was bom in Havana, Cuba in 1949 to
a Mexican mother and a Cuban father. He was a militant of the Communist Party,
had held several posts including head of neighborhood watch for his local
Committee for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR), and had participated in
volunteer work and Party activities since he was a young child. Arguelles was
convinced of the value of the Cuban socialist project. It was congruent with who

I was, he said of his belief in the system, I did not do anything, you know,
against my will...because I wanted to be convinced...I defended that when I
thought that it was, that it was good (Arguelles Espinosa, L.A., personal
interview, November 27, 2006). During his years as an academic researcher at
various institutions in Cuba he had the opportunity to travel several times to
Mexico to attend literary conferences, to participate in scientific events, and to
teach graduate courses. It was during these trips (1984-1995) that Arguelles began
to move away from the Revolution and toward a different kind of evolution.
Around mid-1995, he was giving a graduate course about Jose Marti at the
Institute Politecnico Nacional in Mexico City. It was proposed that he teach a few
more courses until the end of the year and then begin work on his own Masters
degree on scholarship at the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico. As he
had all his life, Arguelles played by the rules. He had decided that the time had
come to live his life in Mexico, But it did not seem right that I stay in Mexico
that way and I decided to go back to my country (at the established time) in order
to ask for my dismissal or liberation from work. That is how I did it, but I did not
imagine the problems that it would present me (2004, 150). First, his employer
did not want to let him go. He argued his case. However, unlike in the case of
Alexander where his superiors awarded his loyal service and good relationship

with the state by releasing him from his professional obligation, Argiielles was
told he would not be allowed to leave his job. This would prevent him from being
able to leave Cuba and study in Mexico. During a heated argument, he insisted
and insisted and eventually his boss begrudgingly allowed him to resign his post.
This, however, was only the beginning of his bureaucratic battle.
After being allowed to quit his job, Argiielles went to the Mexican
Embassy in Cuba and presented his letter of invitation to study in Mexico.
Unfortunately for him, at the time Cuba was no longer granting permissions to
travel. However, due to the fact that his mother was Mexican, the consulate
suggested that he apply for Mexican citizenship and that way he would be able to
travel to study in Mexico as a Mexican citizen. For Argiielles this was a
tremendous step because Cuba does not recognize double citizenship which meant
that he had to renounce his Cuban citizenship in order to become a Mexican
citizen. At first, he confesses, I thought that it was something dishonest and
that it could officially mark me as unpatriotic or an enemy of the state (2004,
151). Finally, he overcame his conflict and decided that he had no other
alternative, considering that he had already decided definitively in his mind that
he was going to live abroad. He filled out the forms and Mexico issued him a
provisional Mexican passport that would allow him to travel to Mexico.

Now, with his Mexican passport, the letter of invitation to study in Mexico
and money for his plane ticket Arguelles found himself in the offices of the Cuban
airline, Cubana de Aviation, where the prices are much cheaper than other
airlines. At Cubana they told him that because he was bom in Cuba he needed
written permission from his Cuban employer to leave the country. He explained
that he was now a Mexican citizen. It is explained to him that a person can
change nationality but not their place of birth and that birthplace was the basis of
the Cuban law. Argiielles felt trapped. Considering the big blowout he had just
had with his employer, he felt it unlikely that he would grant him permission to
leave the country. He was desperate and did not know what to do, to which he
adds that although there are many rules in Cuba, none of them are explained to the
citizens which leaves them without ideas for recourse. Luckily someone casually
mentions to him that because he was a published author in Cuba he belonged to
the National Union of Cuban Writers and that the union could write him the letter.
He went to the union and presented his letter of invitation and the paperwork was
completed so that he could leave Cuba.
Once out of Cuba, the negotiations of the patron-clientage system turn to
the issue of returning to Cuba. What special visa do you need to enter back to
your country? attorney Eduardo asked me. It was a leading question to make his

point and as I pondered his angle he emphatically answered it for me. None! Me,
as a Cuban, in order to return to Cuba, even if it is as a tourist, I need Cuba to give
me a visa (Lopez Ferrer, E., personal interview October 10,2006). On the official
Minister of Foreign Affairs website there are several entry permissions that
demand the compliance to the patron-clientage system in Cuba. For example, the
Permiso de Regreso Definitivo (Permission for Definite Return) allows people
over 60 years of age to return to Cuba if they have not participated in hostile
activities against Cuba, are eligible to obtain this permission to return to Cuba
for good ( consulares.asp).
However, this permission is only for special cases. The true color of the
migratory controls and their effects on the lives of Cubans rests in the general
entry permission.
According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Cuba, the Vigencia de
Viaje (W) can be obtained by all people bom in Cuba who have not officially
lost their Cuban citizenship. Those who have this permission must present their
Cuban passport in order to enter national territory, with the exception of those
who emigrated before December 31, 1970. With a W a Cuban can enter Cuba
and stay for periods of up to ninety (90) consecutive days, and is only effective
through the international airports. Travelers must present the W along with a

current Cuban passport, proof of legal foreign residency and a return plane ticket.
The VV can be renewed two times every two years. Cubans who are married to
foreigners and have a Permiso de Residencia en el Exterior (PRE) are not eligible
for this permission since they already have permission to enter Cuba whenever
they wish. Others who cannot acquire a W and who, in fact, cannot even travel
to Cuba for a period of five (5) years are those who left Cuba violating the
formally established migratory controls or whose exit was carried out through
fraud, hijacking of ships or airplanes, national or foreign. Also excluded from
traveling to Cuba for five years are functionaries or employees charged with
completing a mission abroad who remain abroad under conditions different than
those foreseen before they left without the necessary authorization.
( consulares.asp).
There are several points of interest in the above official policy. One is that
a person bom in Cuba who is in good standing with the government can enter
Cuba for a period of ninety consecutive days and that they must show a return
ticket to the country they traveled from upon entering Cuba. The return ticket
ensures that their stay is temporary and the limit on the amount of consecutive
days a person can stay as a visitor in their country of birth reveals the lengths
taken to maintain the patron-clientage relationship between the state and the

individual. It is also of note that any Cuban living abroad wishing to visit the
island must travel by plane because their entry is only allowed through an
international airport. This limits the ports of entry and makes it easier to monitor
the movement of Cuban travelers. All of these regulations for Cubans to visit their
own country and a foreign tourist who wants to travel to Cuba from Mexico can
buy the entry visa in the airport right before their flight takes off. The other
important point of interest in the description of the entry regulations is the
distinction of those who are not allowed to enter Cuba. If migratory law is broken
during the exit from Cuba, the person cannot enter Cuba for five years. This
would apply to all balseros or to those people who decide not to return from their
visit acquired through a letter of invitation. This last penalty would also apply to
those people who were responsible for carrying out a job for Cuba abroad and
decided not to abide by the stipulations of that agreement by not going back to
Cuba or by taking on work outside of their government contracted assignment.
When Argtielles tried to go back to Cuba he was met with a disconcerting
reality that amidst the symbolic posturing in the patron-clientage relationship
sometimes the individual gets lost in the shuffle. Towards the end of 1997, after a
few years of living in Mexico, Arguelles decided to travel to Cuba to visit his
family and friends. He went to the Cuban consulate in Mexico City to update his

Cuban passport, because by Cuban law any person bom in Cuba, regardless of
whether that person has changed nationality, must enter and exit from the island
with a Cuban passport. When he got to the consulate he was informed that his was
in Mexico illegally. According to Cuban law, Arguelles had gone to Mexico on
an official visit for the simple fact that his permission to leave Cuba was granted
to him by an institution of the state, the National Union of Cuban Writers. All
this time Arghelles had believed that he had migrated legally. In fact, he had
painstakingly made sure that the entire process was done by the letter of the law.
It was only now that he had been allowed to leave his country that he found out
that he was now in violation of the established migratory controls as laid out by
the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Under the conditions of the Vigencia de Viaje,
Argilelles had been a functionary or employee charged with completing a mission
abroad who remained abroad under conditions different than those foreseen
before they left without the necessary authorization. The only problem was he
did not understand that these were the conditions of his travel before he left. He
thought he was moving to Mexico as a Mexican citizen, when in the eyes of the
Cuban authorities he was breaking the law (2004, 175).
After he insistently asked the consulate how the situation could be
resolved, they told him that he could solicit a permission of entry or Permiso de

Entrada. According to the MINREX website, this permission is for direct family
(son, father, mother, wife, brother, etc.) of a Cuban resident for travel to Cuba for
humanitarian reasons that can be duly accredited
(' consulares.asp). In the case of
Arguelles, his mother was ill. The consulate told him that the process would take
several months and that there was no guarantee it would be granted but that in
order to move forward they would need a medical certificate sent from Cuba to
verify his mothers illness. While he waited for the medical certificate he wrote a
letter to the Minister of Culture who he happened to know from his college days.
In the letter he asked him three main questions. First, if he was officially
considered a Cuban citizen, then why must he solicit and pay for a permission of
entry to go back to his country of origin? Second, if they officially considered him
a Mexican citizen, then why must he travel on a Cuban passport? Can he not
travel like any other Mexican? Finally, why must he live with the anguish and
uncertainty of whether or not they will concede him permission to travel to Cuba
to see his mother, children, family and co-workers? Argiielles sent the minister
several emails with those exact questions and never received an answer (2004,

The answers to Argiielles questions lie in the systemic patron-clientage
agreement currently in place in Cuba. People are forced to choose sides and
depending on which side a person chooses, the line is constantly being walked
between being in favor or out of favor with the patron. Certain rewards are traded
for compliance to the terms set by the patron. In the case of Cuba, the privilege
that is negotiated is that of movement and access to resources. This arrangement
is meant to breed a functioning interaction between patron and client, between
state and individual. As seen in the case of Cuba, the patron clientage system
most often has the opposite effect. As their lives become more restricted the
system seems to make less sense to the participants and they begin to have
questions. They begin to look to other social spaces for the answers they need. In
Cuba they begin to transfer their daily process of inventor from fulfilling their
economic needs to fulfilling their emotional needs as well. Argiielles contends, It
is precisely the Cuban government that contributes to the people having more
interest in seeing other things, he said, because of the very same mistaken
politics (Argiielles Espinosa, L.A., personal interview, November 27,2006).
As shown in this chapter, certain rewards available to those who play by
the rules of the game established by the patron. Cases like those of Gabriela,
Alexander, and Cristian illustrate how Cubans in favor with the system can travel

abroad if they remain inside the lines of the agreement set forth by the state. They
all, to one degree or another, maintain that tenuous relationship with Cuba in
order to still be able to return. On the other hand, cases like those of Arozarena,
Rojas, Prats, and Antonio demonstrate what happens when the agreement between
patron and client is challenged and people fall out of favor with the state. This
preferential distribution of rewards from the state based on which side of the
symbolic battle for the nation people are placed serves to further fragment the
population. In the sense of a nation as an imagined community, the style in which
a community is controlled by its government speaks to how the nation is imagined
by its members. How the Cuban nation is imagined by it members also illustrates
how it is controlled. The following chapter examines how the national, familial
and individual fragmentation of this patron-clientage system manifests in the
imaginations of the Cuban people.

Migration and Cuba as an Imagined Community
As seen in the previous chapter, the patron-clientage system forces Cubans
into decisions that result in separation from their families and fragmentation of
their identities. It is the overwhelming paternalistic nature of the Cuban system
that characterizes its fragmentation and subsequently how it is imagined by its
members. Much like the relationship between parent and child, the relationship
between state and citizen in Cuba is filled with unspoken rules, insinuated
behavior and internal struggle over identity. In this chapter, three aspects of this
relationship between individual and state will be discussed: migratory matrimony;
conditional imagination and authenticity.
Migratory Matrimony
On an autumn evening in 2005, a female taxi driver in Havana proposed
marriage to me five minutes after I got in her cab. She asked me where I was
from and then asked me to marry her. Its business, she explained, you marry
me, we leave, and I wont even bother you in your country. She was willing to
marry a complete stranger who just happened to get into her cab. Had I accepted

her offer, I could have made a decent chunk of cash in the process. Because of my
obvious reluctance to do business, she never quoted me a figure of how much
she was willing to pay but according to BBC News I could have asked for around
$5,000. According to a 2005 report Husbands for Sale in Cuba, by BBC News
correspondent Stephen Gibbs the price for American, Mexican, European or
Canadian husbands was at $5,000, whereas a Costa Rican husband was going for
around $2,000 and a Peruvian around $800. Gibbs describes attending the
wedding of a Cuban friend who was getting married to a Mexican man whose
identity she did not know only a few days prior. At the wedding there was a cake,
photos were taken, and the guests danced as if they had known each other for
years. As Gibbs describes it the husband, who was paid $5,000, was a retired
engineer in his late fifties, who seemed quite prepared to go along with this
theatre as far, and probably beyond, as was required. (BBC News, August 6,
2005). Whatever the motives of the bride and groom, this story highlights the
trend of migratory matrimony: a civil union between man and woman, and a
mode of migration.
The emergence of marriage as a mode of migration contributes to an
expanded transnational Cuban family and an increasingly fragmented and
conflicted sense of national identity. One night Alexander told me that he feared

that his two-year-old son might grow up to say that his father is Cuban but that he
is Mexican because that is where he grew up, where he went to school, and where
he made friends. Alexander wants him to feel equally Cuban and Mexican and
therefore would like him to spend part of his time growing up in Cuba, in order to
establish cultural roots there (Alexander, personal interview, October 17, 2006).
His child is a product, literally and symbolically, of Alexanders marriage to his
Mexican wife and his subsequent migration. Although the marriage between
Alexander and his wife may not have been bom out of the business of migratory
matrimony as described in the BBC News article, it does serve to highlight the
magnitude of the impact of these transnational marriages on Cuban migration and
on the Cuban imagination.
Migratory matrimony between Cuba and Mexico has caught the attention
of Mexican immigration officials. Cuban-born immigration attorney Eduardo
Lopez Ferrer recounts how one afternoon, while discussing a work issue with a
colleague, he was approached by a high level official from Mexican immigration.
The Mexican official said, Ah, there is the Cuban thing
counselor. I have had it with your marriages between Mexican men and Cuban
women, and between Cuban men and Mexican women. I would like this to end
because it is a problem, a mess (Lopez Ferrer, E., personal interview, October

10, 2006). Official statistics seem to support that the grand majority of Cubans
who go to Mexico do so by getting married to a Mexican. The only official source
for any statistics concerning this phenomenon is the 2000 XII General Census of
Population and Housing. The number of Cubans in Mexico is relatively small:
6,647 Cuban bom residents in Mexico as of the 2000 census but almost one third
(29.77%) of those Cubans surveyed in 2000 resided in Cuba in 1995 a statistic
which indicates a substantial pattern of increased Cuban migration to Mexico. Of
the 4067 households where there was at least one member of Cuban origin,
62.63% of the households consisted of mixed Cuban-Mexican marriages. To the
contrary, only 11.5% consisted of Cuban-Cuban marriages and only 15%
consisted of single Cubans simply living among Mexicans. The remaining
10.84% landed in the category others (Martinez Perez & Cabrera Rodriguez,
The high percentage of Cuban-Mexican marriages could mean that
Cubans are arriving in Mexico on their own accord, meeting Mexicans and
getting married to them. However, the restrictive Cuban migratory policy and the
fact that Cubans, along with Arabs, Colombians, and Chinese, belong to the most
restricted immigrant category that the Mexican government has, make it unlikely
(Lopez Ferrer, E., personal interview, October 10,2006). What these immigration

statistics do support is the idea that through its migratory policy of offering
incentives to those who marry foreign citizens, the Cuban government has
attributed to the augmentation of transnational Cuban-Mexican marriages and
families. Migratory matrimony is a good example of how certain imagined social
spaces are encouraged by the patron-clientage system. The Permiso de Residencia
en el Exterior (PRE) possesses the ability to enter and exit Cuba whenever they
please. However, the Cuban must be married to a foreigner. As officially
explained on the MINREX website, these permissions are granted to Cuban
citizens who contract matrimony with foreign citizens and their children under the
age of 21, that wish to establish themselves in the exterior for an undetermined
term ( consul ares.asp'). Cubans who
are not married to foreigners cannot apply for this permission.
By making marriage to a foreigner the most privileged migratory status,
the state encourages the idea that it is in a persons best interest to find a foreigner
to marry if they want to leave Cuba. In general, the prospect of leaving Cuba
looms large in the imaginations of the Cuban people. On a recent visit to his
neighborhood in Cuba, Alexander was inundated with people from the
neighborhood who wanted to know how they might be able to migrate to Mexico.
Friends were coming out of the woodwork asking for his contact information in

Mexico just in case they found themselves with a ticket out of Cuba to Mexico. At
a birthday party for Alexanders son, a young woman in her late twenties who
lives in his neighborhood told me that she has always wanted to leave Cuba, but
things have never worked out so she has made a conscious decision to move on
with her life and not pin her hopes on leaving Cuba. At that same party, a friend
of Alexander told me that because of the politicized nature of Cuban migration,
what is generally considered a normal phenomenon everywhere else becomes
news when it comes to Cuba because of the political system in the country.
Indeed, the patron-clientage system makes special demands of Cuban migrants
that are not made of migrants from other countries. However, he added that
despite the restrictions, people are still going to consume and go in search of the
best economic situation, independent of the political system (Havana, Cuba,
December 9,2006,).
As with many aspects of a patron-clientage system, the search for the best
situation is not necessarily independent of the system and its confines. Cristian
maintains that in Cuba there is always a limit. On a professional level and in terms
of salary, a person can only go so far before they are met with that limitation.
When you get out, you see that you can get ahead, he asserts (Cristian, personal
interview, October 26, 2006). With approximately 10% of the Cuban population

living outside of Cuba, those who live abroad communicate about their lives
outside of Cuba and this impression becomes a part of the imaginations of Cubans
on the island. This transnational contact creates problems for the restrictive rules
of the Cuban household. Similar to parents who do not want their children eating
certain types of foods or listening to certain styles of music, the state bans certain
outside influences from entering the island. The only newspapers are printed by
the state. Access to the internet is limited to an intranet at the workplace.
However, in an overprotective or controlling family situation, the children are
exposed to all these bad influences at school through the other children.
Similarly, in Cuba people call on their ability to inventor to link up to the rest of
the world. Although prohibited, many homes have pirated satellite or internet for
which they pay monthly to their black-market service provider.
From his home in Cholula, Mexico, Prats told me how, while still living in
Cuba, he used to read the web version of the magazine Encuentro he now writes
for. First he explained that in Cuba internet access is limited to the official
intranet regulated by the government which restricts most all outside websites.
However, he continues, there is a loophole. Due to their importance to the
universal healthcare (one of the flagship programs of the Revolution) Cuban
doctors are given access to certain medical journals to be used for professional

development. Prats got his internet access through a doctor who lived on his
block and rented him access for $15 per month. They illegally ran a line from the
doctors house to Prats house so that he could access the intranet provided to the
medical community called infomed. From infomecTs homepage, Prats would hit
the link to the medical journals. Once he arrived to the site of a medical journal
from the United States he could then go to a link that would take him to The New
York Times. Once on The New York Times homepage he would find a link to the
Nuevo Herald out of Miami (the Spanish language newspaper published by the
Miami Herald). Once at the Nuevo Herald he could then hit a link to Encuentro.
This whole process he said used to take him about 30-40 minutes just to get to the
Encuentro webpage, let alone read it. He referred to it as his way to enter the
world. (Prats Sariol, J., personal interview, November 3, 2006). This is an
illustration of how Cubans inventor in order to participate in the global
community despite the prohibitions put in place by the authorities. It is because
of the rigidity the house rules that imagining has become intricately woven into
the everyday lives of the Cuban people as a mode of survival. The same is true for
Leaving Cuba has systemic limitations just like other aspects of life in
Cuba. A person can do everything possible to make their emigration happen but

due to the omni-present role of the state in the migration process, every persons
goals have limits. Cubans do not choose where they migrate to, they go wherever
the opportunity presents itself, explained Ana, a Cuban woman who moved to
Mexico with her Cuban husband. Their goal had been to go to Spain because in
Cuba her husband worked for a Spanish company. His claim is that his employers
did not put much effort into helping them to achieve that goal of emigrating
because moving him to Spain would mean losing him from the Cuba offices and
paying a higher salary in the process. However, an opportunity to emigrate did
present itself through a contact Ana had made as an employ in the tourist industry.
A longtime Mexican client offered her husband a job. Although not what they
had hoped for, the couple took the job, completed the bureaucratic process, and
moved to Mexico. Ana says that although she liked the very Americanized city of
Monterrey, she is not so happy in Puebla. It is ugly, she clarifies. The hope of
any Cuban, explains Ana is to migrate to a developed country, not a developed
country like Mexico (Ana, personal interview, October 22, 2006). In terms of
migration, the possibilities imagined by the Cuban people are not merely limited
to a persons individual economic inability to travel but also by the scope of
possibilities allowed by the system.

Under the current migratory policy, the system provides special visitation
privileges to those whose migration is a result of matrimony. The patron-
clientage system is an inherently fragmenting process. People are forced to choose
sides and depending on which side a person chooses, the line is constantly being
walked between being in favor or out of favor with the patron. In the case of
migratory matrimony, the ability of traveling home is used as motivation to keep
people in line. People who possess the PRE know that they have a special status
and do not want to do anything to put that ability to travel to Cuba in danger.
Alexander told me once that he would really like to write a book about the
realities of life in Cuba. He said that he feels that he owes it to the people he left
behind to tell the truth about life there in an autobiographical form. In his next
breath, he resigns himself to not writing his book because he does not want to
jeopardize his migratory status (Alexander, personal interview, November 1,
2006). Although his marriage to a Mexican woman is not an explicit factor in
Alexanders decision to write or not write his book about life in Cuba, his
migratory status is. Writing the book may not endanger his marriage but it will
affect his permission to visit Cuba (PRE) which is a consequence of his marriage
to a foreign citizen.

Antonio is married to foreign citizen, or non-Cuban, he would not think
twice about writing a tell-all book about the reality of life in Cuba. In a manner of
speaking, that is what he does in the form of his website
When I really turn it on, they (at the Cuban Embassy) shit themselves, he
exclaimed proudly of his dissident role (Corzo, A., personal interview, October
26.2006) . Antonio does not have a PRE. Antonio claims that the ability to travel
to and from Cuba afforded by Cuban migratory policy to those who marry
foreigners has adverse effects. He contends that Cuban immigrants who leave
under these conditions hold on to their imaginary ideas of what the island is to
them, or what they want it to be, because the prospect of returning is still there.
He says that as long as that prospect is still there, the person holds on to their
beautiful image of Cuba because they have not had it snatched away from them
by the state. Antonio adds that because of this ability to go home, they do not
face the reality of their own lives abroad (Corzo, A., personal interview, October
27.2006) .

Conditional Imagination
While walking through the streets of Mexico City in search of a bookstore,
Antonio asked me to remember something. One thinks how he lives, he does not
live how he thinks, he said and then immediately repeated. He then expounded
on the concept behind his new catch phrase, If you earn money, and you have all
your diversions, if the government is on your side, you are fine and you dont
complain. What bad could Silvio Rodriguez or Pablo Milanes say about Fidel, if
they go to Spain or wherever all the time to give concerts? For them things are
great. Antonios example of the two Cuban musical legends exemplifies the idea
that how people imagine the world around them depends heavily on the
conditions under which they live.
In Antonios case, his perception of the Cuban migratory policy as unjust
is a reflection of the conditions of his own migratory experience. In his mind, he
decided to pursue his life in a countiy other than his own and the manner in which
he did this labeled him as a deserter and made him no longer welcome in Cuba. It
was under these conditions that he decided to speak out against the government
and created the image of Antonio Corzo the political dissident to which he now
dedicates a large portion of his time. Antonio describes his life in Cuba as neither
pro nor anti-Castro. He simply went about his life and his work and his family

which consisted of a wife and a daughter. He never really thought about leaving
Cuba. He was a TV producer in Cuba and was one of only about four producers
in Cuba who had expertise in BetaCam technology. So, in 1992 when a Mexican
company came to the Cuban government looking for someone with that expertise,
Antonio got lucky and was awarded the job. He makes very clear that the Cuban
government received his pay from the Mexican company and continued to pay
him his Cuban salary while he lived in Mexico. After a while he decided that he
did not want to go back to Cuba and asked the Mexican company to contract him
This decision cut his ties with Cuba and meant that he could not return to
Cuba for a period of five years. Antonio claims that the main control tactic used
by Cuba is the threat that Cubans living abroad will not be able to return to Cuba
to see family. He has not seen his family in 15 years and fears being arrested if he
even enters the grounds of the Cuban embassy. Whether this fear is founded in
reality or not certainly could be debated. However, as seen above, the MINREX
website reveals how the migratory controls are levied. What Antonio tries to do is
publicly denounce all these special statuses to exit and enter Cuba as unjust and
that every Cuban should be allowed to exit and enter as he or she pleases. The
struggle of the Cuban, he says, is the lack of ability to choose what is best for him

or her. For him it is an abomination that a Cuban is prohibited from going back to
his country just because he decided to make his life elsewhere and express critical
opinions. Who does the Cuban government think they are to control if I can
come back to my home or not?! he exclaims (Corzo, A., personal interview,
October 27,2006).
He too thinks, or imagines, according to how he lives, and his life
experience has produced a perception of inequality which he says is exacerbated
by official migratory permissions that include certain portions of the population
and excludes others. Antonio recognizes that a country has the right to control its
borders and the flow of immigrants into their country, but to control the citizens
of that country in his opinion is an aberration. A person can clearly control who
they let into their own house, he says, but what Cuba is doing is like not allowing
its own son into the house. In Antonios case, because of his outspoken opposition
to the Cuban government, he imagines that if he tried to go to Cuba and visit his
mother whom he has not seen in fifteen years, they would throw him in jail or
forbid his entry. You dont think it hurts me not to see my mother just like it
does anyone else? he rhetorically confesses. Why then, he asks, should one
Cuban have the privilege to go home and he should not? Every Cuban should be
allowed to come and go as he or she pleases, he declares (Corzo, A., personal

interview, October 27, 2006). Cuban migratory policy, however, does not allow
every Cuban to enter or exit the country as they wish. Some are allowed to enter
and exit as they please and others are not. This discrepancy then influences
Cubans to make certain decisions, like paying a foreigner to marry them, based on
their evaluation of the punishment/reward ratio. Because certain modes of
migration are encouraged and others are not, different life experiences are bom
and thusly distinct imaginary ideas of Cubans. In this sense, the migratory
controls nurture one imagined Cuba over another.
The imaginary ideas of Cuba change according to the experience of each
Cuban. Alberto, for example, moved to Mexico from Cuba after marrying his
Mexican wife but as he admits, My life is in Cuba. Here you are starting from
zero (Alberto, personal interview, November 29,2006). Kim (2001) corroborates
Albertos statement by noting that when people enter into a new cultural milieu,
the cultural competence that they had learned throughout their lives in their native
culture may no longer be applicable and this causes the process of enculturation
to start all over again (50). For Kim, cross-cultural adaptation is a dual process
consisting of deculturation (the loss of certain norms from the original culture)
and simultaneous acculturation (the addition of certain norms from the new
culture) with the ultimate goal being assimilation (the maximum possible level of

cross-cultural adaptation) (51-52). Indeed, the process of crossing cultures
challenges the very basis of who we are as cultural beings, Kim states (2001, 9).
For some this process of adaptation is easier than for others.
For Alberto the adaptation process was so rough that after eleven months
in Mexico, he returned to Cuba for a year. Being an immigrant is the worst thing
a person can be because you are never happy, Alberto says. There are moments
of happiness but you are not really happy once you tear yourself away from your
family, your life-long friends and your life, he explains. Alberto says that the
most difficult aspect of life in Mexico for him has been adapting to the capitalist
society and admits that he would not be in Mexico if he had not married a
Mexican woman. He did eventually return to Mexico on November 3, 2006. The
fact that he had obtained a PRE by virtue of his marriage to a Mexican woman
allowed him to spend a year in Cuba and then return to Mexico without a problem
(Alberto, personal interview, November 29, 2006). Was Albertos difficulty in
adapting a result of his ability as an immigrant with the PRE to go back to Cuba
whenever he wanted as Antonio suggests? Or, could it be that is was precisely the
reality of his life abroad that caused him to return to Cuba? It is a distinct
possibility that it was not Albertos preferred immigrant status that made it

difficult for him to adapt to life in Mexico but rather his status as an immigrant
that made adaptation a challenge.
It isnt easy for a Cuban who leaves Cuba, Alexander confided, adding
that to him it means nothing to be a Cuban abroad if you cant help family in
Cuba He sends fifty dollars a month to his mother in Cuba which he says resolves
a lot of problems for them although it is not a lot of money for him in Mexico. He
has committed to visiting Cuba every two years. He keeps in contact with his
family through any means necessary. His mom gives him updates on happenings
in the neighborhood which he loves to hear. He said he can imagine the peoples
faces and the places where this or that happened from his moms description. That
is how he stays a part of the neighborhood (Alexander, personal interview,
November, 11, 2006). A neighborhood, a community, he no longer lives in but
still participates in through his imagination. It is the condition fragmentation that
forces Alexander and others like him to enter the realm of the imagination to find
their national, familial and individual Cuban identities. His displacement from his
reality has created internal conflict. This fragmentation has both temporal and
spatial elements. In addition to being spatially displaced, many Cubans travel
nostalgically back to an imagined historical Cuba that is more in line with how
they imagine Cuba should be. At the same time, they identify key historical

events as representing the roots of the fragmentation they experience in the
present day.
Alexander claims that the essence of the way Cubans behave and perceive
life was changed after 1959. He says that the historic Cuban essence is one of
happiness, dance, diversion and relaxation. He says that the Revolution changed
all that and by doing so put the Cuban identity into conflict. The historic spirit of
alegria was challenged by the revolutionary ethos of the struggle and socialism
or death. Now, he laments, Cubans dont even know who they are supposed to
be, what they represent, or what life is about (Alexander, personal interview,
October 5, 2006). Alexander is on one hand a man with a family that he loves in
Mexico and on the other hand he is a man who misses his family in a place called
Cuba that may or may not exist for him anymore the same way it always has. He
is in constant negotiations between the idea of Cuba and the reality of Cuba and
between the idea of family and the reality of family.
Alexander still lives in an imagined Cuba. I want to be able to see my
mom and give her a kiss in the morning, he said with homesickness in his voice.
In his neighborhood in Cuba, Alexander knows everyone and everyone knows
Alexander. I am the mayor of my neighborhood, he exclaimed proudly. He
walks into the street with no shirt on, sits on the comer in front of his house and

has conversations with the people in the neighborhood as they pass by
(Alexander, personal interview, October 30, 2006). In fact, people just wander
into his house throughout the day. Sometimes they come around with important
news or business to take care of, and sometimes they just drop in to chat. Many
times brings people by the house looking for a certain person, like Alexanders
brother in-law who manages to inventor food for a good part of the neighborhood
through his work in a food distribution center. One thing is certain, the doors are
always open and combined with the warm weather and the appearance that very
few people actually go to work, it creates a nostalgic image of an around-the-
clock American summer vacation (Havana, Cuba, December 2006). Who doesnt
get nostalgic for summer vacation? In Cuba, he has life-long friends who know
everything about him, from birth to present-day. There is nowhere to hide even if
he wanted to.
It is this intimacy that Alexander longs for when he gets lonely in Mexico.
As Boym (2001) explains it, this longing is not really a place called home but
this sense of intimacy with the world; it is not the past in general, but that
imaginary moment when we had time and didnt know the temptation of
nostalgia (251). In Havana, Luis, a friend of Alexander who has lived abroad
himself, offered that Cubans are accustomed to not having any private or personal

space. He called it an invasion of space. According to Luis, it is the social
intimacy provided by this invasion of space that they miss when they are away
from Cuba. Everything is such a shared experience in Cuba and it is difficult for
Cubans to adapt to the more private and individualized lifestyles that exist in
countries like the United States and Mexico among others. Because they are
accustomed to a more invasive lifestyle where people wander in and out of their
house without notice, they begin to miss that social interaction when they relocate
to cultures where this is not common (Luis, personal interview, December 9,
2006). The case of Alexander provides a good example of this absence of invasive
social interaction creating an emotional longing for Cuba.
It is often tempting for Alexander to give into nostalgia when he is in
Mexico. He claims to have no real friends in Mexico that he feels like he can trust
and confide in. He does not feel like he has a sense of home. Their current
apartment is the fourth in a two and a half year span and he does not know his
neighbors in Puebla, let alone socialize with them. He does not feel much of a
sense of professional accomplishment or self-worth. He has bounced from
security work, to teaching salsa classes, to selling tennis shoes out of the trunk of
his car, to buying and selling clothing and medical equipment, to his current job
of waiting tables at a Cuban restaurant. Things have not gone well for me in

Mexico, he says. I have to inventor more here than I did in Cuba (Alexander,
personal interview, October 19,2006). In Cuba he had one job in the military that
offered him a secure position with a relatively decent salary by Cuban standards.
In fact, on one occasion Alexander mentioned that he would like to save up
money and move back to Cuba. He said that he likes his country and that if a
person can resolve the economic issue, Cuba is a good, laid back place to live
(Alexander, personal interview, October 17, 2006). The catch is that inside of the
paternalistic Cuban system, resolving the economic issue is not dependent on the
will of the individual. Like in a family, the children are dependent on the parents
for their economic welfare. The economy in Cuba is determined by the politics of
the state (parent) and the citizens (children) have to learn to live accordingly. In
later conversations Alexander would reveal a more complex understanding of his
imagined Cuba and the problems it confronts.
Alexander imagines Cuba as a good place to live, but at the same time as a
place that needs to be adjusted or changed. He recognizes that something
systemic needs to be done in order for Cuba to be the place that he imagines it
could be or it should be and it is not purely an economic issue. In Cuba, he
explains there is only one house that has a telephone in his neighborhood. If he
wants to call his mom because he feels like talking to her, because she is my

mom and I am her son, he has to call this neighbors house. The neighbor then
sends for his mom and she comes to the neighbors house to talk to him. Aside
from the lack of convenience he enjoys with his cellular phone in Mexico it also
impedes more personal communication. This arrangement does not allow them to
speak naturally, he says, because someone is always standing nearby and so they
cannot say whatever they want because it might be overheard and understood one
way or another which could mean problems for his mother. He says that even
inside the walls of family homes between members of a nuclear family, people do
not have the freedom to say what they want. For example, he says, because he
was a military man when he lived in Cuba, his family had to watch what they said
because someone might hear it and that would mean trouble for Alexander. Or,
people inside the same family might have problems with each other if they
expressed everything they wanted because one belongs to the Party, etc.
(Alexander, personal interview, November 11, 2006). This is a Cuban reality he
deals with even while he lives in Mexico.
Does the ability to travel to Cuba afforded to by the privileged status of
the PRE mean that people like Alexander hold on to their imaginary ideas of Cuba
and do not face its reality because the prospect of returning is still there? If he had
not been given the permission to be able to travel to and from Mexico to Cuba

with the PRE, Alexander confesses that he would not have left Cuba. In many
ways, through his imagination and his transnational ability, he continues to belong
to a community that he no longer physically lives in. Contrary to Antonios
hypothesis about the PRE providing an excuse not to face the reality of Cuba,
Alexanders imagined Cuba is not simply a utopian snapshot of all his wonderful
memories in Cuba. It also includes the realities that are currently being faced by
the people on the island. In fact, his constant contact and his ability to return for
visits serve to increase the role of Cuban realities in his imagined nation. His
travels to Cuba keep Alexander in touch with the Cuban reality on the ground.
Antonio, on the other hand, has not been to Cuba in fifteen years and therefore
must rely on his memory and his experience since leaving Cuba in order to
compose his imagined Cuba. The imagined Cuba of Alexander might contrast
with that of Antonio but they both underline the importance of individual
circumstances in the formation of that imagined community.
On the island of Cuba, Cubans engage in the act of imagining their nation
as well. When a nation becomes fragmented by the patron-clientage system, the
effects are not exclusive to the fragments that are dispersed to other parts of the
world. As with the Cubans living abroad, each Cuban on the island shares the
fundamental condition of fragmentation. The daily living conditions of Cubans on

the island may vary slightly and they may vary dramatically from those of their
compatriots in Mexico, Spain, Panama or the United States. However just like
any other member of the Cuban nation, they live in a reality filled with sons and
daughters, mothers and fathers, and brothers and sisters who live abroad and from
whom they are now separated indefinitely. In this fragmented reality each of
them carries with them an imagined Cuba that is informed by their personal
The daily Cuban experience will many times involve meeting a need that
is not being met by the system. Cubans have become adept at inventing a way to
fulfill that need outside of the official network of resources on the black market.
On one particular day in Havana I accompanied two acquaintances on a search for
a few boxes of cigars. One of the Cubans knew a guy in Havana Vieja (Old
Havana) that sold boxes of cigars stolen from the factory. We went to the mans
house but were informed that he was not home. A walking tour of Havana Vieja
ensued and during our door to door search for the cigars I needed to use a
bathroom. At that particular moment we happened to be directly across the street
from the capital building near some stores. I spotted the Hotel Inglaterra caddy
comer from where we were standing. Accessing my previous experience in that
part of town, I remembered that there was a clean, comfortable bathroom in the

hotel lobby. It would be a quick and easy process. I even knew where it was. I
suggested to the others that we cross the street and go to the hotel. Im not
going, well wait for you here, one of them told me. So, at their insistence that I
go alone, I crossed the street and entered the Hotel Inglaterra without any
problem. No one asked me if I was a guest there or dining at the restaurant.
When I returned to where they were waiting for me, the other man who was with
me said, We arent allowed in that hotel you know.
Regardless, of whether or not it is Cuban law that Cubans cannot enter
hotels in their own country, to these two men it was an imagined reality. The
Hotel Inglaterra represented a segregated zone, something along the lines of Jim
Crow in the post-Civil War, pre-Civil Rights American south. However explicit
or implicit it might be with the law, the imagined separation of everyday Cubans
from another citizenry on the island, the tourist, creates a sensation of
fragmentation for the Cubans who are not allowed to enter a certain hotel or
converse with certain people on the street. It is a visible and tangible separation
from a persons nation inside of the borders of that very nation. This separation is
much like the one that keeps Antonio Corzo from entering the Cuban Embassy in
Mexico City. Would Antonio be arrested if he tried to enter Cuba? Prats
personally doubts that he himself would be arrested if he tried to return to Cuba

but adds that it probably would not be a good idea and definitely not worth the
risk (Prats Sariol, J., personal interview, November 6, 2006). Regardless of
whether or not it is true, it is an imagined reality for Antonio and Prats that has
been produced by certain precedents set by the patron-clientage system in Cuba.
Along those lines, would the three balseros who jump into the sea in fear of being
arrested truly have been arrested if they had not escaped to Mexico? I have heard
various opinions with respect to what happens to balseros who are caught in the
act. What is certain is the perception held by these men that if they did not escape
they would be imprisoned. These perceptions become realities in the imagined
communities created by the various members of the nation. The illusion of these
realities fortifies the existence of the patron-clientage system which in turn
continues to fragment the Cuban nation, the Cuban family and the individual
The individual circumstances of each member of the Cuban nation provide
for them the canvass on which to paint their own unique portrait of Cuba. A
person thinks how he lives he does not live how he thinks. With different
circumstances come different thoughts about politics, culture and language and
thusly distinct perspectives. The fragmentation of the Cuban nation brought about
by the patron-clientage system currently in place, produces with it distinct

circumstances within which individual Cubans view themselves and the world.
These differences result in claims over which imagined Cuba is the authentic
The Authentic Cuba
In the Elian Gonzalez incident, each side staked their claim to the national
identity, claiming that their Cuba was the only Cuba, going to great lengths to
portray their ideas, their way of life, their memory, their nostalgia, and their
principles as the most authentic, righteous, and moral. Again, the symbolic war
of memory (Rojas, 2006) waged in the high profile Elian incident was indicative
of the larger, more mundane battle over authenticity that derives from the
differences present in the fabric of the Cuban nation. Just as Alexander and
Antonio might imagine Cuba differently due to their individual experiences, so
Cuba is imagined differently by the larger fragments of the nation.
A Cuban who lives in Mexico for example lives life from that position and
these circumstances produce distinct results from the life of a Cuban who lives in
the United States. Rojas explains that being a Cuban in Mexico is a singular
condition. Living in Mexico explains that you are not a Cuban from Miami. You
are a Cuban in Mexico (and that) is another condition, Rojas comments. It is not

the same as living in any part of the United States because Cubans in Mexico do
not live beneath the intense public and political interventionism present in Miami.
Public and political interventions do occur in Mexico as well but as Rojas notes,
the matter is lived another way here. First, Mexico is a Latin American country
just like Cuba. It is underdeveloped just like Cuba. It has had conflicts with their
shared neighbor the United States just like Cuba. This condition, according to
Rojas, places Cubans in Mexico on a parallel plane where criticism acquires a
particular tone. Because of their countries shared conditions, a Cuban in Mexico
can criticize Fidel Castro and the United States. In Miami what interests them
most is identifying themselves with Washington in its policy toward Cuba. In
Mexico, the game is played differently. I, (sic) it can be seen in my books,
Rojas says, .. .almost always in my articles there is a critique of the policy of the
United States toward Cuba. (Rojas, R., personal interview, October 26,2006).
The different public and political conditions under which Cubans live in
the United States as opposed to Mexico also translate into their imaginations.
Rojas explains:
The Cubans, for example, the Cubans in Miami in general have visions summarily
critical not just of the Latin American governments but rather of Latin
America in general. There is a rejection of Latin America within the Cubans in
Miami. A cultural (and) many times racial rejection and that they consider
themselves distinct This is not anything new. It is in the Cuban
historiography and it has been studied since the beginning

of the twentieth century. The royal Cuban historians insisted
that Cuba was not a Latin American country, that it was not
an Antillean country, Caribbean. It was a civilized
European country.
(Rojas, R., personal interview, October 26,2006)
Rojas contends that a myth of Cuban distinction is still strongly conserved in the
community in Miami that Cuba is the most European, the most Spanish, the most
American country in Latin America because they have always felt more
connected with the United States and Spain. He says this myth persists today
even though 50-60% of the Cuban population is of African descent (black or
mulatto) (Rojas, R., personal interview, October 26, 2006). Omar, a small Cuban
business owner living in Cholula, Mexico, corroborates the argument made by
Rojas. He says that when he is in Miami, he feels as though the Cubans there
look down there noses at him for living in Mexico (Omar, personal interview,
November 21, 2006). The Spanish and American images live strong in the
memory of the Cuban community in Miami just Cubans located in other locations
bring their own distinct imagined Cuba created by its own distinct memory. The
Cubans in Miami consider themselves distinct. Being a Cuban in Mexico is a
singular condition, distinguished in part by not being in Miami. These are only
two examples of the atmosphere of distinction the Cuban nation confronts
questions of authenticity.

The battle for authenticity is not only happening on a grand scale between
large communities like those in Miami and Havana. Every day Cubans, regardless
of geographic location, are engaged in the negotiation for the authenticity of Cuba
based on how they imagine Cuba and the world. When Alberto returned to Cuba
for that year, his friends chastised him because they saw it as him blowing the
opportunity to live first class. They told me that I should have gone to the
United States from Mexico, not back to Cuba, he says. He adds that Cubans on
the island have the idea that once you get out of Cuba youve made it and you
have a car and house upon your arrival (Alberto, personal interview, November
29, 2006). Alexander would argue that Cubans who still live on the island try to
convince themselves that the stories they hear about the good life abroad are
exaggerations or falsehoods. They say that so and so has to work all the time
and that he is enslaved by the demands of capitalism and materialism
(Alexander, personal interview, November 11,2006). Regardless of whether these
perceptions of the outside world are true or not, the Cubans on the island
distinguish their lives on the island from the ones they are imagining off the
island. Separate worlds have been created, not just spatially but mentally as well
and the images of these worlds help to distinguish authenticity.

On his last trip to Cuba, a man in his neighborhood called Alexander a
yuma. This term supposedly originated from a 1957 Glenn Ford movie called
3:10 to Yuma, based on an Elmore Leonard short story, and became slang for
America or for an American (Bardach, 2002, 11). In recent years, the term has
acquired an expanded usage and now will often be used to refer to all foreigners.
The fact that Alexander was called a yuma by an old neighborhood friend, with
whom he grew up, indicates a shift in Alexanders perceived authenticity in the
eyes of those left behind. Before he had even left Cuba, their perception of him
began to change. During a visit from his then girlfriend and soon-to-be wife,
Alexander was met head on with the reality of his decisions. His life-long friends
from the neighborhood began to say things about his wife that revealed to him
that they saw her as just another foreigner to try and squeeze money out of. This
offended him and he had to set the record straight with them and clarify that she
was the woman he loved and was going to live his life with, not some meal ticket.
They responded by telling him that he had changed now that he was well off with
a foreign lady (Alexander, personal interview, October 12,2006).
On his first visit back to Cuba since permanently migrating to Mexico,
Alexander decided to pay for his nieces quincefiera (fifteenth birthday)
celebration because he could and his sister did not have the money to do it. He

wanted his friends from the neighborhood to be there so he invited them. They
reacted by showing him their worn out shoes and saying, brother I cant go to the
party with these shoes, why dont you give me yours? They said that they would
not be able to go unless he gave them his shoes and pants to wear, assuming of
course that because he was now living abroad he had plenty of clothes. He lent
them his clothes and shoes and they went to the party but they did not return his
clothes (Alexander, personal interview, October 12, 2006). The reactions by
Alexanders friends in Cuba could just be the reactions of people who are hurt by
the perceived loss of a friend who has moved out of their lives. They could be
jealous that he has left Cuba and they have not. They could view his leaving as
some sort of betrayal, personal or national. These bouts with his friends are not
only a reflection of their personal attachment to him, but also of their personal
attachment to his Cuban authenticity. By moving to Mexico and marrying a
Mexican, Alexander was no longer as Cuban as he used to be. His Cuban
authenticity has been compromised by his emigration and therefore he is
imagined differently by those still on the island. Another young Cuban man living
in Mexico told me that the people on the island do not look favorably on those
who leave because they see it as a sort of abandonment of a larger struggle or of
the socialist project and they feel betrayed because if a person leaves Cuba then to