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The Americas 61.2 (2004) 279-280

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By Heart/De Memoria: Cuban Women's Journeys In and Out of Exile. Edited by Maria de los Angeles Torres. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2003. Pp xiii, 192. Illustrations. $19.95 paper.

After more than 43 years of revolution in Cuba comes along this fascinating testimonial of eleven Cuban and Cuban-American women of differing backgrounds who write about their attempts to come to terms with a sense of loss, the longing for understanding and a need for national reconciliation. Those who write in exile left Cuba at different historical periods of time such as the expatriation of children in Operation Peter Pan at the beginning of the revolution or the mass exodus from Mariel Harbor in 1980, or the slow brain drain of the Periodo Especial (when Cuba faced severe economic hardships due to the withdrawal of Soviet subsidies in the early 1990s). Others stayed and experienced the ups, and more often downs, of a flailing revolution. Many returned to Cuba years later and found what they were seeking among friends and long lost family, despite the ongoing political strife among governments.

With the coming of age of each new generation of Cuban-Americans, we have come to expect a new wave of narratives about nostalgia and return. However, never before have we seen such refreshing, evocative and balanced testimonials written exclusively by women. In her Preface, Maria de los Angeles Torres explained that women seldom received public recognition for "forging a paradigm of politics and identity that was inclusive of both home and host countries, mindful of multiple points of reference" (p. x). In fact, women orchestrated many of the grassroots efforts for rapprochement between the exile community and those who remained in Cuba. In these essays we get the personal accounts of some of the women who participated in these efforts and their struggle for understanding the commonalities and differences between both communities. These essays, Achy Obejas' poem, family pictures and Tania Bruguera's artwork represent their personal search for identity and cubaness or cubanía.

Madelín Cámara who left Cuba during the Special Period explains in her essay that: "The HISTORY of an exile does not begin the day we leave the country, but on the day we feel that the country has abandoned us" (p. 151). Several of the essays recount the profound disillusionment of being rejected by their country as mere counterrevolutionaries or gusanas (worms) when the decision to leave had been made. Others experienced a slow process of disenchantment with the revolution when faced with the gradual perversion of the socialist utopia. Yet, throughout, there is a prevailing sense of hope and optimism for a better future. Román de la Campa wrote that it is in the comings and goings to and from Cuba that we find true cubaness. These testimonies vividly illustrate this phenomenon. The Antonio Maceo Brigades feature prominently in this book. Young idealistic Cuban-Americans (often young women) defied the virulent anti-Castro sentiment prevailing in Miami and took advantage of a lull in the political tensions in the late 1970s to visit Cuba. These encounters deeply changed many of the participants. With the Brigades, the [End Page 279] worms were now viewed as butterflies and these journeys represented an awakening for the participants and their hosts and the beginning of a dialogue.

The experience of exile and the sense of loss of identity also affect those who stayed. In her essay, Teresa de Jesús Fernández mentions that when faced with the endless departures it is "the Other, the internal exile, who is left with the estrangement, the sense of loss; it is the Other who is left to deal with absence" (p. 77). In the post-revolution era, travel to and from Cuba has become easier but the exilic fragmentation remains. These eleven essays and poems represent more than an invaluable contribution to U.S. Latina/o studies and Women's Studies, they are a continuation of the dialogue and an essential...


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