Reflections on a Cuban Wedding, Part One
by Rohan Quinby

In December my partner and I flew to Cuba to be at my mother's wedding. She'd been living in Cuba on and off for nearly three years before the ceremony took place. It was an unusual ceremony. Alex is retired now, in her early sixties and Alain, her new husband is an electrician living in a large tenement on the outskirts of Havana. Up to the moment of the wedding all I knew for certain was that he wasn't quite half her age.

She was there with Alain when we got through the careful security at Havana's large airport. She looked great, with her long silver hair and her sharp eyes framed by a pair of cheap cats eyeglasses from Army and Navy. Alain looked nervous but happy, and he set to work quickly, helping us with our bags and getting us out to the busy taxi stand. It was evening and a cool mist was settling over the green fields and shambling buildings outside of Havana.

I hadn't been unprepared for my mother's new life. Throughout her forties and fifties she had had several relationships with younger men and most of our family and friends had learned to accept her choices. Politically, she always had a romantic attachment to revolutionary politics in general and to Cuba and Fidel Castro in particular. After an early retirement, she travelled to Havana and enrolled in a Spanish course in the city's leafy university. She liked the city and she liked the people. In Canada she had always been conspicuous for many reasons, the most important being her exuberant love of music and dancing. Cuba is a place where the enjoyment of music and dancing is not unusual and so Alex felt at home, particularly in Havana, a city founded on the rhythms of salsa, rhumba and the frenetic pulse of reggaeton.

The news that she was marrying a young Cuban man and planned to divide her time between Havana and her home in Vancouver was controversial, and I found myself having to explain my mother's politics and emotional life to people around me. Each time the subject came up my understanding grew a little, as though a conversation about my mother was like a walk through a neighbourhood that I had thought I'd known, but only seen from a distance. In the beginning I hadn't thought that there was a relationship between Alex's political decision to identify with the socialist project in Cuba and her involvement with a younger man, but the more I thought about it, the more I became aware that in this case as in so many others, emotion and politics are inextricably linked.

Both before and after the fall of the Berlin Wall, I had told people that my mother had been a communist since she was a teenager, but even at the time I knew that wasn't really true. To use a phrase that is outdated now, it would be more accurate to say that my mother has been a lifelong communist sympathizer.  Even that is stronger than what I mean to say. To my knowledge, Alex has never been a member of a communist party. Although she is motivated by a deep hatred of capitalism she has always, until recently, been a dependable volunteer for the social-democratic NDP and the more left-wing Committee of Progressive Electors in Vancouver. Her work as an advocate for battered women has given her a pragmatic view of political change but at the same time she understands that inequality and oppression are systemic. Ultimately, for my mother as well as for many others, capitalist politics and economics must be overcome, and there will be a time when revolutionary politics will emerge as the only way to achieve this end.

But Alex is a terrible conspirator, and her work has given her a sensible view of the limits of violence. She is a non-conformist by simple disposition and has a dislike of authority that would make her unreliable to any insurrectionary party. Her ideal vision of society is more important than any programme or strategy for overthrowing the present one. Her politics are based on an unshakeable belief in co-operation, simplicity and music, and although some people might call this utopian I do not think this is fair. Growing up I was always aware of the enormous achievements of revolutionary politics and taught to value all forms of political involvement. Although her belief in co-operation might appear to be naïve, it is not ignorant; Alex's convictions have been developed through her reading in ethnography, her diligent attendance at college night classes and her love of documentaries about the lives of people from less industrialised and non-capitalist societies.

"According to article 72 of Cuba's Criminal Code (Law 62), "any person shall be deemed dangerous if he or she has shown a proclivity to commit crimes demonstrated by conduct that is in manifest contradiction with the norms of socialist morality." Article 75.1 of the same law provides that any police officer can issue a warning (acta de advertencia) for "dangerousness." A warning can also be issued for associating with a "dangerous person."(4) The declaration of a dangerous pre-criminal state can be decided summarily according to Decree No. 129, issued in 1991.(5) Any person who has received one or more warning can be convicted of dangerousness and sentenced at a Municipal Tribunal for up to four years in prison." (From Amnesty International)

Rohan Quinby has lived in Quebec, the Yukon, British Columbia and most recently New Zealand. He was a founding editor of the Yukon's short-lived literary magazine Out of Service and has written for newspapers, magazines, political parties and large inhuman organizations. He is currently completing a Masters on the nature of cities in contemporary society.