Have you ever wondered what life is like in Cuba? Cuban author Teresa Dovalpage’s firsthand account of growing up in that country was chronicled in Habanera, A Portrait of a Cuban Family. I recently read and reviewed in Blogcritics Teresa’s book, and I wanted to find out more about the author of this intriguing book. And, though her book details a tremendous amount of truths about life in Cuba, I also had many unanswered questions in this, too, so I decided to interview Teresa to get answers to these questions, contained in the following conversation.
When did you move to the United States? Did you experience any culture shock?
I came here in 1996. As for culture shocks, I did have one a week after arriving, but it was a good kind of shock. We Cubans joke that our first culture shock is with food, la comida, when visiting an American supermarket for the first time, but being a nerd, mine had to do with books. I remember the moment I entered a Barnes and Noble bookstore in San Diego and saw so many books… all the novels I had dreamed of reading, and so many I had never heard of. I wanted to buy all of them at once!
Can you explain how life in Cuba is different to that of the United States?
It’s like comparing two different universes. First, even if it sounds like a cliché, people here have the freedom to talk and write about whoever or whatever they want. And they don’t need an “exit visa” to leave the country, as it happens in Cuba. These are obvious advantages of living in the United States and I would be very ungrateful if I didn’t recognize them. Now, mija, from a more cynical perspective, allow me to borrow a quote from the Cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas:
“The difference between the communist and capitalist systems is that, although both give you a kick in the ass, in the communist system you have to applaud, while in the capitalist system you can scream.”
What do you think the future looks like for Cuba? Have you been back to visit?
Ay, ay, ay, I wish I had a crystal ball to see the future! As my mother would say, I see it black with gray hemstitches… But I don’t even like to speculate about that because I am allergic to political stuff, and everything related to Cuba is entangled with politics.
I went back to Havana a couple of times before my first book came out. Then my mother got all nervous and said that she would come to visit me instead, for my own security. I told her that nobody in Cuba had read my novels or cared about them, but she insisted… Anyway, she came to Taos and ended up saying that I lived in the intestine of the world. Maybe I should have continued going back to Cuba after all J
Do you still have family in Cuba?
Yes, my mother, and she is a character in many of my books… “Always, always the villain,” she complains.
In your book Habanera, A Portrait of a Cuban Family, the protagonist Longina spoke about a family friend marrying a much older foreign man just so she can move out of Cuba. What are your thoughts on this? Is this still a common practice in Cuba?
It is quite common. Though my case was not too similar to that character’s, I married a man who was 40 years my senior. Hugh Page was a sweet, wonderful American guy, and our marriage allowed me to start a new life in this country, so I won’t be one criticizing the practice.
Your book also spoke about free plastic surgery, yet people do not get enough to eat. The food is rationed. Is this something you made up or does this really take place?
Oh, it does take place, chica! True, there isn’t a lot to eat in Cuba, but medicine is free and so is surgery, any kind of surgery. Or at least that was the case while I lived there. I almost had plastic surgery done in my nose when I was a teenager. And the grandmother of a friend of mine did get breast implants, just like Muñeca in Habanera…only that one of them deflated a few months afterwards. Pobrecita.
What are your hopes and aspirations for your native Cuba? What is the one thing you would like to see change for the better?
Let’ be practical first. I wish Cubans could solve their three basic problems — breakfast, lunch and supper. And then it would be time to talk about intangibles like freedom and stuff.
Please tell the readers where they can get more information about you and your books. I want to thank you once again for getting the opportunity to do this interview. I hope you will do well in all of your endeavors.
Thank you, Nicole! It has been a pleasure!
I have a blog in English:
…where I post the articles I write for our local paper, The Taos News. It has links to reviews of my books and some of my short stories that have been published online.
I keep another blog in Spanish:
…where I interview publishers, magazine editors and literary agents.