37 Texts by Cuban Women, Each Writing in Another’s Voice

THE OVAL PORTRAIT by Soleida Ríos, translated by Margaret Randall Wings Press, San Antonio, Texas - April 2018

, by Margaret Randall

To be read in solitude

Thirty-five women undress . . . but this isn’t a striptease.
The performance is open to the public, the game takes us deep.
Each begins by choosing a mask. With it she spins her story and in that story her own image appears as well as the connection (always mysterious) and the symbol with which she’s chosen to represent herself.
This conclave (collusion) does not dissemble in struggle: neither universal suffrage and other civil rights, nor those assemblies (so common in Cuba during the second half of our twentieth century) at which household appliances were distributed. We have our voter registration cards. We have received, according to quota, our pressure cookers and rice makers.
Why are we here?
Is this really an assembly?
What do we want?
Where are we going?
Are we one?
Do we have a voice?
Are we becoming weaker?
Do we sacrifice ourselves?
Do we separate ourselves from the Whole?
WE THINK AND LOVE. I allude to Hannah Arendt-Lizabel Mónica.
Our fervent desire: TO FIND OURSELVES. Reina María Rodríguez / Marina Tsvetáyeva is speaking.
In order to be able to read this book in solitude, I brought together thirty-four women. Black, white, blue and one or another scarlet red; old and middle-aged and a good number of young ones. I haven’t assembled them randomly, but with every intention. They don’t represent any particular group, or literary genre or pre-established aesthetic line. On the list are a lawyer, a philologist, a choreographer, a film critic, a mixed-media artist, a professor, a producer, an editor . . . most are writers, especially poets. I’ve sought this diversity and celebrate it.
I asked each author for a five- to seven-page text, autobiographical in nature, written in another’s voice, that is to say, in the voice of a literary or artistic figure from any era and place, or a real person from the pages of universal history. Barring exceptions (insubordinations), that is what I received and have arranged here. Innumerable private conversations were needed to explain my request, guaranteeing a more personal exercise.
The idea took root in me (already in the 1980s I’d done something similar with Poesía infiel, a selection of work by young Cuban women poets), and so perhaps it was logical to expect a certain result, a fruit. But that’s not what happened, for life is not like that. This greater gift has been the surprise. It is what I offer.
One personage (Woman IX in the text “Exercising the productive . . .”) quotes Dante: In every act the initial intention of the one engaging in it is to reveal his (her) own image.
Magnificent! We ask ourselves: what moves us, what determines our choice of that other voice in which we will carry out our experiment, our exercise of conscience?
The game requires us to go deep.
The writer Georgina Herrera, herself something of a heroic figure, chooses Mariana Grajales (19th century heroine, mother of the Maceo brothers). She forgives her, and calls her Mother of the Nation.
Adelaida de Juan, well-known art critic, chooses a painting by the expressionist painter Antonia Eiriz. What does she find in that fabulous canvass to put in the artist’s mouth?
Adriana Normand reconstructs the (voluntary?) fall from a New York skyscraper by the Cuban painter Ana Mendieta and, even more important, the cloud that hangs over it.
Film critic Azucena Plasencia brings us Cuba’s first woman filmmaker Sara Gómez, her mouth filled with the question: Are we in the future now?
Alicia, Momo, María Moñitos, Sleeping Beauty (sleeping so deeply that my dream is my vigil). The mountain climber Junko Tabei at the top of the world; Hypatia, that enigmatic Greek philosopher; the voices of Alma Rubens and Virginia Woolf’s vanished voice; La Giraldilla; Calvert Casey finally with naked shoulders, pearl necklace and two-toned heels descending the staircase of the Asturian Club . . .; Belkis Ayón, the artist who has given precious iconography to the Abakuá religious sect, still shooting straight and with smoking gun in hand; more and other memories of the poet Juana Borrero; even the self-presentation (file card) of that battered and beaten being who recognizes herself as being without a country . . . All are perfect vehicles for introspection.
Shall we say: Rather than a portrait, construct a mirror, through which you may touch the difficult and shared places, as Sandra Ramy does in “My Work is You.” And then, at the end, ask yourself the question: Which are your favorite lies?

Havana, August 2012.