Obejas is an example of the wide diversity
of voices and perspectives that often get lumped together
as Latinx. I first took note of her as a contributor to
the local Logan Square community weekly newspaper. I was active in the Logan Square Neighborhood Association in the early ‘80’s and her journalism
was an important contribution to the community. Later I watched as her star rose as a writer
for the Chicago Tribune and as a literary figure.
Obejas was born in Cuba in 1956 into a family with Sephardic Jewish roots.. In ’63 her family became part of the mass exodus of anti-Castro dissidents and middle class citizens to the United States. Unlike most exiles who settled in Miami and became a dominant force in that city, her family moved to the much smaller Chicago community which, living cheek-to-jowls with the much larger Puerto Rican community, often felt isolated. Cubans were often mistrusted for their largely middle class origins and for the sometimes rabid anti-Communism.
Obejas honored and celebrated
her Cuban heritage and culture.
On the other hand, she chaffed at the political expectations
of her community as she became, as others in the second generation, increasingly
politically progressive. She also
had to deal with her sexual identity.
She became an outspoken feminist and
open lesbian incorporating all of
these experiences into an increasingly rich body of work as a
journalist, memoirist, novelist, and poet with an international
She has written three novels,
Memory Mambo in 1996, Days of Awe in 2001, and Ruins
in 2009; the story collection We Came All the Way from Cuba So You
Could Dress Like This?; and the poetry collection This is What
Happened in Our Other Life. All
of this in addition to a prolific career as a journalist and magazine writer.
now lives in San Francisco.
her latest book published by Beacon Books in 2021, confronts
questions of immigration, love and liberation. Like a
boomerang, these ideas return throughout the collection, even as its
three sections each focus on a major theme.
poem features an English and Spanish version, although the
versions do not perfectly mirror one another, reflecting the nuances of
both of her languages. Bilingualism
stakes out her own personal and political space. Regardless of language, Obejas keeps the
writing mostly gender-free.
(there is always a beat).
Now the drums
and the darkness within.
Now the dance.
the story about the jailer
who frees the future dictator out of pity.
Now his lover (the invisible ink).
Now the reports from the front.
Now the betrayal which becomes myth,
the homemade bomb that doesn’t go off,
the priest that intervenes (to his regret).
that yields the (unexpected) victory.
And the sick.
And the wounded.
The triumphant speech before the multitude.
the same horizon
orange instead of blue.
Bactris cubensis, pinus cubensis, the strangler fig.
repeat, ad infinitum.
the old man on the precipice.
Now the holy burden of being the last one standing.
Now the chess game in the afternoon.
And the milk rice pudding.
And the walk in the garden.
And the toenails that need to be clipped.
This is not History.
marked with highlights.
The story reenacted for posterity.
Photos retouched for accuracy.
Events (an ordering).
This is how it was and it wasn’t
and how it really was.
repeat, ad infinitum.
Now the bones along the ocean floor.
(siempre hay una clave).
Ahora los tambores
y la íntima oscuridad.
Ahora el baile.
historia sobre el carcelero
que por piedad libera al futuro dictador.
Ahora su amante y la tinta invisible.
Ahora los informes desde el frente.
Ahora la traición que se convierte en mito,
la bomba casera que no explota,
el sacerdote que interviene (a su pesar).
grito de victoria (inesperada).
Y los enfermos.
Y los heridos.
El discurso triunfal ante la multitud.
horizonte (el mismo)
naranja en vez de azul.
Bactris cubensis, pinus cubensis, higo estrangulador.
repetir, ad infinitum.
anciano en el precipicio.
Ahora el bendito compromiso de ser último en pie.
Ahora el juego de ajedrez por la tarde.
Arroz con leche.
Paseo por el jardín.
Las uñas de los pies que necesitan ser recortadas.
no es historia.
marcada y subrayada.
La historia re-presentada para la posteridad.
Foto retocada con precisión.
es como fue y no fue
y fue de verdad.
Ahora los huesos a lo largo del piso del mar.