I just read an article published in The Paris Review, about what we would call a second hand store, operating more or less illegally, of course, in Havana.
It was difficult for me to read the whole thing, line by line, as it evoked an instant negative emotional response. My issue was not with The Paris Review, nor the writer, Julia Cooke. The piece was actually very beautifully written and insightful. My issue was with the subject. More precisely, with the items for sale in the shop.
It is worth knowing, at the time my husband’s family left Cuba, they were allowed to take with them twenty dollars (Cuban) per person and the clothes on their backs. Even wedding rings were confiscated. My father in law had the foresight to swallow a couple of gold Spanish coins passed down to him by his father. It was with these coins, dug out of human excrement, they were able to rent an apartment and live, for a time, in Spain.
What of their property, possessions, family heirlooms, acquired over the course of generations? After issuing the family’s visa, government inspectors came to their home, and took inventory of their belongings, then returned as the family was leaving to inspect again, to make sure nothing was missing.
So where did their belongings go? Split up and passed around to party officials, no doubt. The article mentions people coming to the shop, prior to leaving Cuba, in order to sell their items; perhaps times have changed and this is now legal. Though I doubt it, I honestly don’t know.
It is not the loss of the objects which I mourn, it is the profit made from human suffering that disgusts me. I am reminded of the gold fillings removed from the teeth of the Jewish people before they were led to the gas.
Yanet, the proprietress of the shop is a true capitalist, as am I. She is a beetle feeding off the corpses of the dead in order to nourish her own. Can we blame her? Clearly, I am conflicted.
How many families do I know whose members have been tortured, killed, and / or falsely imprisoned in Cuba? Too many. Growing up in Miami, as I did, during the time in which I did, makes knowing their stories, in great detail, unavoidable. I wonder how many of them would find the silver picture frame that once held their grandparent’s wedding photo in Yanet’s shop?