Thursday, November 22, 2012

Rebeca Monzó, twitterer: “Through the needle’s eye”

Rebeca Monzó, twitterer: "Through the needle's eye"
November 21, 2012
Alfredo Fernandez

HAVANA TIMES – Rebecca Monzo's blog, "Through the needle's eye", at the
"Voces Cubanas" (Cuban Voices) portal, represents an exquisite example
of what some are already calling Feminine Cyber-culture.

Every week at Rebeca Monzó offers us
her opinion of the most important events of the country, of her life and
of the lives of those around her, as well as a delightful glimpse of the
concerns of a woman of refined tastes for haute couture, cooking and the

Those who follow the blogs and twitter like to compare them to a
casserole dish: left without a lid, the food becomes tasteless. As it
turns out, Twitter is the perfect lid to lock in the flavor of each post.

Each Tweet of 140 characters, or around two sentences, can be posted on
the Web 2.0 in a few seconds, allowing the writer to give the news, make
an announcement and sometimes pronounce an opinion.

Rebeca Monzó is perhaps one of the people who makes the best use of
Twitter in Cuba, with some memorable Tweets to her credit, like that
which won the Twitter Free Expression contest in the category of women's
liberation. Her tweet at @lamonzona: "Women's liberation is a
mathematical operation in which our difficulties were multiplied, our
salaries were subtracted and our families were divided".

Or this other one that was entered in a contest on the #CubaEs platform
where she tweeted: "Cuba Is: a true ecological disaster not due to the
currents of "El niño" nor those of "La niña" but to the lashings of the
old man.

One recent November day, Rebeca received me in her house in the Nuevo
Vedado neighborhood. At the beginning of our conversation, she
recognized that she tried to reflect her barrio in her blog in the same
way that the writer Leonel Padura had portrayed his Mantilla
neighborhood. "Nuevo Vedado is a barrio that I knew at its time of
greatest splendor, but that today is living perhaps its worst moments,"
she told me.

HT: Rebeca, you've told me that your life has followed a winding path.
You graduated in education; you were in the diplomatic corps in Paris in
the sixties; you were a peddler in Madrid, and later a teacher of
pottery and ceramics in that city; a worker with UNESCO until the
eighties; a craftsperson and member of the ACAA (Cuban Association for
Artist and Craftspeople) through the present; a journalism student at
the "Ñico Lopez" party school in the sixties, later abandoning that
career because – according to your own words – "there is no journalism
in Cuba"; a radio announcer at the beginning of the nineties and now a
Blogger and Twitter user.

So my first question is: How difficult has it been to be a woman who is
true to herself in Cuba?

Rebeca Monzó: It's been very difficult, since in Cuba jail time is often
the payment for sincerity. That is, here we are used to being sincere at
home, with friends, in very close circles, but almost never in public.
Sometimes, when it's impossible for me to be fully honest, I just try
not to lie: simply put I don't tell the whole truth. That's when I use
irony, which in reality isn't the whole truth, but isn't a lie either,
and I believe that that's what's important.

As you mentioned, I studied journalism, abandoning the field with only
six months left until graduation. In addition to the fact that I had to
leave for Paris to work in the Cuban embassy, I had suffered a great
disillusion when I discovered that the profession doesn't exist here.
Over time I learned that whenever a sticky topic was involved, one first
informed the superior authorities, then asked if the topic was approved,
meaning whether its publication was authorized or not.

Often the issue was approved when it was no longer news. A person who
works this way could be called anything except a journalist. We won't be
able to speak of real journalism until the reporters in Cuba are free to
write about any topic they desire.

HT: While you were taking a computer class at a Youth Club, four years
ago, you couldn't keep silent when your teacher stated very
enthusiastically to the class: "Now we can speak out in Cuba, because
Raul has authorized us to do so.". To which you responded before a
stupefied classroom: "Raul isn't the one who can authorize us to speak,
that's a human right that people are born with; and from the age of one
and a half when I learned to do so, I've never stopped."

In your understanding, what is missing in Cuban society to end this
lobotomizing that we Cubans have been the victims of for so long?

Rebeca Monzó: The first thing is to let go of the fear: that induced
fear of which we've been victims. I've been losing it little by little,
above all as I have become more familiar with my rights. For example,
during the elections I know of many people who didn't want to
participate in that farce, but nevertheless they go and they vote.

They behave this way because they think that something very bad will
happen to them if they don't. They aren't aware that in our Constitution
voting is listed as a right and not as a duty. No one can do anything to
them if they don't go to the polls. But their fear is so strong that
even if they want to put in a null vote they don't dare to do so,
because they're afraid that there are hidden cameras, or that the
ballots have been numbered in invisible ink. It's really pathetic.

HT: Rebeca, the "Special Period" signified for you, among many other
things, the division of your family, watching your children leave and
facing the fact that you would see them again on very few occasions,
barely knowing your grandchildren. Even so, you live a very active life,
always creating and above all learning, to the point that it's difficult
to read more original Tweets than yours on the web.

Why this need of yours for Twitter when the only thing that it can bring
you are problems? Would it be because of that Tweet of yours on
@lamonzona hijo: my son, fearful of everything, I take refuge in Twitter?

Rebeca Monzó: Imagine, in the now far-off 1990, my house was a bee's
nest of youth. My boys and my niece would be studying with all their
friends, so that it was practically impossible for me to walk around the
place. I would get them snacks the best I could, many times inventing
them, and I would attend to their needs so they could study.

Then, suddenly, I was left with just my own soul. My children left, and
the house was left empty. That solitude was an experience that I had
never before lived. At that time I had a barred door installed on my
room so that if a thief entered, at least he couldn't get to me.

The result was that I ended up locked in that room several times because
I couldn't open the bars, and had to throw the keys to my neighbors
through the bathroom window so they could come to my rescue.

Later Fernando appeared in my life and the first thing I did was to get
rid of the barred door. It was like an exorcism for me when I did it,
since they had made me feel like a prisoner in my own house; as if it
weren't enough that life had separated me from my own, I was then
imprisoned within the four walls of my house.

As for your question about why I use Twitter, I could tell you that I
use it a lot to alert people to the mistreatment of the trees and the
animals, something that pains me greatly. Unfortunately, this has
proliferated in today's Cuba, for the reasons I've mentioned that we
have become a very violent society.

One anecdote I could share is how I prevented a Tamarind tree from being
cut down two blocks from here. I happened to be passing by and saw that
they were stripping the bark in a circle to kill the tree, the famous
"belt" technique, and I began to take pictures.

Then three ladies from the CDR [Committee for the Defense of the
Revolution: neighborhood organization] arrived, all of them well on in
years. The sight of me with my camera in hand had attracted their
attention and they asked me why I was taking pictures, "When even the
man from Bohemia magazine who lives on the hill, is in agreement."

When I inquired further into the matter, they responded that they wanted
to do this because they were concerned that the roots of the tree could
affect the building's underground water tank. I told them that it would
be enough to cut the roots that went in that direction.

It turned out that the mentioned gentleman from Bohemia was the director
himself. I told them, that I was going to send the photo to the
newspaper Granma with an article attached explaining the events.
Although this never came out in the paper, something happened to stop
the killing of the tree. I won that round, I believe, thanks to technology.

HT: The myth exists among men that beautiful women are invariably dumb.
Rebeca, you were not only the toast of the Havana Carnival, but also a
muse of Korda. Your beauty was even admired by the top leaders of the

From your point of view, how much has the Cuban woman lost in these
fifty-four years of the Revolution, and what could she do to recuperate?

Rebeca Monzó: Many men make the mistake of believing that attractive
women are incapable of thought. A while ago I saw a photo on the
Internet of the new president of Interpol; you can see that she was a
very beautiful woman in her youth.

As for the Cuban woman, I feel that what has most affected her is the
loss of all of those comforts that ease the job of housework: a space
where you can go when you're tired, to invent something to cook, in the
middle of a sea of wants and lacks that also extends out onto the street.

Cuban women have generally lost their taste for dressing well, for
elegance, for walking attractively, due to the lack of models and in
fact many have fallen into vulgarity.

I consider myself a strong woman, but I won't ever use profanity in
public nor am I accustomed to using it in the privacy of my own home. I
don't believe that the use of these words makes anyone a liberated woman.

To my way of thinking, these things will recuperate when the material
comforts are within the reach of everyone. The way of thinking of both
men and women reflects the way they live, although some would say the

An improvement in her material conditions would help the Cuban woman
feel capable of recuperating the space now occupied by want, fear and
spurious dependencies.

I am convinced that in the not so distant future not only the women but
all of Cuban society will become a great country where all of us live
together with firm values and respect for our neighbors, without the
need to emigrate in order to satisfy the most elemental needs.

HT: Rebeca, many thanks from HT for your words.

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