It is around 3:00 and only a few people flow around Central
Square. I ask some shop owners, other people I see, even a police officer
walking around with a pad of paper, maybe giving parking tickets, I don’t know
– but no one knows what I’m talking about.
So I leave the square again and start walking. As I walk, I
see places that I think are meeting houses or schools and stop to ask there. Or
if there’s an overly friendly curious person, I’ll ask them. Everyone racks
their brains – one womon even told me she saw the news on TV – but no one
I cannot find the farmers either, and no one knows about
Finally I get to the outskirts of town – which is pretty far
considering there are 350,000 people living here – and guess what is there? A
train station! I’m thrilled. I haven’t crossed any tracks in Holguin yet so I
doubt if it’s a local train.
I approach the little room where 5 womyn ever beautiful brown and black shade possible and age
from early twenties to 60’s are lounging about – some in uniforms, so street
clothes, but all friendly and happy to talk with me.
After the usual beginning questions (which continue to
consistently not include my husband or children!!!) I tell them I am looking
for the celebration of people against homophobia. They all are disappointed
they cannot tell me more, but suggest I do to Central Park, where I left from
earlier. They are curious why I want to know & I explain that I am a
lesbian and what it is like for lesbians in Cuba.
No one comes out to me and I think I don’t know what a Cuban
lesbian looks like because of couple of these womyn appear very dykish to me.
They explain almost in unison that things used to be bad for homosexuals in
Cuba but now things are much better and it is accepted.
I ask them about farmers day and this they all know is
happening today. When I ask for directions, they all laugh together and tell me
the festivities are taking place in la campo – the country side. I think they
say there’s rodeos, horse-back riding, food, awards, parades. When I ask if I
can walk there, they laugh even harder and tell me nothing is close, I can’t
even take a train there, it’s very far, gesturing like they are shooing buzzing flies.
I thank them for the information and for putting up with my
Spanish which leads us to another conversation about whose language skills are
worse, their English or my Spanish! Then we me gusto each other, hug and cheek
caress with the air kisses as I take my leave. No one discreetly hands me a
card with her name and number on it so I have to assume I haven’t stumbled upon
a Cuban lesbian den after all!
I walk along the railroad tracks for a little bit as I make
a u-turn to take another parallel street back to Central Park. The streets, at
least in this part of Holguin, appear to be on a grid, which makes traversing
the city very easy.
I ask at places along the way and different people but get
no more info until I reach another square.
A young man is hanging out, leaning against the wall with
one stylish foot, very tight shiny pants and loose pressed shirt haphazardly
buttoned way below his neck, and an earring glimmering brightly in one ear on
the side of his head that is smoothly shaved. Hmmmm he smiles and with a little
wave, says hello to me as I pass & I think if I saw him in the u.s. I’d say
gay boy right away. So I turn back and ask him about standing against
homophobia – I’ve dropped the farmer inquiry…
Sure enough, he knows exactly what I’m talking about and
directs me back to Central Park and the cine there. I vaguely remember passing
it so I make a bee-line for it. When I get to the square, I can’t see it until
another young man points it out to me.
I cross the street go thru the park and come to an open door
in the building he has identified. I ask the young man leaving the open door
about the stand against homosexuality and he directs to a few doors down.
But when I get to that door, it is locked and no one is in
the ticket booth. I shout “Hola” thru the window because I see a pocketbook and
personal items on the counter. Soon an annoyed womon with a rag appears to ask
what I want, interrupting her. When I ask her if this is the place to stand
against homophobia, she relaxes into a big smile and tells me yes, but the
window doesn’t open until 7pm.
It is only 6 so I decide to walk in the opposite direction
towards the mountain top that borders the city on one side. But first, I need
to find water so I’m trying to remember where I bought a huge bottle (plastic
unfortunately) of water for just 75 cents.
As I am walking around the square trying to find the store
that I know is the block to turn down, an interesting looking man approaches
me. He must be in his 40’s, shaved head except for a 3” swath of cornrows on
his crown ended in a tiny braid.
He has tattoos on both arms, a star-shaped scar on his
cheek, has mocha brown skin, and wants to talk. His English is as bad as my
Spanish I’m sure but we try. He has a gangster air about him although he is
very clean cut and soft-spoken. He tells me he was a boxer until he was
injured, showing me the large lump under his skin on his forearm. I cut him off
because I don’t want to know details.
I tell him I’m there for the stand against homophobia &
he tells me he’ll take me to the teatre. I laugh and say it’s not necessary, I’ve
already been there. He is surprised and asks me if he can walk with me and have
I’m thinking he’s probably the closest thing I’ll meet – or
want to meet – from the Cuban underbelly, and although normally I’d cut men
like him off, but I’m curious. He doesn’t strike me as on drugs or violent, but
more of the hustler type, but smooth, not too blatant.
So I tell him I’m going to buy water if he wants to come
along. He tries to direct me one way but I walk another way because I know
where I’m going. He turns around and follows.
When we get to the store, he attempts to push forward and
ask for the water but I already have contacted with the womon vender and she is
getting me the bottle.
I tell this man as we leave that I will let him know if I
need him to speak for me. He asks me what else I’m looking for and I say
tamales. I don’t know if we have a language breakdown but he asks me if I want
a man or a womon. I laugh and make up a novia on the spot, AnnMarie who I’ve
been in love with for 24 years.
He nods and tells me he wants to show me something so we
start walking – well he really struts, I walk. I really don’t know how much of
what I say he understands but I know it is very difficult for me to understand
him. On our way, he seems to know everyone, and folks jump up to exchange warm
greetings with him.
I ask him if he’s famous and he promptly agrees. He’s a
former boxer, so of course, everyone knows him. I don’t know if it’s my
imagination but I do wonder if people aren’t a little too thrilled to see him,
the way a child that’s been abused jumps to please his father.
We get to a café with outdoor seating and he motions to a
table of young people sitting in the corner and leans into my ear to tell me in
a voice that diminishes with every word, all the womyn at the table are
By the time he utters the last word, he is pantomiming.
I step away, take a second look & ask loudly: ‘oh, is
that what Cuban lesbians look like?’ I think he asks me if I like any of them.
We sit at the next
table and he calls to one of the young womon who has her back towards us. She
turns around and I realize they know each other when they do the cheek caress
air kiss greeting and then speak rapidly in Spanish. She turns her chair around
and joins our table.
I ask her if she really knows this man. She speaks very,
very, very little English and my Spanish has to be translated, but she
eventually says something like ‘beer’ to me without identifying her
relationship with this man. I ask them both, you want me to buy beer?
I tell her I’m not buying anything, I explain I only drink
water as I pull out my water bottle, offer them both some, and reiterate, I
don’t drink alcohol myself but they should feel free to buy for themselves whatever
I say again, I’m not buying anything.
They engage in another rapid conversation and she turns to
me and I think she asks me if I like her. I tell her I don’t understand and he,
in his diminishing voice again, I think he’s asking me if I want her. I tell
him I don’t understand him and she, thinking I’m sure, she’s cutting to the
chase, turns and asks me in heavily accented English if I think she’s
I tell her of course I think she’s beautiful and I ask her
if he is trying to sell me her body. He jumps in and says no, no, no, she just
wants to know if she’s beautiful. I ask him again, the same question: are you
trying to sell me this young womon’s body?
He denies it and I decide to move on. He wants to walk with
me and continue talking. I ask him again if he knows of where I can get tamales
as I’ve heard there are good tamales in Holguin. He doesn’t know but he tells
me he’ll find out.
We walk back thru the square and I notice that taxi driver
kind of following us and looking unsure. I wave to him and introduce him as the
man that is driving me back to Guardalavaca after the stand against homophobia
Then I wave good bye and we continue in the direction I’ve
been wanting to go towards the hill. I’ve asked the guy accompanying me what
his name is twice so far & I’m still not getting it. I think it starts with
an ‘o’ and has a few sounds that are hard for me to pronounce, so I give up
trying to call him by name.
He tries to nonchalantly direct me back to the square, which
seems to be his hangout, but I tell him I have almost an hour & I’m going
to try to make it to the top of the hill. He is horrified telling me what I
think is that it is 30 kilometers away – I know that is not the truth.
But I tell him I will try to get as far as I can
theater opens. He tells me he will wait in the square for me. I tell him
not necessary but he really wants to. My reputation flashes thru my
brain, although I have no idea if it's tarnished or elevated.
I continue my trek without him and soon I am discreetly
taking pictures and taking in the sights, smells, sounds of Holguin. Most
people are hanging outside their homes, in the parks or doorways; I hear people
singing, playing live music, calling to one another.
I pass an agricultural institute growing many things out
front and alongside the closed building. I wonder if they are in the campasino
celebrating the famers.