If Cuba's online opposition has a literary wing, Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo has done much to bring it into being. The 41-year-old writer and photographer from Havana published four books of fiction there before launching the feverish, esoteric series of blog columns in 2009 which would bring him notoriety in the exile community for their criticisms of Cuba's government as well as occasion what Pardo Lazo calls his blacklisting from Cuban publishing houses. Now, in an extended visit to the United States with an academic exchange visa, he's convening authors from back home to contribute to a new anthology of short fiction published in Sampsonia Way, a magazine put out by the Pittsburgh literary community City of Asylum - a community which has been serving as his base since he got here.
He's also been getting around. Pardo Lazo has been to about a dozen universities to speak about what is an emergent Internet-based civil society movement in Cuba, given interview after interview about "the Cuban problem" - what Cubans abroad ought to demand of other countries' governments in their relations with the island - and kept up a steady stream of columns for a variety of outlets. This fall, he told the Latin Times, he has invitations to give lectures at another seven universities, including NYU, the University of Texas, and the Cuban Cultural Center of New York. "I've seen Manhattan, now I can die. I've dipped my feet in the Pacific Ocean, I can come back to life. Now I would like to see Puerto Rico and Alaska," he says, adding, "Will these two dreams, unthinkable from my little Island, be possible?"
How long have you been in the US and how long will you stay?
I came to the US right when the death of Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez became known, just before 5 in the afternoon on March 5 of this year. At the airport in Miami some people were celebrating it at the top of their lungs, but many still weren't aware. I was afraid that it might set off a wave of "preventative" repression in Cuba, like the one which jailed hundreds of Cubans during the mass hijacked from Pope Benedict XVI in March of the previous year (I was "disappeared" for three days along with my girlfriend, without charges or the right to make telephone calls).
For 6 months now I've been going around from college to college and from coast to coast of this nation. I've asked for an extension of another six months on my temporary academic exchange visa, as in the fall a lot of universities are inviting me to take part in conferences as well as events at which intellectually it would be very important to participate.
Tell us about the anthology of Cuban literature. What is new or unusual about it? How are you promoting it? In what forms is it being released to the public? Tell me about Generation Year 0. What is it and how did it form?
The anthology brings together 16 new voices in Cuban literature, although really there could have been as many as 21 of us who aspire to found a 21st-century Cuban literature. It's being published at a velocity of two stories per week in Spanish and in English. It's possible that afterward, this generation, which is called Year Zero, could be published in print, as there are two publishing houses interested in doing so. For now, it's being promoted on social media which is the germ of the new Cuban virtual ciudadanía, or civil society. For ages, it wasn't technically a single generation, but it was in terms of its intentions and dissentions. It's a phenomenon which is, first and foremost, urbane, and interested much more in prose tan in poetry or in essays, which have already taken up private and public spaces especially in Havana with performance readings, which mix in other forms of artistic expression such as music or video-clips.
This newrrative or nuevarrativa spans a spectrum which spans from the dirty realism of Lizabel Mónica and Jhortensia Espineta to the science fiction of Erick Mota and the intertextualities of Osdany Morales. Some of the writers express themselves directly in English, such as the music-loving Raúl Flores. Others, like the visual artists Polina Martínez Shviétsova or the translator Abel Fernández-Larrea musicalize their prose with a post-Soviet language from another planet. There are even those who appropriate a French learned from festivals of European film, like the blogger Lia Villares. Still others make way for a civil-toned humor, like Carlos Esquivel and Gleyvis Coro Montanet. No small amount of them explore the digital underground format, editing independent literary magazines (in Cuba they're not legal), like "Cacharro(s)" from Jorge Alberto Aguiar Díaz; "33 y 1 tercio" from Raúl Flores and Michel Encinosa; "The Revolution Evening Post" from Ahmel Echevarría, Jorge Enrique Lage and me; "La Caja de la China" from Lien Carrazana; "Des-Liz" from Lizabel Mónica; and "Voces" from me. Expelled or self-excluded from more than a few Cuban institutions, in their texts they easily transform between irreverence to indolence to incredulity to iconoclasm, eager to deconstruct any type of talk about what Cubanness supposedly is, from the erotic to the political, betting in that way on a different, de-Cuban-ized Cubanness.
The Internet has allowed for drastically expanded possibilities for distribution of just about anything. Literature included. But what about the actual form of what it expresses - do you think that blogs, for instance, have encouraged innovation or increased production of a certain kind of narrative?
Yes, but unfortunately, not as much as I'd like. In cyber-space the pre-digital logic of the street has gone on reproducing itself, always as belligerent and fearful of difference. The Cuban State has obligated each of its salaried journalists to maintain a blog from its work places (which in Cuba are always places of combat in the "battle of ideas"), by which the official blogosphere oversaturates local networks with more than...1000 blogs! This is humiliating for a people which has seen its right to click freely on the internet kidnapped by the Communist Party (the only legal party).
Generally, the Cuban reader is captive, behind the times, prudish. They go from poetic to pathetic, avoiding the political. They're scandalized by as little as a guileless little naked person. Or when you break down their national myths. They don't read to create crisis, but rather to calm themselves down and settle their head into the pillow. They need to wake up with a bit of textorrism. In this mediocrity of imagination, democrats and dictators don't differ in any way, whether on the Island or in Exile. It's the great communion of Kitsch.
You're known best for columns which mainly deal with politics, but you've published four books of fiction in Cuba. Where do you draw the line between the two worlds with regard to your own work?
Literature is politics by other means. I drew the line at a point which I left very far behind quite some time ago. I don't consider myself hunted, but rather a hunter.
How do you typically access Internet at home in Havana?
Typically I don't. The Cuban State doesn't allow Cuban citizens to contract an internet account in their home. It's only for foreign residents (for the caviar-eating leftists who visit the Island). This is called cyber-apartheid and should be denounced in all international forums on freedom of speech. But the rights of the Cuban people don't matter much to the democratic world, which seems to say to us, "You all already have a Communist Revolution; now, resist".
There exists an enormous black market for the internet with a nucleus in the web portal Revolico. As such, those who do have internet in their homes are either doing so illegally or have special privileges because of where they study or work. Nor is mobile phone internet access permitted for Cubans (once again, only foreigners' phones can access the internet). So I connect using embassies in solidarity with me whose cultural offices offer free navigation, or from hotels where the connection is insecure (they copy everything you type) and the most expensive in the universo: up to 10 dollars an hour.
Have you considered remaining in the US?
Why has everyone been asking me that since I entered the United States? Isn't a daily visit to my delirious blog "Lunes de Post-Revolución" enough for you? A writer writes in every tongue, for every time, from every country. My writing is a living e-vangelist. In Cuba I was living in close concert with Cuban exiles from every part of the planet. Now I feel like I was never so in Cuba as when I think of it from the United States. I remind you, to conclude, that the Cuban nation is an invention of the 19th century in New York (José María Heredia, Félix Varela, Cirilo Villaverde and José Martí thought it up from there).