Rosa Marina Gonzales-Quevedo is not a traditionalist. Tradition doesn’t do her any good, she says.
“I don’t think I’m a Cuban who represents Cuba or anything like that,” she tells me one afternoon in her Leonese home.
A painting of a turquoise blue Chevrolet from the 50s hangs behind me in her living room. On the same wall hangs a portrait of a young Cuban boy, shirtless by a stream, looking at the camera with soulful eyes. Those are the only Cuban artifacts I can spot in her home.
“It’s not that I have a need to continue being Cuban with the Cuban traditions. I know them, yes, I’ve lived them. If I go to Cuba, my mother is there, I adapt once again to everything. But when I leave again, I don’t feel anything,” Rosa said.
Rosa is a writer, a poet mostly though she considers herself more of a short story writer. She’s working on her first novel, La Enana, based on her fascination with quantum physics and mystic traditions. She won’t reveal much to me about the plot to me, understandably, but she does say that the book is an exploration of the idea that one subatomic particle can be in two places at once.
When she began writing La Enana two years ago, she wondered, why stop at the subatomic level?
“What if two cities, geographically distinct, were really one in reality with one national astral body?” Havana and Prauge are the two cities in question because, she says, they share a great deal of mystic and paranormal traditions.
In that sense, from the perspective of a writer, these traditions are of use to Rosa Marina. The paranormal traditions she describes, of Santeria rituals and golem legends, will make the finished book more human, rather than a purely science-based speculation.
For any audience, tradition is invaluable. While traditions might not alleviate nostalgic feelings of every expatriate in the world, they do serve the audience that witnesses them. Traditions bring people together across cultures and introduces some to the world outside their own borders.
Rosa Marina’s nostalgia for Cuba is based solely on the fact that it’s home. She lived in Matanzas, a province east of Havana known for its culture and Afro-Cuban folklore, until she was 17. In 1997, she left to study in Italy and she has lived in Europe ever since, for 20 years now. She now lives in Leon, on Calle Matanzas. I wonder if that’s just a coincidence.
Customs and traditions from her homeland don’t alleviate any feelings of nostalgia, nor do they transport her back to her childhood, she says. Her own memories do. And because of that, Rosa says she doesn’t feel the need to attend Cuban cultural events or dress a certain way to connect to her past and her roots.
She doesn’t listen to Boleros or Salsa and she doesn’t dance the Cha-cha-cha to connect to her homeland again. Somehow, that’s exactly what I found myself doing on the day before Easter, at a bar in Ponferrada called Tarari listening to a band called Havana Vieja. They began their set by covering one of my favorite songs, Frenesi by Esteman.
As the processions outside died down, the ominous drumming stopped and the nazarenos took off their capirotes, Havana Vieja filled their little corner of Ponferrada with swinging trumpets, rhythmic drumming, and the gripping strums of a classical guitar. The Spanish danced salsa and samba better than I ever could.
I can relate, at a certain level, to Rosa Marina’s indifference to tradition. Whenever my mother says she wants me to take her to a Mexican folkloric dance performance or such concert, I don’t see the appeal. Sure, it’s my culture and my roots but it’s not my taste. I never listened to music in Spanish until I decided to Google ‘Mexican Indie Rock Bands’. Everything outside my taste I’ll listen to but I won’t seek it out.
But like her, I see value in sharing those traditions and customs with the world. Not so that may necessarily change their own tastes but so they can understand who I am and where I come from.