The Bottom of the Air is Red
performance at May Day: Todo Bajo Control
inspired by this sequence from Chris Marker's Le fond de l'air est rouge
I begin by telling the audience that what I have in front of me at the lectern is a transcription of a speech given by Fidel Castro on May 1, 1980 in Cuba. This date marks approximately one year after the successful Leftist revolutions in Nicaragua and Grenada; it is the year of the Second Congress of the Cuban Communist Party; and it is the year of the massive exodus that will become known as the Mariel boatlift. This is how my father and his family will eventually emigrate to the US--and it is precisely to this group of "Marielitos" that Fidel dedicates the majority of this particular speech.
The transcription in front of me contains Fidel's full text as well as parenthetical notations describing the reactions of the audience gathered at the Plaza de la Revolución in 1980. After my introduction, I begin a lengthy ritual of microphone adjustments (á la Marker's clip of a floundering Castro in Moscow amidst a row of unmovable instruments)--a perpetual state of preparation for the opening words of a speech that never comes. Instead, my increasingly desperate movements are punctuated by the voices of two friends I had planted in the audience with copies of the speech in the original Spanish. These non-native Spanish speakers and I develop an odd rhythm, an exchange of gestures, sounds, and phrases that moves me silently through the text, while the audience at Todo Bajo Control hears only the jeers, taunts, and exclamations of this other, past audience.
By removing the reactions of this Cuban chorus from their original context within Fidel's speech, their commentary (originally aimed at the Cuban émigrés--called "gusanos", or "worms") becomes directed at the impotent Fidel himself (personified by me in this scenario)--so much so, that after about 20 minutes of my demagogic fidgeting, when my planted audience begins shouting "¡Que se vayan!" (meaning "let them go!", in reference to the "Marielitos" who were giving up on Cuba), myself and everyone in attendance took this as a passionate call for Fidel to leave the stage--and so I did, ending the performance without having said a single word from Castro's speech.
My intent for this piece is to reflect my own complex emotions involving Cuba, the Revolution, and the emigration of my father to the United States. A good deal of my critique of Castro reflects Chris Marker's initial enthusiasm for the goals and rhetoric of the revolution, only to grow increasingly disappointed with the hierarchical structures Castro's regime was creating, not to mention contradictory political gestures such as their surprising solidarity with the Soviet Union in the face of anti-authoritarian rebellions in Czechoslovakia during 1968. Many of Cuba's foreign policies, however, are commendable in my view--such as their support for the liberation movements in Africa, and various Leftist revolutions in Central/South America and the Caribbean. I am equally conflicted about the role of the Cuban citizen in allowing or challenging the growing autocracy within the island of Cuba. It is clear to me that for some, such as anarchists and the LGBTQI community, the Cuban revolution was not, and perhaps to a degree still is not, a friend to them--thus emigration seems natural and very necessary. But I hold within me a great deal of reservation about a large majority of the Cuban émigrés from this Mariel period (including my father)--for whom the goals of the revolution, even in their initial years, seemed never aligned with their own--thus the designation of "Lumpen" or "gusanos" might remain appropriate in some cases.