Lucianna Chixaro Ramos
I have always been fascinated with finding the most beautiful words in any language. Though probably not a popular conversation topic at dinner parties (or any parties for that matter), in the confines of my imagination there is a running competition for words that express sentiments so bittersweet they have become unforgettable. Among the words indelibly etched in my mind are the Portuguese “folia,” a type of joy experienced while dancing, the French “éphemère,” whose ending “-mére” rightfully suggests the unexpected transience of motherhood, and the English “pyrrhic,” meaning both a battle whose conclusion comes at too great a cost for the victor and a metrical unit which consists of two unstressed syllables—a stress to plenty of poets out there that I’d say comes at far too great a mental cost.
There is one word that generates a feeling of poignant nostalgia in me unlike any other: the refrain of the classic Cuban bolero, “Quizás, Quizás, Quizás” written by Osvaldo Farrés during the 1940’s. Much like its titular locution, “Quizás” captures the exotic glamour of Cuba before Castro—its ruffle laden dancers and mustachioed barkeeps, wealthy debutantes, and would-be classic cars—a world we hope is returning with the reopening of the island kingdom’s borders in summer 2015, a historic moment made possible by the swap of formerly imprisoned spies between the U.S. and Cuba in December of the preceding year.
Quizás is constructed from the combination of the two Latin words “qui sapit,” translated to English as “who knows.” Centuries of linguistic erosion have carved away the excesses from “qui sapit,” begetting an evolution out of the old, dead language into the newer and simpler “quizás.” Quizás hides its mysteries from many casual Spanish speakers, much like the complexities of Cuban society remain hidden from the average Westerner. Inside this word, taken to mean “perhaps,” is an equally voluminous parallel universe that attempts to contain the implications of “who knows?”
The spirit of uncertainty is omnipresent in Cuban history, in many ways because of her lack of self-determination. The U.S. fought to achieve Cuban independence from Spain in the 1890’s, with Washington continuing to use the Roosevelt Corollary to justify its support militarily and financially through Fulgencio Batista-Zaldivar’s government, a fascist dictatorship that lasted in one form of political puppet or another from 1940 to 1959. Ironically enough, Batista-Zaldivar would find refuge from Castro’s agents in Portugal, where he died of a heart attack in 1973 (all that oppression must’ve been hard on the old ticker). Whether he was healthy enough to ever truly experience folia, the joy found only in dance, is an open question (Whether he deserved to is not: as dictator, Batista-Zaldivar was responsible for the class stratification and repression of an entire generation of Cuban lives, and is “credited” with the deaths of up to 20,000 political opponents to his rule, mostly small farmers and other laborers).
When the MFA of the Americas was started, one of the promises made to its first cohort of students was that of a visit to Cuba’s familiar—if long estranged—frontier in what would be the program’s first international residency. Legitimized by the possible presence of Cuban-conceived and Spanish-born author Richard Blanco, the idea of such a literary heavyweight spending time with our group in a place as steeped in history as Cuba was alluring to say the least. Add the stylings of Patricia Engel to the mix, and it is simple to see why we were so excited to get started.
Alas, it would not come to pass. Engel was forced to cancel by the debut of her new book, The Veins of the Ocean, and despite the best efforts of our program director at the time, the trip never materialized. Mark, Terri and Cyriaco, our core faculty, made sure we landed on our feet in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico last summer (a land with just as stymieing a history of bloodshed and transcendence as the “Crown Jewel of the Caribbean”). Rather than dwell on the “perhaps” of Cuba and Richard Blanco that had been lost to us, we were gratified instead by the presence in San Miguel of Chantel Acevedo (herself the child of Cuban immigrants), Rodrigo Toscano, and Francisco Goldman, as well as the continued presence of Jena Osman and the addition of a brand new cohort (of which myself and Rebecca Renner, our Editor-in-Chief, are both members).
Our journey returns us to our roots after the holidays at The Atlantic Center for the Arts in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, where we will welcome yet another group of new students into our ranks and cast our gaze forward to our next international sojourn: Valparaiso, Chile, and the deep cultural wounds left by neoliberal socioeconomic experiments in the Southern Cone.
As we continue our education, the spirit of quizás will remain implanted in the back of our minds, because one of the brightest facets of the expanded field we study has put a gleam in our collective eye that begs just one question, one that remains simple in its asking:
The answer, as we continue to find out, is endlessly complex.
Lucianna Chixaro Ramos is a Brazilian born and Florida raised poet. She currently splits her time between writing and promoting literacy and English language acquisition. She enjoys living in a multilingual universe and answering her toddler’s questions about how the world works. You can find her work in the journal New South.