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To Change the World

To Change the World: My Years in Cuba

Margaret Randall
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 247
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5hj309
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  • Book Info
    To Change the World
    Book Description:

    In To Change the World, the legendary writer and poet Margaret Randall chronicles her decade in Cuba from 1969 to 1980. Both a highly personal memoir and an examination of the revolution's great achievements and painful mistakes, the book paints a portrait of the island during a difficult, dramatic, and exciting time.

    Randall gives readers an inside look at her children's education, the process through which new law was enacted, the ins and outs of healthcare, employment, internationalism, culture, and ordinary people's lives. She explores issues of censorship and repression, describing how Cuban writers and artists faced them. She recounts one of the country's last beauty pageants, shows us a night of People's Court, and takes us with her when she shops for her family's food rations. Key figures of the revolution appear throughout, and Randall reveals aspects of their lives never before seen.

    More than fifty black and white photographs, most by the author, add depth and richness to this astute and illuminating memoir. Written with a poet's ear, depicted with a photographer's eye, and filled with a feminist vision, To Change the Worldùneither an apology nor gratuitous attackùadds immensely to the existing literature on revolutionary Cuba.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4645-2
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. PROLOGUE: SOME REFLECTIONS BEFORE I BEGIN
    (pp. 1-6)

    Fidel Castro came to New York City in the summer of 1960, fresh from his guerrilla triumph. I was a young writer and soon-to-be single mother, enormously pregnant with Gregory—my son who, forty-six years later, would suggest we write about Cuba together—but I longed to see the hero up close, applaud his stance, express my personal appreciation. Carefully, lovingly, I prepared a platter of Spanish paella; not such a tropical staple perhaps, but my signature dish at the time.

    I bought choice drumsticks and wings at Mrs. Schiffer’s Second Avenue butcher shop, picked over giant langoustine shrimp in...

  5. CHAPTER 1 SCARSDALE TO HAVANA
    (pp. 7-24)

    My parents were New Yorkers, assimilated Jews of the upper middle class. “Upper” because my father’s family had money. “Middle” because Dad sold men’s clothing in department stores and later became a public school music teacher. Mother was a sculptor early on, eventually devoting her life to Spanish/English translation; José Martí became a lasting passion. She never worked outside the home. With my younger sister and brother we were five. Gradually, ours would become a politically liberal, somewhat adventurous family, in which the deep tensions woven throughout our parents’ marriage produced an unacknowledged but ever-present undercurrent. The oldest, I both...

  6. CHAPTER 2 TRANSITION
    (pp. 25-40)

    In January of 1968 I went to Cuba again to attend the Cultural Congress of Havana. This time I was alone. Central to my desire to revisit the island was my need to know if the new society I had discovered, and which had made such a profound impression on me the year before, was really all it had appeared. Ever a product of my class and culture, I found it hard to completely trust my instincts. Perhaps, after all, we really had been shown only what the Cubans wanted us to see. This time I was determined to leave...

  7. CHAPTER 3 SETTLING IN
    (pp. 41-60)

    We’d left Mexico in stages: the children first and, when we were able to organize my exit, Robert and I. Hoping more than knowing, when we had to send the kids off I’d promised Gregory I’d catch up with them before his ninth birthday. I got lucky and made it by a day, touching down at Havana’s José Martí International Airport early on the morning of October 13.

    Aboard the old World War Two Britannia, the twenty-seven hour flight from Prague, via Shannon, Ireland, and Greenland’s largely military airport, passed in a daze. Because we didn’t really know who was...

  8. CHAPTER 4 FOOD, FOOD, FOOD
    (pp. 61-70)

    In February 1970, our Ministry contact called to say we had been assigned an apartment and he’d be coming by to take us to see it. By this time we’d been at the Capri for several months. When we’d realized the move to our own place wouldn’t be happening as quickly as we hoped, we’d brought Ana to live with us there. This had meant requesting a crib, but that proved a lot easier than cutting through the red tape to an apartment of our own.

    We were getting our first taste of revolutionary bureaucracy. Most problems were solved through...

  9. CHAPTER 5 TEN MILLION TONS OF SUGAR AND ELEVEN FISHERMEN
    (pp. 71-82)

    I’d been ill my last months in Mexico, actually since the final six weeks of my pregnancy with Ana. The major symptom was a high level of albumin in my blood; dangerous if unchecked. I’d been ordered to bed the month before Ana’s birth. The delivery itself brought my albumin level back down to normal but I continued to experience pain and attacks of weakness and nausea. Must be a bad stomach flu, I thought.

    Then came the repression. Forced into hiding, I couldn’t see a doctor or do any of the tests a doctor would have prescribed. Once, while...

  10. CHAPTER 6 A POETRY CONTEST AND A BEAUTY PAGEANT
    (pp. 83-94)

    Early in 1970 I received a phone call from Casa. A poet and essayist with several books to my credit, and maybe also because of my editorship ofEl Corno Emplumado, I was being invited to participate in the institution’s yearly literary contest as a judge in its poetry division. Each year five distinguished writers—four international figures and one Cuban—read the dozens or hundreds of books submitted in each of the literary genres: novel, short story, poetry, essay, drama, and occasionally an additional category. The winners in each area received one thousand U.S. dollars—Cuban pesos were worthless...

  11. CHAPTER 7 WOMEN AND DIFFERENCE
    (pp. 95-114)

    I started writing this chapter wishing I could remember the name of my boss at Ambito. He was a young ex-army officer, or maybe in Cuba you’re never ex-army. Sometimes he wore his uniform to work. He’d been charged with publishing books and clearly took it as seriously as any defense task. Younger than me, he challenged my preconceptions about military people. Growing up in the United States and having lived through 1968 and 1969 in Mexico, fear most often attended my contact with people in uniform. Especially men in uniform.

    In the dream I am barefoot and struggling, walking...

  12. CHAPTER 8 INFORMATION AND CONSCIOUSNESS
    (pp. 115-124)

    By the time I finishedCuban Women Now, two years or so after I first went to Jaime Rivero with my idea, Ambito had closed its doors and I was working at another of the Book Institute’s publishing houses: Ciencias sociales. Set up according to the type of text each produced, the semiautonomous units under the book manufacturing umbrella published adult or children’s literature, medical and other scientific titles, art books and more. Ciencias sociales was responsible for titles in the areas of history, economics, sociology, and philosophy.Cuban Women Nowappeared under the Ciencias sociales imprint.

    Other Cuban institutions...

  13. CHAPTER 9 CHANGING HEARTS, MINDS, AND LAW
    (pp. 125-144)

    May 1972. My journal draws me back to events that layer themselves in memory. So much has shifted. What once seemed so clear now asks to be revisited from a different direction, a more complex understanding.

    Gregory: Mommy, what is humanism?

    Me: Well, a humanist is someone who loves people, wants the world to be a happy place, without misery, someone who hates war, who hates killing, a good person. But if she is only against misery and killing, but doesn’t understand the reasons why some people have everything and others nothing, she is a humanist but not a Marxist...

  14. CHAPTER 10 “POETRY, LIKE BREAD, IS FOR EVERYONE”
    (pp. 145-170)

    I wanted my poems to reach those poets with whom I shared the everyday astonishments: potato dirt under my fingernails, pumpkin pudding made from sweetened condensed milk and a rare allotment of squash, tropical heat plastering shirt to skin, the ticket taker at Copelia who remembered I always ordered chocolate, even when I’d been away in Vietnam for three long months, my woman’s yearnings, disappointments, and joys. Royal palms: so familiar yet so eternally other. My life and community: so familiar, yet so eternally other.

    Those close to me took the brunt and balm. My children. My partner. This latter,...

  15. CHAPTER 11 EL QUINQUENIO GRIS
    (pp. 171-190)

    The termquinquenio gris(five-year gray period) is a common reference for those Cubans who stayed and those who left, for those most painfully repressed and those who managed to remain at the margin of events. It loosely refers to a period beginning at the end of the 1960s and running through the early seventies. Perhaps because those affected generally remained silent about what they were going through, perhaps because the art world was so exciting (despite the restraints), or perhaps because I was slow to grasp certain cultural cues and many of us came to understand the era better...

  16. CHAPTER 12 THE SANDINISTAS
    (pp. 191-216)

    “Two, three, many Vietnams,” cried Che Guevara, the Argentine doctor who came to international prominence when he joined Fidel’s group of exiled revolutionaries in Mexico, went on to play a major role in the Cuban war, and then disappeared from public view to go off to lead guerilla forces in other impoverished countries. He was in Congo before Bolivia. Polemics continue to this day about the strategy he modeled.

    From July 31 through August 10, 1967, just after my first visit but two years before our family moved to the island, Cuba hosted the first conference of the Organization of...

  17. CHAPTER 13 A QUESTION OF POWER
    (pp. 217-236)

    I am sitting in the Willard Reading Room at the University of New Mexico’s Zimmerman Library. A small audience has gathered to listen to Dr. Teresa Eckmann lecture on the Jane Norling / Lenora (Nori) Davis Collection of Latin American—mostly Cuban—posters that Jane has donated to the library’s vast Sam Slick collection.

    Jane and Nori met in a women’s cancer support group in 1988 where they discovered both were graphic designers producing imagery and print materials for the people’s struggles of those times. Nori succumbed to breast cancer in 1990. Jane and Nori’s widower eventually married and are...

  18. CHAPTER 14 EPILOGUE
    (pp. 237-256)

    I left Cuba for Nicaragua at the end of 1980. Except for Ana, who was eleven at the time, my children were old enough that I felt I could give them the choice to come with me or remain in what had become their home.

    Gregory was twenty. He was already living with Laura Carlevaro, the woman who, two and a half years later, would become his wife. They had their own plans but for the moment opted to stay on in the apartment on Línea. Sarah was just finishing college, getting her degree in chemical engineering. She too chose...

  19. NOTES
    (pp. 257-262)
  20. INDEX
    (pp. 263-273)
  21. Back Matter
    (pp. 274-274)