Why I Read Goodbye My Havana
I ran across this book in the New Books section at one of my libraries…just another example of why it always pays to browse a bit. What caught my attention is that it’s set in Cuba…you just don’t see that much of anything coming from Cuba…who can admit to having been there in the last 70 or so years?
With the reading schedule I’ve had, I’m not sure I would have ever gotten to this book. Sometimes I do get books from the library that just don’t get read. I’m always off onto new things, and if a book sits on my shelf long enough, sometimes its moment passes, and it goes back to the library.
By the way, that isn’t a sin. Libraries get funding based on their circulation, so checking out a book and returning it unread is much better than not checking books out at all. But I do feel bad if I’m hanging onto it too long if there may be other people who want to read it.
At any rate, the COVID 19 shutdowns started in mid March, so it’s mid May, and this book finally made it.
I’m really glad it did.
Why You Should Read Goodbye, My Havana:
Don’t let the fact that this book sat on my shelf for weeks make you think it’s not a good book. It really tells a fascinating story. Who knew that Americans were working in Cuba?
Yup. I mean, the route back the the US involved finding passage on Soviet freighters to get them to Canada and then into the US, but apparently it could be done.
On top of that, Veltfort is the daughter of a German mother, with whom she emigrated to the United States, and was raised by a stepfather who fought in the Spanish Civil War and was a life-long Communist, which was not a good position to be in the US in the 1950’s.
So his difficulty being able to hold a job in the United States combined with his ardent belief in Communism and the Soviet cause results in the whole family’s moving to Havana. Eventually, as happens, the political climate changes and Veltfort’s family has to return to the US, but Veltfort stays on until she completes university.
In the end, it wasn’t anything about Cuba or Communism that really makes her leave…it is the regime’s attitude toward Lesbians and the gay community.
By the late 60’s, that community was starting to open up in the U.S., strange as that might seem now.
While she plans to move to the US with a Cuban partner, the partner’s mother, who has pull in the Party, puts a stop to that, and in the end, Anna comes back to the U.S. alone and starts a career here.
While her parents were in Cuba, Veltfort leads a comparatively privileged lifestyle compared to the Cubans, but she always attends local schools. As a Cuban university student, she is mostly subject to the same rules as anyone else (which included stints working in agricultural labor camps), and mostly lives like her Cuban peers (many of whom are also somewhat privileged). While she struggles with some of the hardships of living in the country, she retains a deep love for Cuba, Havana in particular, all the while struggling to reconcile the regime’s stance on homosexuality.
If you are American or from a country with a stable, generally non-repressive government, you might never have stopped to think about the difference between the love of one’s nation and nationalism. There can and should be a difference.
From a political perspective, I don’t even pretend to understand this stuff. For me, it’s especially hard to understand all the different permutations of Communism and Fascism. But I’m always interested in what people’s lives are like.
You know, we don’t need all of the physical things that we think we do. We can get along just fine without many things, and once we get used to not having them, we discover that life goes on.
I don’t agree with the actions of Veltfort’s parents. But what I appreciate is that even people who have points of view that would have been considered traitorous at the time still have a place in the United States and freedom to act on those beliefs. And getting to know actual people, rather than just the beliefs of the governments, makes me see how much different things are at that level, and really, how much the same we all are.
Yeah, I don’t blindly trust people because I get that they have loyalties and beliefs that may be different from mine, and which might cause them to hurt me or do something that is against my interests, but I still think it’s important to have conversations with lots of different people and take some time to get to know them.
Goodbye My Havana is a unique window into a world we don’t get to hear much about.
I Am Cuba
On page 45 of Goodbye My Havana, “Connie” (Anna Veltfort) gets a chance to appear in a film called Soy Cuba, or I am Cuba. I didn’t understand the significance of this episode in the book, as I had never heard of the film, but while I was researching this article, I cam across this trailer.
Sadly, Veltfort’s scenes didn’t make it into the film, but this Soviet/Cuban collaboration is the best way to understand what Cuba was like.
Ironically, neither Soviet nor Cuban audiences liked the film, and it was really lost.
After being rediscovered in the United States in the early 90’s, it was restored, and you should be able to patch together the whole thing from Youtube. If you can’t understand Spanish well, it’s hard to follow without reading a synopsis first, but honestly, the plot is beside the point.
If you are a fan of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel on Amazon Prime, you will recognize this scene (Season 3, Ep. 5):
From Russia with Love: an article from The Guardian about this film
Excerpt from Adiós mi Habana (If you don’t read Spanish, it is a scene in which Connie (Anna Veltfort) and her girlfriend are attacked by two men but end up on the defensive as accused Lesbians.)
Who is Anna Veldfort?
Anna Veldfort was born in Germany, lived in Cuba for 10 years with her German mother and American stepfather. After returning to the United States as a young adult, she trained and works as an illustrator.
You can see more of Anna Veldfort’s work at her webpage, Anna Veldfort Illustration.
Learn more about Cuba by reading her archive, where she has scanned and photographed her documents from the era.
Note: Goodbye, My Havana was originally published in Spanish. As far as I can tell, Adiós mi Habana is available outside of the U.S. only.
About the Cover Photo