When someone asked Anna Lidia about her inspiration for writing, she said something that struck me: “Son las cositas de la vida, muy normales, que observo y que me inspiran.” It’s the small ordinary things in life that I see and that inspire me. I found that to be true of Anna Lidia’s way of speaking as well as her writing. Her ability to communicate through the medium of a tiny observation was incredible.
Here are two of the many things she said that I am still thinking about a day later:
“No hay un plural para el patria. No puedo decir qué es mi patria, entonces no tengo patria.” When asked what her cultural identity was, Anna Lidia said that she doesn’t know. In Russia, she feels too Cuban; in Cuba, too Russian. And she can’t be both, she added, explaining, “The word ‘homeland’ doesn’t have a plural. But I can’t pick one homeland, so now I don’t have any.”
“En la televisión se venden un par de maquinillas de afeitar, y dicen ‘Dos iguales también se pueden amar.’” At one point, Anna Lidia was asked how homophobia in Cuba has changed since the 1990s. She said that while a machista culture definitely persists, re-education camps are gone and new laws provide legal status to same-sex couples who live together for a while. She also mentioned that there is a push in Cuba to normalize gay rights through television advertisements like the one for a pair of razors which says “two of the same kind can also fall in love.”
The conversation with Anna Lidia made me realize how deeply the smallest everyday things affect us. Words like homeland, or the othering distinction ‘African-American’ teach us how our identities can be constructed. Language has such power, in part, because it’s so normal that we rarely notice how it shapes our mindsets unless we are the ones struggling to fit our identities to cultural norms. The things we sell and buy and how they are marketed, have the power to make us believe we need to weigh less, or to explain that homosexuality is perfectly normal.