I left Cuba in the late 1960s after I realized I could no longer live under the revolution I had once welcomed with open arms. For years, every time I would remember a story about that time — about my family, my artists' collective, my time in prison — I would tell it. Dean Haspiel is a member of my extended family, so he literally grew up hearing these stories. One day he told me I had to write them down. I told him there was too much to write, too much to remember. "You write it as a novel," he said, "and I will illustrate it."
What would happen when I tried to remember the details of what I had spent years trying to forget? I went to Florida for two weeks and returned to New York with more than three hundred pages. My memories gushed like the rush of water over a dam. To select what would move the story forward was like playing chess: every single move was important.
Finally, the collaboration with Dean began. Like me, he is very sure of himself, and I knew we would clash. I had always admired his work and for years I encouraged him to be true to his artistic principles. But now I had to ask myself, what about mine? He would have to recreate my memories and feelings visually, and what if I didn't like them? As a painter, I am accustomed to creating my pieces, identifying the pictorial problems, and solving them myself.
Weeks and months went by, and I learned that when you're working with someone at a similar level of creativity and experience, a miracle happens. We were a match, and after two years my world of words became a visual theater.
Seeing the stories in print, I sometimes remember the biting sting of the hose against my body, and smell my flesh burning from the wires. The fear will never go away, but I don't live at its mercy anymore. I now have a stronger sense of myself. I can write this work of fiction, inspired by my true experiences, with the hope of making my country a better place.