Knowing the Place for the First Time: A Cuban Exile’s Story

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Alejandra Morena
Roberto Milanes


Playa Abierta is a modern beach-side resort, one hundred kilometres west of Havana. Developed as a private resort in the 1950s, it was seized by the new revolutionary Cuban government in 1959 after its owner fled precipitately to Miami. This autobiographically centred and personally narrated paper reviews the history of Playa Abierta 1956 – 2006 through the eyes of a Cuban New Zealander ‘Marta’ whose uncle first developed the estate. In 1956 her holidays spent at Playa Abierta as a little girl were her most treasured Cuban moments. ‘At this altar’, she says, ‘my uncle was the high priest.’ In 1996 - after a 36-year absence from her native land - she returned for a visit, the only member of her extended family to have done so. Boldly and unannounced she walked through her uncle’s house – by then converted into a military recreational camp. On a subsequent visit, she met with members of her uncle’s domestic staff whose relationship to that same loved beach was by then of many decades. Whose Playa Abierta was she re-visiting now? Who were the true claimants to that family sacred site? Today as she reflects on the private and public meaning of Playa Abierta, her exultation has given way to more complex feelings. The wonder at re-discovering the beach’s beauty was overladen with the guilt of returning to Cuba while still under Castro’s communist rule. Her sense of belonging was later undermined by a sad realisation that those who had stayed behind were also Playa Abierta’s claimants. Above all, she is torn between family loyalties and the promise of a Revolution betrayed.

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Author Biographies

Alejandra Morena, Independent scholar

Alejandra Morena is a pseudonym. She works in modern Australian history, and contemporary Cuba and Chile. Her publications are in the fields of memory and memorialisation, custodianship of place, and trauma and reconciliation.

Roberto Milanes, Independent scholar

Roberto Milanes is a pseudonym. He works in Australian Aboriginal history, and contemporary Cuba and Chile. His publications are in the fields of trauma and reconciliation.