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Daniel Regueira Blog

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Saudade and the Cuban Diaspora

On an NPR podcast called Alt. Latino one recent episode discussed a Portuguese/Galician word with no direct translation to any language. "Saudade" (pronounced sau-daje in Brazil) is a word that roughly means "a longing sadness" that one has for things past or things never to come. "A pleasure you suffer, an ailment you enjoy" - Manuel de Melo

Saudade has become something used in  both literature and music of the Portuguese speaking world, similar to Blues music in America. Imagine feeling sad because you've met someone cool but know you'll never see them again. The longing to experience that moment or be with that person again is saudade. 

This morning listening to my "Mi Sangre" playlist on a run, Celia Cruz's "Por Si Acaso No Regreso" (In Case I Don't Return) came on for the first time in months, and my heart sank. In this song, one of the last she ever produced, Celia sings to the island of Cuba telling it that she carries a deep and profound sorrow not being able to return. Here are the lyrics in Spanish and English (click the link above and listen along for the full effect):

Por si acaso no regreso,                                         In case I don't return
yo me llevo tu bandera;                                         I wear/take your flag
lamentando que mis ojos,                                     Lamenting that my eyes
liberada no te vieran.                                             Will not see you liberated

Porque tuve que marcharme,                               Because I had to leave/march out of there
todos pueden comprender;                                   Anyone can understand
Pensé que en cualquer momento                         I thought at any moment
a tu suelo iba a volver.                                           I would return to your ground/land

Pero el tiempo va pasando,                                   But time goes on
y tu sol sigue llorando.                                           And your sun keeps crying
Las cadenas siguen atando,                                  The chains keep tying you up
pero yo sigo esperando,                                         But I keep waiting
y al cielo rezando.                                                    And praying to the sky

Y siempre me sentí dichosa,                                  And I always felt lucky/happy
de haber nacido entre tus brazos.                        To have been born in your arms
Y anunque ya no esté,                                             And even though it's no longer there
de mi corazón te dejo un pedazo-                         I leave you a piece of my heart
por si acaso,                                                              Just in case...
por si acaso no regreso.                                          In case I don't return

Pronto llegará el momento                                    Soon the moment will arrive
que se borre el sufrimiento;                                  That we erase the suffering
guardaremos los rencores - Dios mío,                We'll put away the grudges - My God
y compartiremos todos,                                         And we will all share
un mismo sentimiento.                                          One same sentiment/feeling

Aunque el tiempo haya pasado,                           Even though the time had passed
con orgullo y dignidad,                                          With pride and dignity
tu nombre lo he llevado;                                        I've taken your name
a todo mundo entero,                                             To the whole world
le he contado tu verdad.                                         I've told them your truth

Pero, tierra ya no sufras,                                       But, land please suffer no more
corazón no te quebrantes no,                                Heart don't shatter, no
no hay mal que dure cien años,                            There isn't evil that lasts one-hundred years
ni mi cuerpo que aguante.                                     Nor that my body withstands

Y nunca quize abandonarte,                                 And I never wanted to abandon you
te llevaba en cada paso;                                         I took you with me in every step
y quedará mi amor,                                                And my love will stay
para siempre como flor de tu regazo                  Forever, like a flower in your lap
por si acaso,                                                             Just in case...
por si acaso no regreso                                          In case I never return

Celia Cruz is an undisputed queen of latin music. Even after her death she remains influential. And you can see why, she incapsulates the experience of Cuban exiles here in this song. The longing for homeland. The visceral pain of not knowing whether your family or childhood friends we starving. The knowledge of the fact that your returning to see your beautiful country, your family, and friends, is unlikely if not impossible.

If ever there were "saudade" the Cuban-American experience incapsulates it. There is a longing we experience for our culture and our people. A belief of self-exceptionalism and love of life that is ingrained even into American-born-Cubans like me. It's just part of our culture. The saudade, the longing, the deep desire to be surrounded by our people and our homeland affects Cubans of all generations.

On my run I found this so immensely moving. Hearing this song for the first time in months brought me to tears, even as I ran, and I just had to share it.


Daniel Regueira