By Fernando Ravsberg, Havana Times, November 22, 2012
|Adela Agustin Hernandez with her neighbors|
Adela, the transsexual elected as a delegate to the People’s Power (town council) in the municipality of Caibarien, isn’t the first member of the LGBT community who has stood out in Cuba, others have done it in culture, sports, arts, religion and even in politics.
However, she’s marking a milestone because this doesn’t involve an isolated individual but someone “from the people.” She was elected by her neighbors, people who feel that she’ll represent them better than any of the other candidates in their area.
It’s a victory of the will power of Jose Agustin Hernandez to advance in society while remaining “Adela,” and this is also a victory for the residents of Caibarien over homophobic prejudices that plague sectors of Cuban society and its political class.
They say there’s no greater strength than the ability to resist, and Jose Agustin has been resisting ever since he was a child, when he wasn’t even conscious of his marked mannerisms or the woman that he carried inside his male body.
There in the sugar mill town where “Adela” was born, everyone made fun of her father because his son was so “patently fagot.” The parental humiliation then turned into beatings. These were the first blows that Augustin learned to resist.
As she grew up, her mannerisms only “worsened” and the paternal pummeling became even more brutal, and without achieving their intention. Adela’s female characteristics became increasingly apparent, so her father decided to report her to the authorities, who sent her to jail to “make her straight for once and for all.”
“‘Put him in prison until he becomes man,’ that’s what my father said to warden at the prison. So I turned around and said, ‘You’re going to have to give me a life sentence then, because I’m never going to be a man.’” She told me this without disguising her resentment for having been betrayed so early.
Those were times when it wasn’t difficult to prosecute a homosexual, so Jose Agustin spent two years behind bars. But still she resisted. She didn’t turn into just another criminal, instead when she was released she decided to study and clear new paths.
Her mother didn’t care about the sexual preference. She worked hard and behind her husband’s back sent money to Adela to maintain herself while she was studying, first in high school and then at a nursing school.
Adela succeeded in overcoming marginalization, misunderstanding and homophobia.
Adela’s educational journey was not without pain. First there was the teasing and later violence reappeared, but this time Adela responded. Dressed up as a woman, she fought back – and she won! Social intolerance wasn’t going be defeat her resistance.
She settled in a poor neighborhood of Caibarien and soon ceased being “Augustin the fagot” to become “Adela the nurse.” She inspired so much respect that after 28 years her neighbors elected her as president of the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution.
She’s now 48 years old and those living in the barrio believe she can represent them as their delegate to People’s Power, with her serving as a kind of city councilperson, nominated by residents in neighborhood assemblies and elected by secret ballot from among several candidates.
“I was chosen because I speak my mind. I call things by their name in front of anyone, and my first intention is to defend my community.” She dreams of improving the drinking water and the street lighting and seeing to it that the streets are repaired.
But “these are only the first steps,” she says, adding that the institutions will have to address their complaints, because “they know me well and they know that I don’t stop until I achieve a goal, I that’s why they listen to me, and that’s why I’ve succeeded so far.”
This isn’t the end of the road; she thinks that one day she can become a member of Cuba’s parliament. But if it happens she’ll carry on as she has, without her ceasing to be Adela (who incidentally performs each week in a show at a transvestite club attended by sugar workers from there in Caibarien).
Today she recalled that: “I often thought about killing myself. I was like a cornered cat that they didn’t let breath. But one day I said to myself that I had to resist and overcome, and I did. I learned that although the pain was killing me inside, I needed to keep on going.”
I talked with Adela for about an hour during her shift at the hospital where she works as an electrocardiogram specialist.
Long before ending the interview, I already understood why she’d been elected by her neighbors.