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Wednesday, May 4, 2016
- More than 15 years after the “deactivation” in Cuba of the Association of Women Communicators (MAGIN), its members remain united in an informal network that transcends any specific political situation and has become a reference for the new generations.
“We were not personally involved, but its history has come down to us. MAGIN is a reference, legacy and motivation to continue working despite the obstacles,” said Helen Hernández, one of three journalists who have been organising a discussion circle on gender and culture called “With a Sceptical View” since 2011.
“MAGIN no longer exists, but it lives on in the memories and actions of the women who were its members,” Hernández, author of the 2011 book “Mujeres en crisis. Aproximaciones a lo femenino en las narradoras cubanas de los noventa” (Women in Crisis: Women’s Issues in the Work of Cuban Women Writers of the 1990s), told IPS after attending the first public revival of an experience that changed the lives and work of those involved.
After the MAGIN experience, writer Daysi Rubiera published a book on sexual violence in Cuba; researcher Gisela Arandia promoted the project “Color cubano”, focusing on race issues; psychologist Norma Guillard began working with sexual diversity groups; and film-maker Belkys Vega made important documentary and fictionalised films about AIDS in Cuba.
Historian Julio César González Pagés, one of the few men involved in the initiative, devoted himself to rescuing the history of women and feminism in Cuba. He also founded the Ibero-American Masculinity Network, an academic space that is considered one of the most important in today’s debate on gender issues in Cuba.
“It was like a little bug that is born, generates a discussion and then begins to spread all over,” anthropologist and former MAGIN member Leticia Artiles commented to IPS about the group’s impact, which spanned radio and television, literature, research in diverse areas and especially women’s studies.
Covered with a veil of silence since its “deactivation,” as it was referred to in 1996, to avoid more definitive words like “shutdown,” the Association of Women Communicators was created in March 1993 after the First Ibero-American Women and Communication Conference was held in Havana.
During one of the most difficult moments of the economic crisis that Cuba endured after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the loss of its main aid and partners in the European socialist bloc, a group of women communication workers who attended the conference identified the need to work for gender awareness in the media.
Responding to the initial invitation of journalist Mirta Rodríguez Calderón, who subsequently continued her work from her new home in the Dominican Republic, more than 100 women joined, including journalists, artists, scientists and local and national government officials. As a name for the group, they chose the name “magin,” which means intelligence.
However, by 1996, the association had not yet received approval of its application for registration, and its members were informed that it could no longer operate.
“The more or less formal statement that was made the day they summoned us, after talking about the intentions of the United States to infiltrate the Revolution using its intellectuals, was that we were not going to be given legal status because it was not opportune,” Rodríguez Calderón told IPS via email.
The main argument brandished by those who made that decision was related to the so-called Track II of the 1992 U.S. Torricelli Act, which promoted people-to-people contact and academic, cultural and civil society exchange as a way of encouraging changes to Cuba’s political system.
But the real reason, according to various former MAGIN members, may have been “jealousy” on the part of entities accustomed to having a “national monopoly” over certain issues, or the transgression implied by a project such as this in a society organised in a top-down, heterosexist way, with a deeply-rooted patriarchal culture.
“How could a group of prominent women journalists get involved like that in a transgressive, innovative process? Crises tend to generate development, and MAGIN was the fruit of that innovative development. But the social structure was not ‘ready’ for that leap,” Artiles said.
Psychiatrist Ada Alfonso has a similar opinion. “The fact that in the early 1990s a group of women were conducting self-esteem workshops to talk about our orgasms, among other things, was very transgressive. Even today, in 2012, we don’t speak completely freely about our bodies,” she said.
In just three years, MAGIN organised 50 workshops on different issues and worked on projects that included a publishing collection, a quarterly magazine, a press bureau to produce informational materials with a gender-based approach, and training workshops, along with other ideas recalled by editor Pilar Sa Leal, the group’s recognised executor.
After the association formally shut down, Rodríguez Calderón moved to the Dominican Republic, where she organised exchange activities and founded the publication A primera plana (APP), with contributions from Cuba.
Meanwhile, back in Cuba a group of former MAGIN members prepared and circulated by email La Hoja de APP bulletin.
According to one of the founders, Irene Esther Ruíz, beyond the energy that was deployed, there was “a magic” that helped “illuminate the obscure areas of knowledge,” and to understand “that other women were not your rivals, but your counterparts.” In fact, “that magic was responsible for a sense of belonging that still remains,” she said.
As Cuban writer Sonnia Moro said, “MAGIN was deactivated, but the ‘women of MAGIN’ live on.”