For Mariana and Paulo
Some day the history of our last decades will have to be told through the Brazilian soap operas that have played across the small screen. We will hear specialists establishing parallels between the quantity of tears spilled in front of the TV and the degree of resignation or rebelliousness embraced in real life. Another area for study will be the hope created in us by some character—from the television soap operas—who managed to leave misery behind and realize their dreams.
This likely analysis will have to include, without a doubt, the stormy drama of The Slave Isaura. This mixed-race woman who escaped from a cruel master paralyzed our country to the point that on one occasion the passengers of a train refused to board, staying in the station while the final episode aired. It even served us as a source of analogies between the slave’s mistress who refused to give her servant freedom and those who acted like our masters, controlling everything. In these same years my mother’s friends divorced en masse, guided by the independent character of Malú, who raised a daughter alone and didn’t wear a bra.
Then came 1994 and the “maleconazo“* forced the government to accept certain economic openings, which materialized as rooms for rent, private taxis, and private restaurants. At that time we had the plot of a production from Rio de Janeiro that directly influenced the naming of these new circumstances. Cubans baptized restaurants run by common people “paladars,” or palates, after the food company created by the protagonist of the show Vale todo. The story of the poor mother who sold food on the beach and ended up founding a large consortium seemed to us like that of the newly emerging “self-employed,” who fixed up the living room of their house to offer dishes that had been extinct for decades.
Then things started to get complicated and we saw serials where farmers were reclaiming their land, fifty-year-old women made plans for the future, and reporters from an independent newspaper managed to attract more readers. The scripts of these dramas have ended up being—on this Island—the keys to interpreting our reality, comparing it with others, and critiquing it. Thus, three days a week, I sit in front of the television to read between the lines of the conflicts that surround each actor, because from them arise much of the attitudes that my countrymen will adopt the following morning. They will have more hopes or more patience, in part “thanks to” or “as the fault of” these soap operas that come to us from the south.
Maleconazo: A spontaneous riot on August 5, 1994, along Havana’s waterfront boulevard and seawall.