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Prisoner in Paradise:
An Interview with Assata Shakur

By Evelyn C. White

Do the Cuban people know your life story?

Assata ShakurNo, the average Cuban does not. And I really prefer to be kind of anonymous. Because when people know your whole history, they have a tendency to relate to you differently and maybe put you up on a pedestal. I want people to just be normal with me. I just want to live my life.

When Cubans ask about your background how do you respond?

I tell the truth. I say I'm a political prisoner from the United States who is living here in exile. That's not uncommon. There are many people here from Chile, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador and other places who have been granted political asylum. Cubans understand that theirs is a country that provides sanctuary for people fleeing oppression. As a nation, they are very proud of this stance. They don't care how much the U.S. government badgers or attacks them. Cuba has its own moral system and priorities. That's what keeps it going, the belief that the country can control its own destiny.

Is there anything you've discovered about yourself that has surprised you since coming to Cuba?

Becoming aware of my own vulnerability and sensitivity and being able to express those feelings has been a surprise. In the States, I always had to be tough and ready to take care of business. Here I can look at sides of me that are more delicate and fragile. That was kind of a shock to me. I think that, like many sisters, I was raised to be a Superwoman. I am a serious woman, and I want to be taken seriously, but here I don't have to live up to that Superwoman myth. I can cry and be human and lean on people who take care of me. That can be very liberating.

What do you think will happen to you if Fidel Castro is overthrown?

If the U.S. succeeds in destroying the revolution, my status will be like that of most Cubans: I'll be up a creek without a paddle. It will be devastating for people worldwide who believe in justice. It's a threat I live with every day, because the U.S. doesn't recognize the laws of Cuba. They can kidnap anybody and bring them back to the States to face the so-called justice system. There's no telling what the U.S. government will do to me. I'm in constant danger; I guess I've gotten used to it.

How do you mange to stay connected with the United States?

I stay connected in my head. I'm spiritually and psychologically connected to African-Americans. They are my people, and that will never change. And I'm truly blessed, because many of my friends come to Cuba. They like it here-they can relax and not worry about drive-by shootings or getting raped. I meet all kinds of people. I'm a news freak; I read books, magazines, listen to tapes, anything I get my hands on. And a lot of contemporary American culture makes its way to this county. Cuba is not some gray, isolated backwater. This is a happening place.

Do you think you will ever return home?

I don't know. I think it will be hard. It's funny. People ask me if I miss the States. I miss African Americans. But not the U.S. government or all the things they put me through. I miss African American culture, our speech, dance and cooking. I miss friends and family. If it weren't for visits from old friends and other African Americans I meet who come to Cuba, I'd probably be in some kind of time warp. I learn so much from my sisters and brothers who come here. I get recharged and energized and reminded of how beautiful we are as a people. African people just shine. And people come telling the truth. When I ask how thing are in the States, they don't give me the okeydoke. They say, "Honey, things are hard." It reminds me I have to keep struggling.