Padura stands before the Princess of Asturias with Cuba and carrying his language on his back

Writer Leonardo Padura was awarded on October 23 by the King of Spain the Princess of Asturias Prize for Literature during a ceremony in the city of Oviedo. Following is the complete text of the speech given by Padura when receiving the prize.

BELONGING AND GRATITUDE

 

Their Majesties, prize-winners, ladies and gentlemen:

 

Here I am, and I come from Cuba. However, more than from Cuba, I must specify that I come from a barrio on the outskirts of Havana called Mantilla. There is where I live and write, in the very house where I was born. My father, grandfather, perhaps even my great-great-grandfather were also born in this plebeian and busy barrio that flourished by the highway. There is where my father met my mother, a beautiful girl from Cienfuegos who forced by poverty came to Havana, and he fell in love with her until the last breath of his life. My maternal grandparents had been born in that zone in the centre of the island and, if there was no exception, it also seems that my great grandparents Fuentes and Castellanos were born in that area. If I say all this it is to establish the depth of a belonging and also of genealogical evidence: I am Cuban to the core.

I owe everything I am, professionally and humanely, to Cuba, its culture and its history. Because I deeply belong to the identity of my island, to its spirit forged with so many ethnic mixes and creeds, to its robust literary tradition, to its at times intolerable gregarious vocation, to our unfathomable love of baseball, and, since I am a writer, I belong to the language I learned from the cradle, with which I communicate and write, the wonderful Spanish language in which I now read these words. And, because of this, paraphrasing José Martí, the apostle of the Cuban nation, I can say I have two homelands: Cuba and my language. Cuba, with all it has inside and also outside its geography; the Spanish language, because I am what I am through it and thanks to it.

 

Carrying Cuba and my language on my back I have toured a road that is becoming long and which has brought me to this moment of epiphany, up to this superlative astonishment and satisfaction that do not leave me because I am where I dreamed I would be, though I know why I am here: simply because I am determined.

 

But with determination included, getting here has not been easy. Actually, being a writer has never been easy and, for me, it has been harder than what perhaps it could seem. I have dedicated many, many hours to my trade, in a terrible struggle to overcome fears and uncertainties that cover everything: from choosing aspects of my reality I have wanted to reflect to finding the most appropriate word to be able to express in the best and most beautiful way possible that reflected reality. Being a writer has been a blessing which I have assumed as an artistic and civil responsibility, which has been and will be arduous: a great many misunderstandings have accompanied me, even being marginalised when I was considered barely an author of crime novels and some sparks for being as I am and writing as I write. But 40 years ago I learned that to achieve something, at least in my case, there was only one formula and I adopted it and put it into practice to my heart’s content: daily work. And that is why I can say now that, more than two, I actually have three homelands: Cuba, my language and work.

 

However, I must and want to recognise it here: for my three tutelary homelands to bring me to this moment, many situations and persons have had to come together and make the magic reality come true, because one doesn’t just live off of belonging, language and work in the possible homelands of the writer and because exercising gratitude is something that complements me.

 

To the creators of my home in Mantilla I owe my life, but also a humane and ethical formation in which my father’s masonic philosophy and my mother’s Catholic faith were combined with a kindly harmony. And though I did not become initiated as a mason and I am an atheist, I learned from them the practice of fraternity, solidarity and humanism among persons, values that I have tried to put into practice in all my life actions. I regret that today they are not physically here with me, though I know they are accompanying me: my father from the place assigned to him by the Great Architect of the Universe; my mother, from our Mantilla home.

 

I must thank many of my study comrades and profession colleagues for their company throughout the years and the militant fidelity with which we have been acquainted in a beautiful and difficult passage, like all vital courses. Though only a few of them are here today, I know they are celebrating with me, and I can say like Gardel on the day of his debut in the Olimpia: “It would be great if all the barrio’s kids were here!”

 

I am forever in Spain’s debt. Since that summer of 1988 in which, as a simple journalist, I arrived precisely to this land of Asturias to participate in the First Crime Novel Week of Gijón, this country opened doors for me whose transposition has allowed me to advance and to be where I am. The Spanish literature I learned through my studies was joined by the one I found since then and that greatly changed my perceptions. Later, I owe to a Spanish literary contest, to the Café Gijón Prize of 1995, the possibility of having been able to create the bridge that led one of my novels to the hands of the director of the prestigious Tusquets publishing house, to initiate a relationship of love and work which we have maintained for 20 years and has allowed my books to be read in the entire sphere of the language and, from there, in another more than 20 languages.

 

I also owe Spain the honour that the council of ministers of the country granted me Spanish citizenship through the procedure of naturalisation papers, an honorary recognition that has consolidated even more, if that is possible, my relationship with my second homeland, that language in which I express myself and write.

 

To the 21 members of the jury that has granted me the recognition I receive today, my infinite gratitude. Everyone knows that deserving this prize is not just anything. The list of names that precede me endorses the magnitude of this gratification. And the fact that you have chosen me is an honour I have received with pride in being the first Cuban writer to achieve it. And as such I receive it: as a Cuban writer and as a prize to the literature and culture of my first homeland….

 

And to my wife, Lucía López Coll, who of course is here with me, I can only say: Lucía, thank you for putting up with me for almost 40 years, for helping me so much to achieve what has been and continues being the novel of my life.

 

But my gratitude would not be complete without recalling someone from whose hands I have gotten to this podium. Twenty years ago, when my novel Máscaras appeared in Spain, journalists asked me why I had chosen the name I gave to my protagonist. Today, thanks to the persistence of that comrade-in-arms, I believe that my character and I have won a tremendous battle: Mario Conde, the Cuban, with his resounding name that has won for himself a space in the collective imagery of this country, where he accumulates loves, recognitions and readers…. Thank you, Conde, for having accompanied me all these years in the effort to explore and reveal with me Cuban life and reality and to understand the challenges of the fourth age whose course we are beginning.

 

Today is one of the important days of my life, perhaps the most covered by the press for me, and that is why, when having the opportunity of addressing so many people and in such a short time to do so, I have had to think a great deal about what to say: I have decided to speak only of really transcendental matters, just a few, all of them related to love, persistence, gratitude and belonging. Today is a day of wine and roses and that’s how I want to remember it. Because in spite of everything, of the struggle, the doubts, the silences and the suspicions, the truth is that I owe the rewards to my homelands and to everyone who has helped me to obtain them, they are a luxury pretext to enjoy and share this happiness, and I want to do so with the same untainted spirit with which more than 50 years ago I used to share my baseball bat, glove and ball with those friends from the barrio with whom I learned to enjoy the satisfaction of success, in a simple baseball game, on a street of a Havana barrio called Mantilla, where the heart of my homelands beats. (2015)

 

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