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(cover picture) Perez, Gustavo
2006 They Would All Be Queens. Brooklyn, NY: Icarus.

Notes: DVD, 55 minutes
Reviewed 31 May 2014 by:
Dana Ward <>
Arkansas Tech University
Medium: Film/Video
When the Soviet Union fell and Cuba entered 'The Special Period' where food and all other goods became scarce if non-existent these women found themselves trapped in a situation they could have never imagined. THEY WOULD ALL BE QUEENS provides a unique insight into the fall-out of a geopolitical relationship forged during the Cold War and the individuals whose lives were deeply affected by it. (Spanish with English sub-titles)

ABSTRACT:    This documentary recounts the odysseys of several Russian women who married Cuban men and moved to Cuba in the 1980s before the fall of the communist regime of the Soviet Union. The women relate the intense culture shock that they experienced upon encountering a different climate, language, customs, food, and lower standard of living in a third-world country. To this day, the women are very nostalgic and frustrated about leaving their homeland, and yet they are torn between their allegiance to their adopted country of Cuba and their native Russia.

This documentary examines the struggles of several Russian women who migrated to Cuba in the 1980s after marrying Cuban men who were working in Russia during the cold war. During their interviews, all of the women express the sudden dismay and culture shock that they experienced upon arriving on the tropical island after leaving their Slavic homelands. Not only were they uprooted from their country, but they were separated from their families and customs as well. It was a rude awakening for them upon arrival at Camaguey, Cuba, where they observed the primitive living conditions that they would have to endure. The women also had to accustom themselves to a third-world economy where they were forced to cope with the rationing of food, clothes, and supplies. On the positive side, a few of the women found the tropical landscape of Cuba to be breath-taking and beautiful and devoid of urban contamination yet lacking in simple things such as fresh water and other amenities. As time went on, many women accepted their harsh physical living conditions, but they experienced more moral abuse and loneliness since they were cut off from their families in Russia. In spite of this isolation, one woman rallied in the academic success of her daughter in Cuba who was afforded a university education at the expense of the government, which would not have been the case if she had remained in her native land. However, even after many years of living in Cuba, the women still confronted the dilemma of being torn between the two countries—longing to be in Russia with their families yet missing the lives they had grown accustomed to in Cuba. After return visits to their homeland of Russia, several women debated whether to return to Cuba or to remain in Russia, but ultimately they decided that it was necessary to sacrifice their own happiness and return to Cuba for the sake of their children who missed their fathers and the only life they had known.

To cope with the continual frustration of having given up the happiest years of their lives during their youth in Russia, the women had to learn to put aside much of the memorabilia from the past and to focus on their present lives, yet they found it easier to overcome material barriers than the emotional pain of separation. At times the women could momentarily escape from the drudgery of daily living in Cuba by watching Russian films, but later they had to once again come to terms with the reality of being in a country far away from the support system of their relatives. While meditating on the past, one woman reflected upon the changes both positive and negative that had taken place in Russia after the downfall of the Soviet government and the emerging democracy. She observed that together with the coming of perestroika, democracy, and freedom came problems such as prostitution and drugs that had affected the youth and some family members who were unable to cope with the freedom of choice that comes with democracy.

Throughout the interviews, the resounding message of “you can never go home again” rings true in this documentary. The film reflects the resilience and the determination of the Russian women who must continue to struggle to adapt to a new way of life in Cuba and to put aside their disenchantment with a lower standard of living far from their homeland in order to forge a new hope for the sake of their children and themselves in their adopted country of Cuba.

Overall, this documentary is very effective in bringing to light the difficult cultural situations and problems of people who are transplanted to a new environment. However, it would have been interesting if the film had touched on more of the details about the women’s husbands and children in order to have a more complete picture of their predicaments. In spite of this minor shortcoming, the documentary is fascinating as it delves into an interesting area of cultural shock between Russians and Cubans. The information that is presented in this film would be a good resource for university students interested in twentieth-century history and Russian and Cuban culture.