There’s a map of Cuba inked on Deisy González Bilbao’s side and part of her back. It’s broken into 15 provinces and shaded grey except for the southern coastal city of Cienfuegos, which is a cheery pink. That’s where Deisy, 32, was born and raised.
Behind the map is the country’s flag, its bright blue stripes made to look like waves where the Caribbean Sea, Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean meet.
Deisy has other tattoos, but none compare to this one.
“This tattoo represents what I feel about my country, about my island, about the system,” she said. “I had it done because of that, thinking about how I feel about my country’s situation.”
There’s a song lyric from Los Aldeanos, a Cuban rap group, that talks about how Cubans will begin to tattoo the island’s map on themselves to be free.
The line stayed with Deisy. Five years ago, she paid a Cienfuegos artist $1,250 Cuban pesos for the tattoo.
“I felt that this would give me a bit of freedom,” she said. “I knew I was leaving the country. I was fighting to leave and it’s what I bring from my homeland. It’s my island. It’s my flag. Even though I may never return to Cuba, I still carry this with me.”
Deisy said she had been wanting to leave Cuba for years, since she was 20 years old. The country’s restrictions on freedom of expression, assembly, and more grew too much to bear.
“Everything I’m telling you now, I wouldn’t be able to say that to an independent journalist in Cuba,” she said.
In Cuba, she said, the people don’t get to choose their president. Children, she added, are indoctrinated.
Twice, Deisy tried to obtain a visa to go to Spain but was unsuccessful. The United States wasn’t her final destination, but Deisy and her boyfriend settled here after obtaining a visa to Mexico and crossing the border. They’ve been in the U.S. for nearly a year now.
Deisy is now working in St. Petersburg and learning English. She grinned proudly when she spoke of her plans to pursue a master’s degree.
Sometimes, her tattoo peaks out from under her crop top. People ask about it and she’s proud in her answer. This tattoo is a form of expression for Deisy.
“I’m not the only one,” she said. “I have many friends who have tattoos like mine, and I think it’s for the same reason: because they adore their island, because they adore their homeland, and because they realize that it’s falling in pieces and there is no solution.”