Enrique’s search for paradise

Enrique Santos

He left Cuba because it became too cramped for him. When at the end of the concert he was asked to praise the Cuban Revolution from the stage, he realized he did not have enough freedom

While he was singing in an expensive restaurant he concluded that he would not go any further – there is no more luxurious restaurant in Cuba than this one. He wanted a different paradise. In fact, Enrique  has studied the topic of the heavens persistently throughout his life. A Jehovah’s Witness for 25 years he now calls himself a Christian Who Reads the Bible. ‘It is written there that man must migrate,’ he argues.

So Enrique, like so many biblical heroes, left home and went out into the world. His search for a life with more so-called prospects began in Russia. It was there that he flew because as a citizen of Cuba, he did not need a visa. He spent a year in this country, but did not like Russia. Russia was not enough for him. He wanted the Spanish paradise. He packed up again and went to Belarus to start his journey through Europe. He crossed the border with Lithuania on foot in a forbidden place. When the Border Guard showed up, Enrique, whether he wanted it or not, asked for asylum (although he had never dreamed of a Lithuanian paradise before). ‘Surprisingly, the Lithuanians treated me very well. Both on the border and in Podbrodzie.’


In Podbrodzie, a town an hour away from Vilnius, there is a refugee centre. It was this place on Earth that became home for Enrique. Specific, impermanent. For several years he was suspended between his past and desires. For the entire 4 years (waiting for asylum, appealing, trying to avoid deportation) Enrique could not work legally. Still, he could do what he does best – sing about love.

Caritas employees came to him with clothes and food – he sang. Migrants, companions in waiting, wanted to listen – he also sang for them. The local community centre organized a celebration – Enrique performed at it. He was only allowed to leave the refugee centre for one day. After 24 hours he had to go back and check-in. ‘Thanks to the help of Caritas I started giving concerts in Vilnius. Concerts often ended at 2:00 a.m. On stage, I always had makeup and a beautiful outfit. Flirting girls would come up to me and I would say straight: I have nothing. I was ashamed to ask someone to drive me to the centre. After the performance I went to the train station and slept there,’ he says.

Professional singer, and migrant

Although Lithuania did not grant Enrique asylum, it allowed him to live there. He got a job in a factory, on a construction site and as lumberjack. He damaged his spine, but he sang to make the pain – any kind of pain – less. Music became his floater, it kept Enrique afloat. In 2021 he took part in the Lithuanian edition of X Factor. Then Lithuania heard about him for good. The journalists raved: ‘Enrique Santos, 32. Cuban with a university degree, professional singer and dancer, son of a composer, graduate of the Havana Conservatory, migrant!’ He advanced to the next stage of elimination, but gave up the further race for fame. ‘It was a waste of my time,’ he says casually. He knows what he is talking about because by the time he had already five years to catch up.

If he wanted to, he would already be in Spanish, Italian or German paradise. In a paradise richer than the Lithuanian one. However, he is no longer drawn to other utopias because he has fallen in love with Patrycja, a Pole from Lithuania, and also a singer. They live together, he calls her his little love bug. Enrique’s father believes Patrycja speaks Spanish with a distinct Cuban accent. They met at a Mexican Independence Day party. Enrique got lost and she said: ‘You are going in the wrong direction’.

‘This last year has been my detox. As long as you run a marathon everything is OK, fatigue comes only after you reach the finish line. That is what I am feeling right now,’ says Enrique.

Speaking of a marathon he means a time of stress, and uncertainty, at the mercy of officials of a foreign state. ‘You can run along charming paths and admire the landscapes. My marathon was a desert run. I survived.’

Your victories are mine too

He has been making a living from music for a year. Recently, he sang at the Kaunas State Philharmonic with a symphony orchestra, and another time at a fashionable New Year’s Eve party in Vilnius. At birthdays, in bars, clubs, cities, towns and exhibition openings. For huge or average money, for a higher cause. He posts videos of every performance on social media. Below them, there are comments from those who stayed far away in Cuba: ‘Beautiful cousin, congratulations on your success!’, ‘You sing well, my nephew’, ‘My pretty boy! It’s so good to see you’, ‘I miss you and I love you very much’, ‘Your victories are mine too… Take care of yourself…’.

Enrique became a father when he was 16. His girlfriend was a year younger. He has not seen the children for six years. From Lithuania, he pays their Internet costs. He talks to his 15-year-old son every day usually about love and women (Enrique composed songs for each of his girlfriends. He doesn’t remember how many he had). He wants his daughter and son to join him someday. As soon as they finish school, graduate from university. ‘I will do everything I can to make sure they do not have to follow my path. I will figure out how to bring them to Lithuania legally. Everything can be solved. The only real problem is death.’

Ewa Wołkanowska-Kołodziej – activist and press journalist specializing in social issues.

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