BlogCuba Day at the Babalu Blog. The essays Val included are excellent.
I’m honored Val asked me to participate. This is my entry,
Two weeks ago I finished reading Carlos Eire’s Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy. I was overwhelmed, not just because of the events that he narrates in the book, but because of all the Cubans I have met throughout the years.
I remember my Cuban classmates from my old all-girls’ private school in Puerto Rico and the many Cuban mothers who took odd jobs at several private schools in Puerto Rico, at almost no pay, just so their kids would get a good education.
I remember how some of the girls lived with only one parent, or their grandparents, and how they simply didn’t talk about it. You knew, no matter how young you were, that the parents were dead, even when nobody had told you.
I remember how one of the families spent $600 in 1965 to send antibiotics to an ill relative. $600 was all the money they had, but the relative would otherwise have died in Cuba, and that’s how much it cost to get the antibiotic from Puerto Rico. Bribes had to be paid, you see.
I remember, when I was ten years old, first meeting the father of one of my friends, who had been allowed to leave the concentration camp at Isla de Pinos after several years – after his family paid a huge ransom. When he was arrested he was a young, healthy man who took care of his family. After several years’ torture and incarceration, he was on a wheelchair, paraplegic, and his family had to care for him. He was the first person I met that was so ill he couldn’t even control the drool coming down the side of his mouth. Back then I thought he was old because he was so infirm and his hair was while – but he wasn’t even forty years old when I first met him.
I remember not understanding what it meant to “leave with just the clothes you had on”, until one of my aunts explained that it meant that you had to leave everything behind.
I remember a Spanish man, a friend of one of my uncles. The man had left Spain during the Civil War because he knew he’d end up dead. He left on a ship that was going to Havana. Like Eire, after he got settled in Havana, he never kept any money in banks, even after he had prospered enough to have a modest house and a small business. Right after Fidel came to power, the Spaniard (El Gallego – all Spaniards are “Gallegos”, no matter from what part of Spain they came from) left – he left early enough that he could take his family, money and some valuables. He’s the only person I know that was able to do that when leaving Cuba.
I remember the teacher who was raped by a miliciano (a guard) during the safra (when all school kids are forced to work in the sugar harvest), when she was fifteen. She was so afraid of what would happen to her if she reported it, that she only told her parents. That’s when her parents stopped supporting the Revolución, and decided to leave.
I remember my neighbor from down the street, a nice, very polite lady in her fifties, who told me that she had to leave Cuba because she found herself, at a street demonstration (which she had to attend, there’s no choice), crying out “Pa-re-dón, pa-re-dón”, crying out for the public execution of her fellow men and women. She had to leave. She just couldn’t forgive herself for calling for someone’s death.
I remember people talking about how Olga Guillot, the singer, had burned down her house rather than leaving anything for Fidel.
I remember the lawyer that left Havana after being thrown in jail, and who made his way to New York city, drove a cab to pay his way through college, and after finishing a PhD in Medieval history, was awarded a Carnegie Prize for education.
I remember my sister’s friend, who arrived in Florida on an old inner tube. She grew up in a small village and had only completed sixth grade, so all she could do when she arrived in Florida was house cleaning. She’s now completing her CPA designation. Her mother was not allowed to leave, and was not well enough to try the ocean. She never saw her mother again.
I remember another neighbor, who used to play Lecuona’s music in the early evening, every day, and how the notes would drift in the warm air, heavy with longing for all that was lost. Lecuona himself knew. I can’t listen to his music without crying.
I remember Reinaldo Arenas’s books, filled with anger and heartbreak.
I remember reading how many dozens of landmark buildings in Havana are collapsing because of decay.
I remember swearing I’d never support a political party that would pull Elian Gonzalez out of his relatives’ house in the middle of the night.
And these remembrances come back, triggered by a book, or a casual conversation, or just a quiet moment.