Margarita Alarcón Perea
There is a neighborhood on the outskirts of Havana in the municipality of La Lisa, known as Coco Solo which roughly translates as “lonely coconut”. Please do not confuse it with the US Navy Submarine Base in Panama, although the coincidence is ghastly hilarious. Cuba’s Coco Solo is a working class neighborhood mostly inhabited by blacks, mulatos and that rare breed of “white” Cuban only acknowledged by those who fully understand that the island is no longer divisible by race, but yes, still, unfortunately by social and economic strata.
Still, last night Coco Solo was in festive mode. With few motives for celebration in a place where one still feels so much needs to be accomplished, a concert took place, with a small representation of current Cuban art: Adrian Berazain, young representative of the modern day Cuban Nueva Trova with a tinge of pop, Tony Ávila, an extraordinary musician full of grace and double entendre in his lyrics and lastly Laritza Bacallao a young mulato woman who sings pop and ballades in a very unique Cuban street style. Two films were projected in an open air impromptu street cinema, Strawberry and Chocolate for the adult crowd and HavanaStation for the kids. Yesterday was International Youth Day, yet this was just a mere justification for the real motive that brought people out to take part in the attractions. The underlying motive was something else.
Aside from being habitually obscured by other more attractive parts of the city, Coco Solo is also a place where most things Cuban make sense. Its low lying buildings, streets in dire need of repair, lack of sufficient ..well, lack of sufficient anything is more than evident. Yet its inhabitants had something to celebrate. They took part in a massive social gathering, a community party, awaiting midnight, today, August 13th.
Today marks many things, the birthday of René Gonzalez Sewheret, one of the Cuban Five, the birthday of twin members of my extended US/Chicago family, and much more. Although none of these were the reasons that brought people out to celebrate last night. Ironically, what pulled many of them out from inside their homes was the chance to acknowledge the birthday of a man that dedicated his entire life to trying to make life better for his country, especially those living in places like Coco Solo. Whether one agrees with his motives or not, the reality, undeniably, is that today, although some beg to differ, there is a man who is another year older, and has grown larger than life and will forever hold a place in the history of places like Coco Solo and the rest of the world.
Fidel Castro turns 87 today. He is no longer in power, he has grown old and weak., and while during his years as Statesman his birthday was never acknowledged, now it can be. The best part, though is that last night’s celebration took part precisely in the area where Fidel and his ideals were always most needed, semi urban quasi rural areas in Cuba that had been left unattended for so very long in the islands history. By sacrificing more wealth for the already wealthy, Fidel and his revolution began a process of trying to make life better if not at least, livable for those who had lived in dire straits for decades.
So maybe the upper crusts of Cuban society inside and out of the island won’t be celebrating today and didn’t celebrate last night, but for those less fortunate in history, for those who truly believe that a better world is possible, not only is the 26 the happiest day in history like the song says, but so is August 13th, because a man who not only changed history, but was also absolved by it, was born.