By Ricardo Alarcón de Quesada
Originally published in Spanish for Cubarte.
We spent most of the afternoon watching the sparrows and talking about neocolonial Cuba. “What was young people’s life like then, what were they like?” He would stop playing to ask me over and over again. “Where were you and what were you doing when you met Fidel?”
That’s my grandson, who’s eager to know about Cuba back when his grandfather was his age. In my answers I tried to explain to him what Cuba had been like under [the tyrant Fulgencio] Batista . I think I noticed a certain disappointment on his face when I told him that [president Gerardo] Machado’s regime had come to an end before I was born. As the last of the hummingbirds were flying away and we were going into the house, we talked a little about [Cuban poet, writer and revolutionary leader Rubén Martínez] Villena’s immortal phrase.
The following day I attended “Un paseo por la Historia” [A walk through history]0) at the UIE Elementary School. It was one of those beautiful celebrations that give the word “participation” a real meaning beyond any rhetoric. Present there were all the children from preschool to sixth grade and their teachers –most of whom, not surprisingly, were female– as well as family members and local neighbors. The school building was used both as “dressing room” for the “artists” and to accommodate the audience around.
The students and teachers took over the street. We saw a parade of natives and slaves, mambí and rebel fighters (and their opponents) enacting historic events ranging from the“discovery” to the Cuban Five’s heroic deed. I saw my grandson with the other twelve“protesters”, voicing [president Machado’s nickname] “donkey with claws” and daring the“pro-Machado henchmen” to come out in the open.
It was a form of Jerzy Grotowski´s “poor theater” , with few material resources. All that was needed was provided by the children, their families and teachers. It was above all, a labor of love and a testament to the enormous moral force that continues to animate countless anonymous educators willing to keep the legacy of Luz, Varela, Martí and so many others alive. Men and woman who throughout the years have known how to feed patriotism and plant the seeds of values in our smallest. Some there present that day lamented the lack of press coverage and one asked me to write something for Cubarte.
I had been to this place over half a century ago on many occasions, with colleagues from the FEU (Federation of University Students) and members of the UIE, (International Union of Students), all of us guided by Ernesto “Che” Guevara, doing voluntary work in the construction of a building where today you can feel Che´s presence, his revolutionary spirit, his authentic magistrate sustained always by example.
At the end of the ceremony we went inside the school, where I saw a comrade from my younger days. Several of his photographs accompany a text which summarizes the life of José Ramón Rodríguez López, whom we called “Ramoncito”, never mind that his strong body had been forged by physical exercise and sports. He was born and raised in Havana’s Vedado neighborhood, right where he was cowardly murdered by the Batista police, not far from this school which remembers him so well. “Ramoncito” had yet to celebrate his 20th birthday. Had he not been killed on that distant August day, he too would have surely enjoyed –with his own grandchild– last Friday’s unforgettable tour of our history.
And yet, who is to say he wasn’t there? José Ramón, “Che” Guevara and many others came back to life that morning along side all those children whom they joined in song, dance and laughter. Because, as is written on a wall of the school, children are the ones who know how to love, and love will always vanquish death.
(*) Manifesto drafted by Rubén Martínez Villena and a group of fellow Cuban intellectuals denouncing governmental corruption and triggered by the purchase of the Santa Clara Convent by then-president Alfredo Zayas for more than two million pesos.
A CubaNews translation. Edited by Walter Lippmann. With special thanks to Eileen Boruch-Balzan