The following essay was written by Jennifer Hernandez, a Venezulan-American who contributes to the Pedazos de la Isla blog.
Raul Garcia, Reina Luisa Tamayo and Jennifer Hernandez.
My Heroes Live
Ever since I was a little girl, I always heard my family tell me great stories of courageous men and women that gave their lives in the name of freedom. I would imagine them on horses, sword fighting like knights from King Arthur’s round table, deep in mountainous jungles under trees so high that reach up to the sky, hiding and planning how to overthrow emperors that oppress their own people. As the years passed, these same heroes wore military uniforms and fought against the Nazis, Hirohito’s Imperial army, as well as Italians under Mussolini’s command. Then one day I discovered just like a child that finds a treasure chest with a map that contains the coordinates to an unknown world, that only 90 miles from my everyday life there was country being oppressed by a murderous dictator with the last name Castro. It was that day that I met the heroes that have inspired me and changed my life- those who have fought, and continue fighting for Cuba’s freedom. My heroes are all of the men and women who took up arms, those who remained unbreakable against the dictatorship, as well as those who were executed, the political prisoners, and the dissidents. My heroes are the grandparents who had to leave the island so that their children have a better life on free soil; the ones that from the first day in which their grandchildren opened their eyes, taught them the love for the land of Marti, and of son. The parents who have lived most of their lives outside of the island, sometimes not even remembering it that well and yet are determined to continue the struggle for its freedom. The grandchildren who have only seen the island when their eyes are closed, and still feel profound love for it and have joined the fight so that it is democratic and free. The dissidents who, at this very moment, are marching down the streets shouting, “The streets belong to the people, Long Live a Free Cuba, Down with the Dictatorship, Long Live Zapata,” and receive beatings on behalf of the government police, and are detained for hours, days, months and even years. My heroes are all the Boitels, Orlando Zapatas, Cari Caballero, Marta Diaz Rondon, Luis Felipe, Mario de la Peña, the ones who took up arms in the mountainous area of Escambray , the millions of Cubans in and outside the island who continue fighting even after over 5 decades of a murderous dictatorship.
I can say that I have had the honor to have met some of these heroes, speak to them over the phone, and even share meals with them. I found my heroes; I met them, and now, together with them, I fight for the freedom of the land of the Virgin of Charity and of Chango. Today I had the honor to embrace Reina Luisa Tamayo, the mother of the Cuban martyr Orlando Zapata Tamayo, and shout with her, “Zapata Lives, Long Live Free Cuba.” Reina is a very strong woman, and with an immense heart. She has been verbally and physically attacked, and even then she has not renounced her conviction for a free, democratic Cuba. Today she reaffirmed that she will continue to fight here in exile until her last days and until her son’s ashes rest once again in the island. Full of love and pain, Reina thanked the exile for helping her, and said that she will not stop until there is freedom in Cuba, and until all Cubans could say, “Nation and Freedom!” Her words inspired me and I realized that, once again, I was like that child who finds the map in the treasure chest, or who excitedly reads through a comic book filled with stories of supernatural men and women who fight for good- with the difference that the men and women that I admire are real. These extraordinary men and women have taught me to love freedom, and without them this would not have been written. My heroes live in the Cuban communities in exile and in Cuba itself, and they daily fight to achieve Cuba’s freedom. Now, I tell my family stories about brave men and women who fight in the name of justice, and afterward I have the privilege of meeting with these patriots and chatting over some good Cuban coffee. My heroes live. “Long Live a Free Cuba!”