Or I know of a single family that by dismissing the year that is going away and providing, as far as I can, to receive the new time that arrives, does not feel within itself, as the soul is tainting, the hope of human improvement that manifests itself in a peace without hatred or grudges: permanent peace, peace of truth.
At home we do it on the 24th when we return from the Mass of the Rooster: it is a moment of family emotion, of silent evocation of those who left, of nostalgia in the permanent waiting for the realization of personal and collective yearnings. Night of dreams and hopes is, in my opinion, the night of December 31 of each year.
The memory he honors takes me back to January 1869.
The streets of my city – the same as so many illustrious Cubans who have paraded through this gallery – became, in the stunned eyes of the neighbors, a real battlefield in which the contenders were Creole labourers and Spanish volunteers.
It can be accepted that the germ that unleashed this violence is in the reorganization of the “volunteer corps”, created in the mid-19th century as a government reaction against Narciso López’s project to invade Cuba; at the outbreak of the Ten Years’ War, Captain General Francisco Lersundi decided to reactivate it for obvious reasons.
It is claimed that there were more than 100 thousand peninsulars, mostly young singles, on the island at the time. They were usually seekers of fortune – almost always of peasant origin – whose goal when crossing the ocean was clear: to return later to home, with pockets full of coins. They were, in fact, fertile ground for sowing the seed of intolerance: things, they were told, had to remain in the colony as they were, that is, as was the case with Spain. I do not want to believe, since they were young, that they were all ambitious and ladinos enough to run over and come to crime in order to achieve their purposes; rather, I think that at least part of them were “manipulated” by the despistical authority of the top Spanish leader in Cuba and by historical circumstances.
As it was in Havana – the center of the island’s commercial activities – where the Spaniards were installed preferably, the volunteer corps came to have in the capital thirty thousand men approximately. They were distributed in companies under the command of wealthy peninsulars; these, in turn, were members of the Spanish Casino, a society founded in 1868 to bring together those who had much to lose if Yara’s revolution triumphed. The Casino was therefore not a mere meeting and recreation center, but a political club.
The government put together the volunteers and served as barracks for various commercial establishments, so it was common to see groups of them doing exercises and simulating maneuvers at any time. Demonstration of strength as a means of frightening the people, I would say.
It is not idle to remember that Captain General Domingo Dulce (who ruled Cuba during the first half of 1869) implemented on arrival a conciliatory policy to try to attract the insurgents to peace: he offered amnesty to the uprisings who decayed arms, authorized extensive freedom of printing and sent emissaries to negotiate the cessation of hostilities with the Mambisian warlords of the East and Camaguey. These “facilities” were used by Creole labourers to publicly make revolutionary propaganda.
Thus, the infamous volunteers, excited by the integrist press, decided on their own to give a strong dig to the independenceists and, if possible, to take them down: they make records of houses where they assumed there were weapons depots, produce street quarrels and several outrageous hit-and-runs, of which the most sounded had as stages the Teatro de Villanueva , the Louvre café and the Aldama Palace.
A dramatic night comes the brutal shooting attack on the Teatro de Villanueva.
During those days, some comedians in the courtyard performed in whose programs were works with suggestive titles: The Liberals, The Fat One was put together and What goes from yesterday to today (!). As these were Creole-flavored pieces, it was Cuban families, usually the ones who were in charge of those functions. Scenes that, by chance or intentionally, alluded to the situation in the country at the time, were strongly applauded, which badly irritated the detractors of the independence struggle.
They say that in the turn there were not a few women dressed in blue and white, with silver stars adorning the hair… Terror did not take time to present that night of January 22: among the volunteers, who forciblely interrupted the performance, and the armed Cubans in the theater were fought a heavy fight that took on stage the exterior of the building, which ended when the defenders of the independence ideas ran out of burdens of their revolvers.
Victors the volunteers, they intended to burn the theater with all the audience that remained inside, but it seems that someone or something made them react because they just registered each person who went out and ripped out the women the ornaments that evoked the color scheme of the flag of Narciso López and Carlos Manuel de Céspedes. The balance was the homeland: dead, wounded, and then arrests, death sentences and deportations.
Two nights later, a company of volunteers passed through the café El Louvre (the place where many elegant young capitalists used to gather to talk about the topics that are usually present in the men’s talks), when it occurred to one of them that he had heard a shot: it was not necessary to make a closed discharge against the salon , which injured several of those who were concurrent to the site – and even some passers-by – in addition to the well-known arrests.
After this trip, the assault on the palace of Cuban Miguel Aldama occurred much hated by the Spaniards for having participated in the annexationist movement. Under the pretext that in the beautiful residence – today home of the Institute of History – revolutionaries were hidden, the volunteers raided it and intentionally caused serious destruction in the furniture and the works of art queencontrated as it passed through the halls, also taking many valuables. The owner of the house was with his family in one of the ingenuity he possessed when the hit-and-run in question was consummated. Soon after, Aldama moved to the United States where he took over preparing expeditions to Cuba.
Throughout the month, it can be said that volunteers were the only authority in Havana. I have read that they were walking in the streets, sabre in hand, and that they forced to shout to those who passed “live Spain!”; many were drunk in the taverns without paying what they owed, from where they left to stop the cars of the ladies transiting those streets, offending them so.
The repression not only found space in cuba’s capital, for example; the former head of the area’s revolutionary forces, Augusto Arango, was killed in Camaguey at the time the amnesty offered was hosted. This act served as anciration to continue the struggle because it became palpable that it was impossible to rely on the “guarantees” offered by the Spanish government to the insurgents.
On the 28th of that aciago January, a teenager who was born with a star on his forehead would be 16 years old.
The events I have recounted shock their parents, Mariano and Leonor, with fear for the fate of the son as beloved as he was misunderstood. They live on a lot – especially the father – for knowing it mixed with disaffected Creole of the Motherland, and because of the influence – nefarious, they thought – exerted on him Mendive, the teacher who had managed to convince him to pay for Pepe’s studies until the rank of high school.
It seems to Don Mariano that the son is advancing into an abyss; he no longer settles for admiring Don Rafael, he comes into action; he writes notes of mockery and censorship towards the authorities in El Diablo Cojuelo, the printed sheet he prepared with his friend Fermín Valdés Dominguez and which sees the light on the 10th of the month of his anniversary. The father recriminates him hard, but he doesn’t stop. He never stopped. Prepares a weekly that declares democratic-cosmopolitan (from which only a number, the 23rd), will come out, with works by Mendive and other Cubans; and inserts on page 7 his dramatic poem Abdala, whose hero fights for the freedom of the homeland and for her dies. Verses those of rebellion manifest that include in their presentation a confession: written expressly for the homeland.
The events of the Villanueva theatre bit the spirit of the young man who feared only indignity, but other events will happen that will make him grow up by hurting him deeper: Rafael María de Mendive is arrested and transferred to prison.
The school – a school and a home of affection for him – has to close its doors. And Martí feels like helpless: in his house he only breathes anger and strong censorship. The son does not desist from the path on which he is already advancing, but the father does not: he urges him to work to contribute to the family economy and Pepe, respectful, accepts… But not a day he stops visiting his teacher in prison because he knows his presence gave him encouragement.
A strong commitment to gratitude and love brought him together with Don Rafael and his family: he was one more in that house, he sat at the table, he laughed with the daughters of marriage, he read good books in the library, he wrote and, at times, he tried to translate poems by famous writers from English. He found in that home the spiritual joy he did not feel in his. Yes, Mendive really was an admirable teacher, so I would always remember him as a wonderful man.
In the large hall of the Master’s house or under the trees of the cozy courtyard, Pepe had heard the indignant protests of Mendive – if he even trembled his beard! – and his friends by the critical situation of the island, subjected forcefully to a decadent and selfish Metropolis. In his truth they were thirsting for justice and fiery patriotism in the heart of the one who would become the Apostle of Cuba, the man of the white rose.
For all that has already been said, when a few months later Mendive is deported to Spain, Martí will be very lonely; He will be struck more forcefully by the misunderstanding of his parents: he knew them good and selfless but unable to read in his soul. From that moment on, his only consolation will be the brotherly friendship of Fermín Valdés Domínguez.
Perhaps I thought of him when, years later, he immortalized his concept of friendship in Simple Verses: The leopard has his coat / in the dry, brown mountain; / I have more than the leopard / because I have a good friend.
January, for me, is martí month. So I feel it from a distant childhood, when children without distinction of race or social class, paraded before their statue in Central Park to offer white roses or simple flowers of any color. It has rightly been said that there were ostensible differences between uniforms and school bands according to the “category” of the school, but there were things that matched us all: the neatness of presence and the respectful joy that animated our march because they instilled us in the classroom to love the Apostle.
I always remember the Master, but I confess that during this month I enjoy walking the streets that knew his presence, visiting the house of Paula Street and re-reading his verses in which I always find something that seems new to me. Feeling stuff.
When you, a reader friend, read these pages, the year 2005 will have already begun. Believe me: I will have received it with a smile full of hope, confident that the Lord Jesus and our Mother, Mary of Charity, will lead the people to whom we belong on the path of reconciliation and love, so necessary in these days when aggression in its various forms seems to seek to appropriate our wards.
I hope the same feeling nests in you and yours. Happy New Year!