Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Cuba (pt. 3)--Santa Clara

    I am with my grandfather, my father and myself and we are in a little Korean-made car hurtling down the crumbling central highway on the way to Santa Clara, Cuba, the birthplace of my grandfather. He has not visited this home in almost 60 years, although the actual house he was raised in stands still. In his half-century of absence, his grandparents, parents, and sisters have passed away. We are going to this place so that my grandfather can finally pay his respects. We are going to meet family that I have always had, but never knew. We are going so that my grandfather, my father and myself can finally realize our own history. We are all going to find something for ourselves.

    Endless fields of sugar cane and tobacco sway like calm oceans, gentle waves lapping up to the acacia and palm lined banks of the forests. In brilliant reds and yellows, flamboyan trees rise like islands in the midst of these green seas while cattle escape the late morning heat and humidity by dozing in their shade. Farmer’s hovels dot the landscape. They look almost comical, with grass roofs and wooden planks that have been warped and animated by passing time, the elemental cycles of rains and droughts, highs and lows. The ancient sand dunes create natural levies along the coast, while truer mountains rise cautiously to more misty heights further inland. This place is gorgeous. The old Cuban tune ‘Chan Chan’ strums slowly away on the radio as we wind our way as we return for the first time to my grandfather’s long-lost home.
    Entering Santa Clara is like driving through a living museum. The battle of Santa Clara, the last major offensive of the guerrillas during the revolution and that which made Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara famous, seems written on every surface. Memorials, statues, and murals greet visitors at every corner. Even bullet holes from the original battle are still visible in certain areas, especially at the Santa Clara Libré hotel where a major skirmish once took place. If one didn’t know better, they might think that the revolution happened just yesterday. Its a proud and also desperate attempt to hold onto history. The world is moving into the future; Cuba (in more ways than one) seems to be holding blindly to those early years of revolution.
     The streets are narrow, flanked by single-story homes built right on top of each other without room for alleys or porches. It is horizontal space conservation to the extreme; even in this tiny car, it can feel a little claustrophobic. We arrive in front of a house--number 84 Martí Street--looking almost identical to all those around it except for a roof that has long since collapsed. Standing in front are two older women and several younger adults, roughly my age. We park the car on the street and step out towards the house. Within seconds I am being smothered in repeated and unrelenting hugs, I am being kissed on the forehead and cheeks, I can feel hot tears as they are dropped haphazardly. This is my family. They have been waiting for my grandfather to come home for almost 60 years. They tell me that I look like a Machado.

From right: My grandfather, my cousin Yandy and my Aunt Maruchy standing in the foyer of the house that my grandfather grew up in. Maruchy and her family still live here, although the roof in the front caved in many years ago.

    This following interactions were strange. We all fell very easily into a familial atmosphere: very welcoming and inviting, loving and accepting, comfortable as if we had known each other for our entire lives. The reality was, we were almost complete strangers, but strangers bound by something infinitely more profound than the politics, cultures, and countries that had separated us. At the same time that I needed to continually be reminded of names, the smiles and laughter of familiarity filled the small house to its capacity, straightening the old, wooden columns and raising the sagging roof for the first time in a long time. It was as if the walls and the rooms and my aunts and cousins and father and grandfather could all breath that huge sigh of relief, 60-years in the making. “Home at last” sounded quietly on the breeze, lazily meandering its way through the halls.

The Machado family house for over 5 generations, 84 Marti Street, Santa Clara, Cuba. My home.

    My grandfather walked slowly through the home, here and there relating a story to those things that he remembered from his childhood. The tile floors were the same, the room he used to sleep in seemed so much smaller, the mango tree still curled its gnarled, prolific arms towards the courtyard’s little, square window of sky. It was a living artifact and yet a home still, being exercised and occupied daily by a family, our family, just as it was when my grandfather was a child.
    I spent the night sleeping in the room that my grandfather once shared with my Tio Hilberto. I slept in one bed while my Aunt Maruchy and cousin Yanet dozed in the other. My cousin Yandy slept by the door. Someone snored all night, but I don’t know who. I dreamed about the past that surrounded me.

From Santa Clara, from home,
-little hupo

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