Friday, December 02, 2016

The curious case of Fidel Castro and La Quinceañera

Yesterday at the Context Art Miami fair, one of the cleaning ladies was nearby our booth and speaking on her cell phone using the machine gun steccato of Cuban Spanish that drives other Spanish speakers crazy.

"Cubans," once wrote the Argentinian writer Jacobo Timerman, "use Spanish as a weapon."

I could tell that she was trying to calm someone down on the other side of the conversation. When she hung up, she burst into tears.

Alarmed, I walked up to her and asked what was wrong. Prior to this event, we had exchanged pleasantries and she had told me that her family was from Matanzas. With tears on her face, she related that she had been speaking with her niece in Cuba.

It seems that her niece was in the middle of her Quinceañera party when the Cuban police showed up.

A Quinceañera party is the coming of age party that Cuban girls, and girls throughout Latin America celebrate on their 15th birthday. It remains one of the most important and strongest traditions of the Spanish-speaking world.

In Cuba, because of the extreme necessities of the Cuban people, setting up a Quinceañera party often takes years of preparation, usually in close coordination with relatives in other countries who can hand-carry and bring the required items needed to stage the most important social event in a young girl's life.

In this case, the teary cleaning lady told me that she had made half a dozen trips in the last two years binging party items, shoes, dress, candy, stockings; the list went on and on as she sobbed.

The local police showed up to the party, and informed the family that they were in violation of the official nine days of luto (mourning) for the death of Fidel Castro Ruz; parties and music-playing was strictly forbidden.

All guests' names were taken down and all were ordered to leave. When La Quinceañera's mother began to cry and complain to the police, she was pushed to the ground and punched in the mouth. When La Quinceañera's father tried to help his wife, he was also beaten and then arrested.

That's why this nice cleaning lady was trying to calm her abused family members across the miles, and then broke down once she hung up.

"Even after that desgraciado is dead, he's still abusing us," she sobbed in Spanish. I hugged her, and we cried a little together.

That's Cuba after Fidel, week one.

No comments: