Nine years ago, good friend and filmmaker Joe Cardona sent Celia Cruz a film canister with a proposal inside. Joe wanted to do a documentary on her life. The next day, Joe's phone rings and it's Celia's agent.
"Is this Joe Cardona?"
"This is Amer, Celia's agent. There's someone here that wants to talk to you."
Joe's heart raced.
"Is this the muchachito that did Cafe con Leche?" asked perhaps one of the world's most recognizable voices through the phone.
Joe's racing heart seemed to stop altogether, he could hardly get the words out. "Yes, this is Joe Cardona."
"Joe, te habla Celia."
That short, almost unexpected phone call was the beginning of a nine year labor of love.
Joe's eyes welled up as he related that story to me yesterday. My eyes followed suit. We both sat there without really looking at each other as he recounted those first few days. Two grown men staring out into space through teary eyes, remembering Celia like one remembers a lost loved one. Joe and I were brothers in the moment, thinking about Celia as if she were our mother that had raised us.
"Sometimes, when I hear her music" I tell Joe through a sigh. "I forget that she's gone."
Through all this, Celia's voice sang softly through the speakers of Joe's computer.
"I've taken Celia all over the world," Joe tells me, referring to his and Mario de Varona's documentary and labor of love Celia The Queen. "And tomorrow night I finally bring her home."
Celia, The Queen, does indeed come home tonight, premiering at the Tower Theater in the heart of Little Havana as part of the Miami International Film Festival. Celia will sing through the big screen for the next five days.
I break the brief moment of silence between Joe and I. "It's too bad that..." But I interrupt myself as I realize that Joe and I are thinking the exact same thing.
Miami is home for Joe and me, but the home that always lived in the heart and soul and music of Celia is Cuba. It's a home that she never got to return to, but one she made sure she gave us, one she made sure lived in our hearts with each step she danced, each note she sang and each smiling breath she took.
Celia, gracias por la Azucar! And thank you, Celia, for making Cuba blossom in our hearts.
And Joe, thank you, my brother. For bringing Celia home.
Celia The Queen Trailer. Check out the film festival link above for show dates and times.