Comedian Alvarez Guedes’ made us laugh in exile’s painful terrain
I was at my favorite perch in Little Havana, smoking a cigar, when word came of Guillermo Alvarez Guedes’ death and the mood dampened. An all-too-familiar queasy feeling came over me — one that is not uncommon to many of us who still live on the Cuban-American hyphen.
While the loss of the 86-year-old Alvarez Guedes was not unexpected — it had been reported he was ill — it was no less wrenching. You see, with the passing of the last of the great Cuban comics of his era go the laughs and memories of yesteryear — the laughs shared with abuelos (grandparents), the memories of when our parents were middle-aged.
My first encounter with Alvarez Guedes’ comedy, which included his trademark, monosyllabic “ño,” (shortened from a Spanish expletive and loosely used by Cubans to mean “damn” or sometimes “wow”) was during the summer of America’s bicentennial year, 1976.
My parents took time off from their tedious, back-breaking jobs and led the family on a rare sojourn outside the city limits of Hialeah to visit Orlando where their best friends had settled. In the trunk of our green Fury was a cooler stocked with freshly made Cuban sandwiches, a Cuban café espresso maker with several cans of Bustelo coffee and a big, plastic Zayre’s bag with multiple Alvarez Guedes’ albums.
I remember our first night there, after everyone had scarfed down the Cuban sandwiches and settled into the cafecito, my father’s friend Julio put on one of the albums. It was the first time I had laughed at anything in Spanish and it was certainly novel to share belly laughs with my parents.
Everyone in that room clung on to the brilliant comic’s nuanced sounds and expressions. His timing was impeccable — a succinct barrage of witty observations and hilarious anecdotes that accurately depicted the state of Cuban exile at that point and time.
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