I wrote the following back in February after visiting the Cuban Memorial. I never published it as I felt it did the Memorial no justice, but given yesterday’s excellent Miami Herald article on the Cuba Archive and the Cuban Memorial, I thought today would be appropriate.
The names. They strike you the second you shut the car door after parking at the Cuban Memorial. The names.
Bienvenido Fuentes Leonard. Manuel A. Fuentes Lima. Alcadio Fuentes Martinez.
Each read aloud. Booming through the sound system, loud, clear. Constant. Unending. Echoing across the park.
Diosdado Garcia Arencibia. Mario Garcia Arroyo. Angel Garcia Azcuy. Alfredo Garcia Barroso.
As you pass the parking area and begin your approach towards the field you get brief glimpses of white. Little patches of white crosses in between parked cars and trees.
Julio Graveran. Alberto Graviel Lluch. Wade Carrol Gray. Jose-Misael Gregorio Igarza.
You make your way passed the cars, passed the trees. Pass in between the stage and the two tents where volunteers sit and folks are standing in line. Some stand with flowers, other empty handed. Still others clutch copies of photographs.
Ismael Heredia Jordan. Rafeal Heria. Rafael Heria-Bravo. Ray A. Hernandez.
An elderly couple walks away from one of the tents with a piece of paper in hand. they pause and squint at the writing on the sheet. It sounds as if they’re arguing about what’s written down, but they arent, really. They just want to see their loved one. A son, a brother. Un primo.
They look up from their note and out towards the field. You can see their souls draining. You follow their stare out out over to the field of crosses your soul drains as well.
The only thought you can muster is My God. There a so many crosses.
Caridad Landa Linda. Enira Landa Lima. Imara Landa Lima. Luis Eduardo Landa Lima. Ramon Landa Lima.
Something in you tells you it would be disrespectful to pass the old couple. Going on ahead of them just doesnt feel right. So you linger patiently a few steps behind them. They are old and it may take them a while to find their loved one, but it feels right to walk in their footsteps.
Luis Leon Montes de Oca. Felipe Leon Ortega. Baldomero Leon Pi????Ulises Leon Ramos.
The old folks cant seem to decide which way to go. The old man wants to go one way, the old lady another. They stop. Argue some more. They both look at their piece of paper and then up over the crosses with indecision.
Zacarias Lopez. Berto Lopez. Justo Lopez Alvarez. Luis Lopez Aparicio.
You go up to the old folks and offer to help. Gracias joven, the woman tells you. No hay por que you respond as the old man hands you the little slip of paper. Seccion 23, fila 15 is all it says. Section 23, row 15.
Pedro Macias Lugo. Hans Macias Ozendi. Milay Macias Ozendi. Ruben Macias Ozendi.
You ask for their loved one’s name. They give you two. You go on ahead of them towards Section 23 repeating the name of their loved ones not so much so you wont forget, but so the names from the loudspeakers wont erase them.
Reynaldo Mayo Salinas. Radames Mayo Sardi???? Antonio Mayor. Ramon Maza.
You find Section 23 and count the first line of crosses until you reach 15. You look down the row and there’s are hundreds of crosses. Each with a name. Each with a date. Each with the name of the city in Cuba that person was from.
In row fifteen there are hundreds of them. As far back as the eye can see.
My God, you say to yourself. There are so many names.
Jorge Agustin Novoa Andino. Pedro Noyola. Dionisio Nueva. Juan Nuez.
You make your way up row 15, reading each name one by one. So different, each. So the same. Each with its own city. Pinar del Rio. Havana. Matanzas. Camaguey.
You pass two or three crosses in your row that say “Bay of Pigs”…”Escambray”…”Florida Straights.”
Tantas cruzes. So many names.
Cristobal Obregon Ramirez. Arnaldo Obregon Rodriguez. Manuel Obscina. Luis Ocala. Manuel Ocala.
Two thirds of the way up row 15 you read a familiar name. One you’ve been repeating and rerunning in your head as you read others, as other names blared through the sound system, not quite as loud now, but echoing still.
Fores Pelaez. Carlos-Rafael Pelaez Prieto. Blanco Pelegrin. Miguel Pelegrin Castellanos.
You signal the old folks who are at the begining of the row. They are walking slowly. Pausing at each cross, reading each name. It’s not because they dont trust you to remember the name of their loved one. It’s because to them, reading each name, even silently, pays homage to the person it represents.
Jose Sotolongo-Crespo. Julio Sotomayor. Jorge Sotus. Jorge Sotus Romero.
The old folks reach the symbolic cross placed for their loved one. The old woman appears to weaken a bit as if her soul wants her kneel right then and there. The old man, worried about the old woman, grabs her by the elbow. Offers her what little support his years can muster. You try to hold back tears as the scene unfolds before you.
Diego Sarmiento Vargas. Francisco “Paquin” Sarmientos. Candido Sarjosa Naranjo. Jean Sarps.
The old woman stands before that cross. Her lips move in prayer perhaps. Then she stops, lets out a long sigh. The styrofoam cross sways gently in the breeze. She glances over at you and tries to smile but her eyes say otherwise.
The old woman places her wrinkled hand delicately atop the cross and runs her fingers softly across it as if combing her child’s hair.
And the names continue.
Caridad Solis. Orestes Lorenzo Solis. Jose Jorge Solis Cerezuela. Leonel Solis Cerezuela. Carlos Solis Shelton. Alonso Solis Villarica. Jose-Antonio Solorzano. Walfrido Solorzano….