Gerardo: Saturday night parties and what I never realised
Gerardo Hernández, one of the Miami Five, unjustly imprisoned in a US jail since 1998 for fighting terrorist attacks against his country was recently interviewed about his memories of adolescence for a Cuban website. CubaSí reprints the interview in full below.
“I was born in 1965, so when the 1970s ended, I was still almost a child. ‘My world’ centred around the district of Arroyo Naranjo (a suburb to the south of Havana) until I was quite a bit older.
“I remember that every Saturday there was a party in someone’s house. Today, I believe they call it a ‘rave’. During the week we would all be asking around where the party was the following Saturday. And we would be told, ‘First Street, in (the district of) Rosario,’ or ‘In Penichet Street,’ or ‘In (the district of) Capri.’ So on the following Saturday we would all head towards that address. We knew we had arrived when we could hear the music. Often we entered the house as gatecrashers, without even knowing the people who lived there. If we were lucky, we would be given a small glass of punch made with fruit and some alcoholic drink, but often we had nothing to drink at all because only invited guests would be offered drinks.
“Some of us would dance all night, while others in the group would hang around and chat, but we almost always tried to get off with a girl. The lucky ones managed to arrange a date for the following day to visit the beach, the cinema or the Coppelia ice cream restaurant. However in my case, almost every Sunday began with the words, ‘Gera, your Dad’s calling you!’ because my father couldn’t stand finding himself with nothing to do. At weekends, he would get up early to tidy the flower beds, clear the weeds from the yard, do some painting, sandpapering, or potter around to do some repairs. I’m sure that if he couldn’t find anything that needed repairing, he would break something on purpose so that he could mend it. On Saturdays, I often went to bed very late after returning from a party, only to be summoned by my father to get up at 7am the following morning. However, on becoming an adult, I realised that he did this intentionally and I’m very grateful to him because, although I’m not as skilful as he was, I know how to use basic tools to carry out maintenance jobs, look after the garden and do repairs, as well as mix concrete - and I’m a grade 1 wheelbarrow operator! All this thanks to those Sundays when I was obliged to work (in)voluntarily.”
Hey! Here’s your beer!
“I always loved going to the cinema and sometimes I even used to go alone. After seeing one film, I would go to see another and sometimes went to several in a day. In those days, there were very many cinemas which, sadly, have now disappeared, having been closed down or used for another purpose.
“My problem was that I was almost always ‘skint.’ When my sisters started working, sometimes they would slip me a few pesos. But my mother was a housewife and it was my Dad who gave me pocket money. He was none too generous as he said that it was only through hard work that people could know the real value of money.
“I remember that once, when I was old enough to learn to drive, the Old Man gave me money to take lessons and get a licence. However, I spent the money on something else. I paid the price for my wrongdoing as for years he refused to teach me to drive, with the result that I learnt when I was quite a bit older.
“On another occasion, in the 1980s during the holidays, I had the opportunity of earning a few pesos selling beer during Carnaval time. It was a fantastic experience! I was walking around the stands on the Malecón pulling around two large containers full of ice and bottles, shouting ‘Buy your beer here!’ And with my pay, together with the tips I was given every night, I was able to buy a Vostok watch and a new pair of jeans, as my existing pair which my mother had made for me, had seen more miles than an old broken-down jalopy.”
What an embarrassing day it was!
“When I was 21, Adriana and I were already engaged and my mother-in-law, who worked at a restaurant, often made us a ‘donation’ so that we could go out. Even so, the first time I invited Adriana out for a meal, I took her to the Castillo de Jagua, on the corner of 23rd and G Street; but when they gave me the bill, I found I didn’t have enough money on me. I had to go back to the in-laws for more cash and then return to the restaurant to pay what I owed. What an embarrassing day it was!
“Generally, though, my favourite activities were going to the cinema, the beach and to those Saturday-night parties. Sometimes we organised parties and other outings with my school friends. Periods spent in the countryside with the school were also great fun. I didn’t miss a single one of these!
“Looking back on those years, I have come to realise that there were events to which, at the time, I didn’t attach any importance and which I didn’t appreciate. People didn’t realise that these were times of great historical importance. I attended events in la Plaza de la Revolución (Revolution Square) with my local CDR (Committee for the Defence of the Revolution) and listened to Fidel’s speeches; each year, on May 1st, I would take part in the parade with my neighbours in Arroyo Naranjo; I was eleven when we gathered to mourn the victims of the terrorist attack on the Cuban airliner over Barbados. I experienced the revolutionary fervour of those times surrounded by people of all ages. These were events which I now realise were decisive in my development.
“On the other hand, I can appreciate now how secure and happy my childhood was, despite all the deprivations. In here, I talk to many young people and to others of my generation who tell me that as far back as they can remember, people were using drugs at home or that they first took drugs at school or that they used to take drugs with their friends in the area where they lived. Many of them have told me that their parents and grandparents were gang members and that they don’t know any other lifestyle. They attended schools with metal detectors at the entrance and since their early childhood they had to choose between becoming the member of a gang or being the victim of gang attacks. Almost all of them have had friends or relations who have been killed violently.
“And when I tell them that I have never seen marijuana, not to mention other drugs, they laugh in disbelief. That’s why I’m saying that in Cuba we were happy, because during the years I have spent here, I have been able to see at first hand the damage caused by drugs: violence; people’s lives destroyed; broken families whose loved ones are serving long prison sentences; others who, because of their addiction, are no longer loved and whose families have turned their backs on them; people who have died and others who are the living dead.
“The more I see, the more I come to realise how happy our childhood and adolescence were and how happy our young people in Cuba still are - and the more convinced I become that in Cuba we must do everything in our power, whatever the cost, to preserve the safe, stable, peaceful and secure society that we all enjoy.”
Thanks to CSC member Jenny Kassman for translating this article from the original in Spanish by Rouslyn Navia Jordán, first published in April 2014 by Juventud Rebelde.