Let me tell you how I learned about Desiderio Alberto Arnaz y de Acha III.
It turns out that last July, I was sitting on a park bench trying to cool off from the unbearable heat of my native city of Santiago de Cuba along with Kelly Knaub, an American who also writes for Havana Times.
She suddenly asked me if I had ever heard of Ricky Ricardo. She then went on to tell me that he was a leading character in the old television sitcom “I Love Lucy.” The series had been filmed in the United States in the 1950s and had a Cuban actor in the principal male role; the character’s name was Ricky Ricardo.
She also told me that the series was so famous in the US that even youth today are familiar with it and that the series had helped Cuban men to be seen by Americans as good lovers.
I recently read an interview conducted by Alfredo Prieto (the assistant editor of the Temas magazine and a writer with Havana Times) with three Cuban-American writers for the La Gaceta de Cuba magazine. From that I was able to learn several new facts about the actor Desi Arnaz.
There Prieto shows how one Cuban was perceived by Americans “with a mixture exoticism, assimilationism and paternalism; relations (according to him) that generally acted in the mainstream at that time to bring about a realization of the otherness of Cubans…”
There too, Prieto informs us that Arnaz arrived in the US in the 1930s because his parents had to escape Cuba after the fall of the dictator Gerardo Machado, since his father had been the first mayor of Santiago de Cuba and a member of the Congress during the brutal Machado administration.
A few days ago an old friend, the journalist Lino Betancourt, returned from the recently concluded Cubadisco trade fair that had been held in Santiago de Cuba. He had what was for our country a strange book in his hands: “A Book, by Desi Arnaz” (The personal memoirs of “Ricky Ricardo,” the man who loved Lucy). Although the book was published in English, I received it with a pleasant surprise.
On the cover of that biography we’re shown the young Desi Arnaz playing a conga drum while at the same time revealing a furtive smile for the camera.
For that reason I was able to read the book by Desi Arnaz, who was born March 2, 1917 in Santiago de Cuba. His television program was a true media conquest during the ‘50s because in real life he married and started a family with the actress who played the leading character Lucy (Lucile Ball). The series was so successful in the US that it was the number one program during from 1951-1955.
As curious fact in his life, I also read in the biography that the expulsion of his family from Santiago was due more to (according to Arnaz) the uncompromising attitude of a group of anarchists and communists.
He says that that the true people of Santiago somehow worshipped his family owing to the prestige of his grandfather as the city’s doctor, who had attended everyone without distinction during epidemics of measles and yellow fever that had hit Santiago decades earlier.
Because of his father, who had educated him to respect to others, (according to Desi) he himself wasn’t familiar with racism until he came to Florida. His house in Santiago was constantly visited by black patriots and veterans from all the wars of independence were friends of the family.
The book is rich in photos of the life of Desi Arnaz and of his family with Lucile Ball. The actor is also shown together with Xavier Cugat, the famous Cuban orchestra director, and with the brilliant comedian Buster Keaton, to mention only two of the great figures of the epoch.
So today I’ve discovered perhaps the most famous of all Cubans in the United States: Santiago de Cuba native Desi Arnaz. Though deliberately forgotten in his own country, this rediscovery pleases me because culture is much more than the forgetfulness of a few powerful individuals who always look to politics for the most subtle spaces to legitimate themselves.