A Journey to My Roots

Elio Delgado Legon

Santo Domingo street
Street in Santo Domingo, Villa Clara.

HAVANA TIMES — Recently, I paid a three-day visit to my hometown, Santo Domingo, in the province of Villa Clara, to see relatives and old friends. The trip also made me remember incidents and situations that would begin to mark me since I was small.

I visited the place I lived in from the age of 7, until I was 12. It was a hovel with yagua leave walls and a guano roof, similar to those built by pre-Colombian natives. My father had built it on a narrow corner of the farm my maternal grandfather had been renting since he was young, where all of his children had been born. This corner of the farm was next to the road and about a hundred meters from the central railroad line.

I went into the hovel. Only the path where the railroad once was remained, as well as the hill where I – and other children my age – would slide down for hours on end, sitting on palm tree leaves. It was a silly game, but, having no toys, it was a way to pass the time and have fun.

Nearly 70 years have passed and, even though the hill seems smaller to me now, it is still there, between the path and the railroad line. Sitting on the hilltop, I bring to mind many memories from that time. I never understood, and still don’t understand, why my uncle, who ran the farm, never gave my father the opportunity to work part of the land, at least to grow our food, as the farm had areas of unused land. Perhaps it was the egotism and lack of solidarity that reigned in that society.

Sitting on the hill of my childhood, I recalled how, very nearby, next to the road, a young couple had built a wooden home and painted it all white. A few months later, the young woman was pregnant and, when the delivery date came around, she was taken to the hospital in the province, whence she came back with her baby. Later, she came down with a fever and, since there was no gynecologist to examine her nearby, it was too late when she was finally taken to the hospital. Never again would that merry white house open its doors.

I also recalled how my grandfather, who had gone blind, would come over with his walking stick so that my mother would apply drops of lemon juice on his eyes, as he claimed that cleared up his sight. He may have had cataracts, but there was no ophthalmologist to examine and give him an operation, and, when he died, he was completely blind.

On the other side of the railroad line, the thousand-year-old carob tree I would sit under to meditate and let my imagination soar is still standing.

I recalled how, one bad day, my uncle told us he had sold his share of the farm to move and work at the provincial capital and that we had to look for another place to live in, as the new owner didn’t want anyone living in the farm. I would never see my grandfather alive again, for he passed away some time later.

I recalled many other things that would make this story far too long. I can’t fail to mention a friend who would tell me with many things through gestures and signs I didn’t understand. He was deaf and dumb and never had the opportunity, available today, to go to a special school to learn to read and write in sign language.

These are some of the many childhood memories I wanted to share with the readers of Havana Times.

15 thoughts on “A Journey to My Roots

  • Having some great Canadian friends, I must state, even as a Capitalist, Canada has a great system! I’ve been told stories from folks I respect and education and health care north of the US is awesome. I too agree that the revolution brought about an excellent health care and education benefits. I’ve wrote before, morph that into an economic system that’s viable and you’d have my vote. Various freedoms are mandatory. Just an observation, Elio gets the pot boiling doesn’t he.

  • According to Wikipedia, “As of 2015, the WHO has 194 member states…” Certainly, some of the governments represented there are not favourable to Cuba. If they could discredit Cuba’s health system, I expect they would.

  • True, one can play “what if?” but it doesn’t serve us much.

    What Elio wrote above is true: before the Revolution, the rural poor in Cuba, which was about one third of the population at the time, lived in terrible squalor. Urban poor somewhat were better off, as union membership was high and wages were not too low. There was also a growing middle class in Cuba. Most sectors of Cuban society rose up in rebellion against Batista, including the educated liberal urban middle class which included Fidel Castro.

    The biggest “what if” question is what would Cuba be like today if Fidel had kept his promise to uphold the 1940 constitution and to hold free elections? There is little doubt, given his popularity in 1960, Fidel would have won the election as president & he likely would have been elected to a 2nd term. He would have had the mandate to institute a wide range social programs to help the poor. After serving his constitutional limit in office, Fidel could have retired from politics as a true national hero, having ousted a hated dictator and returned Cuba to democracy and prosperity.

    Instead, Fidel became an even more authoritarian dictator than Batista. His legacy will be to have ruined the Cuban nation. History will NOT absolve him.

  • There are serious problems with the UN and it’s many agencies, including WHO. When Cuba, Russia, China & Saudi Arabia sit on the UN Human Rights Commission, the entire institution is diminished. Cuba has had it’s people on the WHO committee, where their job is to ensure the UN accepts without question the propaganda statistics provided by the Cuban government.

  • Your accusation is directed not only at the Cuban government but at the World Health Organization as well.
    “According to the UN’s World Health Organization, Cuba’s health care system is an example for all countries of the world.” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/salim-lamrani/cubas-health-care-system-_b_5649968.html

    If WHO has been deceived or turned a blind eye to the facts, surely someone should say so. For example, has the US government made this accusation?

  • Facts. Cuban standard of living is around average for the Caribbean. Where it would be today if the Revolution hadn’t happened is an interesting question, but impossible to answer as there are too many factors involved. No country in the Caribbean has had a close enough history by way of comparison.

  • You are obviously reading this so if what you alleged were true, it wasn’t a bad idea, was it?

  • Moses – are you the guy this website has to post things just to make it look like someone is actually reading any of this?

  • Elio’s essay reminded me of a song, written years ago, about memories of childhood and of youth entitled “Once Upon A Time”
    Once upon a time a girl with moonlight in her eyes
    Put her hand in mine and said she loved me so
    But that was once upon a time, very long ago
    Once upon a time we sat beneath a willow tree
    Counting all the stars and waiting for the dawn
    But that was once upon a time, now the tree is gone.
    How the breeze ruffled through her hair
    How we always laughed as though to-morrow wasn’t there
    We were young and didn’t have a care, where did it go

    Once upon a time the world was sweeter than we knew
    Everything was ours, how happy we were then
    But somehow once upon a time never comes again
    Of course in Elio’s experience the world wasn’t sweeter than he knew and he and his
    family had many cares. But I think for Elio and his fellow Cubans, the world is now sweeter
    and with the eventual end of the American Embargo/blockade will become sweeter still.

  • Accurate and independent health statistics are unavailable, as the Cuban government will arrest any doctor who speaks to foreign researchers without permission or who goes off the approved talking points. See what happened to Dr. Biscet when he mentioned the fact the alleged low infant mortality rates in Cuba were due in large part to the implementation of mandatory abortion of all infants suspected of having birth defects. He was given a 25 year sentence in prison. Even those babies born alive with defects were left to die, and registered as “still born”.

    The point is, Cuba used to have a high average standard of living, the highest in the Caribbean. Today, it is among the lowest. By any measure, the revolution has fail in every goal, except for keeping the Castro brothers in power. That has been it’s only lasting achievement.

  • Pre-revolutionary rural Cuba was indeed very poor. There are historical & literary documents which attest to that fact. In many parts of Cuba, a doctor was a long way away, and many poor lacked the money to afford one. Early support for the revolution came from these rural poor.

    That said, the few good things the revolution brought, universal medical care & education, were offset by the many things the Castro regime took away: the loss of all human rights & freedoms. And eventually, as they ran out of other people’s money to spend, the Cuban government was less able to afford to fund the few good things.

    I’ll leave it to Cubans to decide if the bargain was worth it: “free” medical care & education for a few years in exchange for all their rights and a creeping poverty for all but the powerful.

  • Moses;I believe you should re-read the article as it is written, not as your bias mind sees it. To discredit an author, especialy on such a widely viewed medium tells us much about you.

  • Moses suggests that even without a revolution medical services would have become more widely available. One way of testing this hypothesis would be to look at other Third World countries that have not had a revolution. Do people in rural areas have access to Tylenol and the services of an OB-GYN?
    If we take infant mortality as a measure of health services I think Cuba comes in ahead of many countries. I don’t think it comes in ahead of the US, although if you compare Cuba to impoverished populations in the US, Cuba comes out ahead.

  • Knowing Elio as we do from his pro-Castro posts, I also read in his ‘trip down nostalgia row’, a not-so-subtle message that pre-Castro Cuba lacked the health services currently available in Cuba. A back door way of giving the current dictatorship credit. Well DUH! Advances in medicine all over the world have eliminated the need to use lemon juice in your eyes. (Ouch!) Elio has set up a false comparison. Pre-Castro Cuba was well, pre-Castro. That is to say, pre-1959. Even if the revolution has failed and Batista had remained in power, his childhood neighbor in the painted white house would today have been able to take 500mg of Tylenol to lower her fever until a OB-GYN could have seen her. One more point, Elio has an incredible memory. Such detail for events from 70 years ago. Its odd how he can remember his childhood and his time during the revolution so well, and therefore writes about these times so colorfully. Yet, his memory must fail him to tell stories of the building collapses, toilet paper shortages, blackouts, and failing agricultural harvests that just took place last week. Not a word about these events.

  • You paint a very stark image of life in the village with a few strokes. I have never slid down a hill on a palm leaf, but we did slide down snowy hills in Canada on cardboard boxes or garbage can lids if a toboggan was not available.

    The searing rural poverty Elio describes is very reminiscent of the squalid village young Celestino endured in Reinaldo Arenas’ novel, “Singing From the Well” .

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