Elio Delgado Legón
HAVANA TIMES — The people of Cuba and Mexico share a history of common struggle. We can turn to many historical and cultural facts that demonstrate this. The people of Mexico always took in and protected those Cuban revolutionaries who, at certain points in history, had go into exile to escape from the repression of the Gerardo Machado and Fulgencio Batista dictatorships.
A telling example of this is that the revolutionaries led by Fidel Castro found in Mexico the ideal place to train and leave for Cuba to overthrow Batista’s bloody dictatorship. Further back in history, Cuban independence hero Jose Marti made a home for himself in Mexico and made great friends there, friends he was close to until his last days.
Cubans and Mexicans have also been united by culture in the course of history. Numerous Cuban artists – including actors and singers – had the opportunity to advance as professionals in Mexico. Mexican folkloric music has also secured as many enthusiasts in Cuba as has the island’s traditional peasant music.
These historical and cultural facts have made the people of Cuba and Mexico feel like brothers. There is one incident that, though tragic, strengthened the bonds of friendship and solidarity between the two peoples particularly. I am referring to the death, in Cuba, of Mexican musician and composer Juventino Rosas, known around the world as the author of the Sobre las Olas (“Over the Waves”) waltz (though, at the time of his death, he had many musical numbers under his belt).
Juventino Rosas was born in Guanajuato on January 25, 1868. According to his biography, his father taught him to play the violin, his favorite instrument. He would later play the violin and sing for the San Sebastian Church in Mexico City, where he spent his youth. Later, at the beginning of his career, he joined two music bands: the Aguirre and Elvira brothers, with whom his father also played.
He studied music theory at the National Music Conservatory to complete his training as a musician and composer. Despite his proven talent, he lived in precarious financial conditions, to the point that, in order to pay off his debts, he had to sell the piano that Mexican President Porfirio Diaz had given him as gift. Something similar happened with his most famous piece, Sobre las Olas, whose rights he sold for 45 Mexican pesos in order to settle a debt as well.
Among other bands, Juventino Rosas played with a zarzuela ensemble, with which he traveled to Cuba in 1894. After performing in Santiago de Cuba, they traveled to Havana in the Josefita steam ship. During the voyage, Juventino began feeling very ill and had to disembark at Surgidero de Batabano, to the south of the island, where he was treated for 17 days at a clinic. He was suffering from acute myelitis, a condition he did not recover from.
During his time in the clinic, he was visited by a court clerk by the name of Isidro Albaina on a daily basis. The two became friends. Albaina organized the funeral and kept the violin and other of Rosas’ belongings, objects he handed over to a commission of Mexican composers who exhumed and transported the musician’s remains to Mexico. These have been resting at the Roundabout of Illustrious Persons since 1939.
The Aztec Eagle Order bequeathed Isidro Albaina by the Mexican government for his selfless attitude and the friendship he showed Juventino Rosas for the 17 days he remained in the town is kept at the Batabano Museum. There is also a monument to the musician there and, every January 25 (the date of his birth), flower wreaths are laid at the statue and Juventino is remembered by the locals – a tradition that attests to the fraternal ties between Cubans and Mexicans.