National and Local Heroes

Busts of Jose Marti are in front of all Cuban schools. Photo: Xanti Revueltas
Busts of Jose Marti are in front of all Cuban schools. Photo: Xanti Revueltas

Jose Marti, endowed with a singular intelligence and sensitivity, was a Havanan who lived at the end of the 19th century. He is one of those people who we will always love and learn from, since his works remain a rich, warm, and truly human source of wisdom.

We were lucky that he was born here in this country, and that he truly honors us (although I am not accustomed to using this word, which has been turned threadbare by official speeches). Martí was later declared the national hero of the Republic of Cuba, and his memory began to be transmuted by the state machinery into a perfectly sterile icon.

The plaster busts of Marti that we find in every school across the country represent a stiff, white, cold, inexpressive man with an absent gaze – something that is the antithesis of that lucid and compelling individual, at least in my understanding.

The sanctification process occurred as usual, by gradually letting pass into oblivion anything that could tarnish the image of this great person. After several generations of filtering, what remains is an immortal saint who has lost his truly human marrow: his inner conflicts, his doubts, the good and bad of his character, his moments of humiliation and his growth in the face of these.

Among the aspects forgotten about Marti is the fact that this man wrote a poem dedicated to hashish; not about what someone told him about this drug, but reflecting on his own and interesting experience with it. But who would admit that? Do the “bad” kids in the neighborhood know this?

You don’t have to be a genius in pedagogy to understand that the polishing of aseptic heroes and eminent figures in the way that we have become so accustomed is counterproductive for transmitting positive values; instead these personages become anti-models.

It is impressive how strong the chains are in preventing recognition of this, and consequently how they serve that end! If one had to give these chains a name, I would call them colonization.

The true hero of the kids in my neighborhood is Misha, a very well-known Reggaeton singer and composer who has been unmatched in giving a sense of identity and belonging to those youth.

Misha is a tall, strong black man who sports gold chains and wears gold-capped teeth, but who walks on foot through our community, and no one ignores his simple and charismatic greetings.

I’m not really completely pleased with Misha’s ascension to the status of local hero, but I understand and even recognize something positive in the fact that young people intuitively prefer to imitate Reggaeton’s creativity, fluency, rhythm and even aggressiveness – qualities that are so necessary to cope in this environment.