By Francisco Castro
Like almost all Cuban children, my relationship with Marti began even before school age with my collection of four issues of the monthly children’s magazine La Edad de Oro (The Golden Age).
When I was four, one of my grandparents constantly read the magazine to me, to the point that I ended up memorizing numerous verses of the beautiful poem “The little pink shoes.” I was proud, and showed everybody who visited the house that I already knew how to read. I would recite the verses learned by heart, without any order, turning the pages of the book guided only by the pictures.
Later, when the history of Cuba was taught in my class, they introduced me to “Marti the Apostle,” the flawless person who sacrificed everything for the cause of independence. This was a Marti distant from my childhood, elevated onto an immaculate pedestal, locked in an urn of unbreakable glass impossible to access.
Because of this, his literary work ceased to interest me for a while. In fact, they ended up being an unbearable load of lessons and long days dedicated to his memory. For me, Marti became a pedant.
By sheer luck, while I was in my last year of high school in Santiago de Cuba, Fatima, one of the librarians at the school who knew of my interest in reading, urged me to participate in the competition “Reading Marti.”
This was a literary competition in which children from six to eighteen could participate by presenting stories, reviews, essays, letters, etc., on the life and work of Marti; or on the impact that the discovery or study of this universal Havana resident had made on their lives.
I didn’t have any intention in participating due to the apathy I felt toward Marti. However, Fatima insisted so much that I decided to enter just to please her, and so she would leave me the hell alone.
I immediately thought of researching some part of the life and work of Marti that I didn’t yet know. (At that time I had no idea of the immense body his work with which I was unfamiliar, and still am to some degree.)
I remember the Diario de campaña (Campaign Diary), which my finger always skipped over in the bookcase in my house, without me ever thinking of thumbing through it for a few minutes. That weekend, during the regular parent visits to the school, along with plastic containers of food that my mom brought me, that book was also given to me.
After their visit, I sat down in the classroom, alone, with a pack of crackers in front of me and the Diary in my hands. Not even having finished reading the first page, I already had in my mind-anxious to continue delving into black and white pages-thousands of ideas.
Proud of myself, I again found the Marti of my childhood-the one who I could touch with my hands, the one who I could call another of my friends, as he would have wanted.
My last encounter with “Marti the Person” occurred just a few days ago, just before the completion of my university studies in Havana, along with a prodigious event.
To be continued…