The Mother of All Cubans

Jorge Milanes Despaigne

Barbershop in Santiago de Cuba. Photo by Adam Jones

I was recently in Santiago de Cuba, a city that guards its histories and charms, as well as the immense warmth of its people and the climate that’s endured there.

After walking on the historic Velasquez Balcony —where I paid one peso take pictures with my own camera— I walked around the Cathedral; though it’s the one that almost brings me back to that city, that day it was closed.  Later I bought a bottle of seltzer water, the only thing that quenches my thirst, and then left for the neighborhood where people were to receive the image of the Virgen de la Caridad (the Virgin of Charity).

“And if you go to El Cobre, I want you to bring me a figurine of the Virgen de la Caridad,” as the popular saying goes, expressing the feeling of devotion that we Cubans have for the proclaimed protector of the island. That was how my mother said goodbye to me the other afternoon, knowing that I would see the image that members of the Catholic community in this country go on pilgrimage to witness; the same one that was fervently adored by the “mambise” independence fighters who struggled against the Spanish colonial government two centuries earlier.

Our Lady of Charity. Photo:.Francisco Javier Arboli,

Four centennials have been celebrated by Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre. Dressed in a beautiful shroud embroidered by artisans from Holguín, the image shines with the splendor with which the Cuban people applaud it and pray for the intercession of God in their daily affairs.

In the Sanctuary of El Cobre there are many demonstrations of gratitude – for the salvation of a child, the completion of university studies, the release of a prisoner, etc.  They reflect the intervention of this Mother in the lives of hundreds of thousands of Cubans.

The image that I saw in Sueño was not well protected by the display case.  The glass had apparently suffered a fissure from the crowds jamming in to visit.  Nonetheless, I hope that while the cracked glass remains unrepaired, people know to take care of our little virgin without touching her shroud or any other part of her gracious figure.

One thought on “The Mother of All Cubans

  • Thanks Jorge for sharing our Santiago with the world. If any city could and should exemply what Cuba stands for, that is Santiago Cuba. Here is where history has always been made. Here is where the land shakes but the men dont. Here are where the most dedicated, patriotic people have always lived. Here is where the most faithful supporters of the Revolution lives and yet, sadly,as it has been the case, they have been forgotten throughout history.

    Fidel description of Santiago de Cuba as “Rebel yesterday, Hospitable Today, Heroic Always” symbolized what this city was and always will be. Unfortunately, most governments, including the present, have dealth her a bad set of cards.

    If any city in Cuba is deserving of a special treatment from the central government, that is Santiago de Cuba. If Santiago de Cuba had not existed, there would not have been a 26 of July, a 30th of November, a Frank Pais and Vilma Espin, Fidel’s first speech after Batista fled the country, the landing of Theodore Roosevelt with his rough riders, the Battle at San Juan Hills or the sinking of the Spanish fleet that ended the Spanish-American war in 1898.

    And today, it is hearthbreaking to see, how many other cities and communities in Cuba, have been better rewarded through every possible means of development, while Santiago de Cuba have stagnated, lost hope and have to see its youth migrating in search of a better tomorrow.

    Enramadas, its main thoroughfare was one of Cuba’s most beautiful streets, must be restored! The proud history of its 26 generals during the war of independence, must be re-ignited! The feeling of the most Caribbean city in Cuba, must be restored! And once again, Maceo, Guillermon, Quintin, Victoriano Garzon, Pepito Tey, Aloma, William soler and thousands of other, must once again, become the guiding light of our country.

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