By Vicente Ricalo
HAVANA TIMES — Diego Armando was born on December 4, 1990, at the beginning of the decade which would mark the end of “our good years” in Cuba. He was born into a family which could have been considered middle-class in the ‘80s, but at that time it wasn’t even a class and a bit.
His mother had graduated in Economics and his father was a university professor. His first birthday (the only one they could celebrate) was “special”, without the new connotations this era gave the word, an era which the country was just entering (known as the “Special Period”).
His parents bought gifts for all the children they had invited, which meant going to several carnivals in neighboring towns like San Luis, Palma, Contramaestre and Guama where toys were sold. They also spent about 40 pesos on a pinata, they hired a magician and there was also the king of birthdays, of course: the birthday cake; a big, blue one for a boy.
Adults were also satisfied as several bottles of rum bought in bulk went around, which Diego’s father had bought waiting in Saturday lines over and over again at different sales points in the city of Santiago de Cuba.
The first time that rum was passed around at the birthday, everybody formed a line, that is to say, they stood up, waiting, despairing in case that was the only bottle, but then Diego’s father (also named Diego) took out a whole bucket full of that unbranded rum, telling everyone to help themselves and he shouted that there was more than they could drink.
There was creme de vie (Cuban egg nogg), mint and rice “wine” for the women. In a nutshell, it was a great birthday, where almost nobody complained, and forty photos captured its graphic memory.
Nobody knew that the baby’s parents had been saving ever since they found out about his conception, and that they had opened the piggy bank for the party, but they had to anyway because they couldn’t wait any longer. Diego’s father worked as an aide during the 1991 Pan American Games held in Cuba and his work with several foreign participants had given him some tips.
However, those days spent at one of the summer games facilities were agony for him and his colleagues: lunchtime was a moment when we were forced to think about the feast before us and our families: What would they be eating at home while they were eating delicious chickpeas, chicken, pork, salads, sodas and ice cream?
However, proving the expression that happiness in a poor man’s home is only fleeting was true, as soon as the Pan American Games were over, he woke up from his dream and that’s when the nightmare began. He walked four or five kilometers four or five times a week to look for the wood to cook with that would feed his family (his wife, her daughter, five years older than Dieguito and himself) and he really was in a tough spot.
A neighbor called Caridad had broken two toy pianos, four stools and a door that they were thinking about putting up at the front of the house, in order to use the wood. With all of that going on, they never said anything “inflammatory” in front of the children.
Dieguito was quite a fidgety child, maybe too much so. At school, he would always get complaints about this, but he made up for it with his intelligence, his love of reading (a dying breed of children in his generation), and his affectionate ways which his teachers loved.
Plus, he was very handsome, he was always the most sought after at school and in the neighborhood and he soon became famous. When he was 8 years old, his father enrolled him into a kung fu academy and he began studying percussion at the Jose Maria Heredia y Heredia Vocational School of Arts when he was 10, in Santiago de Cuba.
Dieguito was very good at both things. He had large hands and feet and he was gifted with great flexibility and rhythm. However, his problems with discipline never came to an end.
On the other hand, he was already a well-established Casanova when he was 14 years old and dance began to captivate him. That’s how he ended up finishing his basic level of percussion and not wanting to continue on at the music school. He also gave up kung fu soon after. At the end of 9th grade, he began studying Computer Science, a technical degree which he completed in four years.
Nevertheless, Diego Armando had grown a lot intellectually-speaking as he was already reading books as well as famous quotes which his dad had noted down in several notebooks. His favorite author was Marti, but he had read an old copy of Decameron which his father had kept as testimony to his repeated hidden erections and masturbations of his childhood.
He also read The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and some detective novels, Heart by De Amicis, The Alchemist by Paulo Coelgo and notes that his father had about Unamuno and Emerson, some of which he had to ask his father to explain to him.
His intellectual development had helped his parents accept him abandoning music, but they were very worried about the fact that he would come home quite often talking about his friends and their eagerness to leave Cuba, some because they have relatives in the United States, others because they had a “girl” in Europe who would help them out and others because they would sort out their own luck by “jineteando” (hustling).
Dieguito was the only one in his circle of friends who thought differently. He said that he wouldn’t leave the country or his family, that the most beautiful women in the world were here in Cuba and that he would make his living dancing, singing and modeling and would help his family in this way, and that “the future is always bright”.
He immersed himself in dance. He even got into a Casino (Salsa) Dance biannual event in Havana, competing as couples. However, something happened at this event that shattered him and changed the course of his life: the jury eliminated him, unfairly, in the first round. The entire audience, even those who were supporting competitors from other provinces, but especially the young women present, shouted out obscenities at the members of the jury and told Dieguito not to take his number off and to continue dancing. He left the competition and walked out of the famous Salon Rosado de la Tropical locale in tears.
Returning to Santiago, this disillusioned young man began to hear people’s comments everywhere: “It was unfair. They eliminated the best dancer. Once again we are the victims of regional bullying by the people in Havana.”
When he met his friends, they got busy talking and Dieguito was just the passive receiver:
- Cuba is the country where the most differences between the capital and other cities exist. They look down on us. Like they say themselves, we are Palestinians, and they can’t accept a Palestinian winning.
- The saddest thing is that the president of the jury is from Santiago, he’s one of our own, but he already sold himself out and doesn’t represent us anymore.
- But honestly, does anyone really represent us? If a policeman feels like saying that you offended him and he accuses you of contempt, can you complain to anyone?
- That happened to my cousin, who was coming home from the Tropicana Night Club and a policeman ordered him to stop. He went on a couple of meters more until he could safely stop somewhere, according to traffic laws, and the cop gave him a fine for not stopping where he was told to, for disobedience. When my cousin responded that he hadn’t stopped before because…, he was given a second fine for contempt and that’s when someone in the car told my cousin to leave, that the policeman was only provoking him to lose his temper, so he could take him down to the station and give him a good beating. My cousin said he was going to file a complaint, but to who? He paid his fine in the end.
Epilogue: Many years have passed since that story. Dieguito married a Mexican woman in Cuba who he had met online and he is currently living in Mexico City.