HAVANA TIMES — A rainy afternoon with 95-year-old Cuban ex-pat Manuel Manolito reveals a store of memory and solitude. The documentary short “Watching the Rain” is directed by Alexander Manuel Ramírez-Mallis who tells us below a little about himself and his family.
“My father was Jewish and white. My childhood town was white and Christian. I didn’t learn Spanish at home, as my mother had largely given up after failed efforts with my older brother. I knew I was half Cuban, but I could not have been less attached to a Cuban community.
Every year, we would visit my grandparents, who had retired in Miami. I dreaded going to the big family get-togethers. I hated the humidity and the tile floors and the plastic chairs and the metal tins filed with strange meats and pungent beans. But most of all, I felt out of place. I didn’t speak Spanish and I certainly didn’t feel Cuban.
My mother left Cuba in 1961 two years after Fidel Castro’s revolution ousted Batista and began the transition into a communist nation. She came from an aristocratic family. They lived in a large house in a beautiful neighborhood of Havana, complete with housekeepers and a chauffeur.
My grandfather was a commercial lawyer, and my grandmother did not need to work. My grandfather would often take flights to New York City to attend Yankees games. When Castro took control, the wealthy class fled, en masse, to the United States, where they awaited the fall of what they saw as a temporary regime.
My 13-year-old mother was on vacation in Miami when my grandparents called and told her to stay. A few months later, with only a suitcase and their wedding rings, my grandparents joined her, as exiles.
From Miami, my family went on to settle in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where my mother struggled to assimilate into a middle class American life. Her scholastic achievements led her to Middlebury College in New England, where she would remain to raise a family of her own.
When my grandmother died, I was in Ecuador studying abroad. I was only then learning the language that would have allowed me to speak to her in her native tongue. At her funeral, I spoke with family members, in Spanish, for the first time. Some, like my great uncle, I had never spoken to at all. We shared rum while we spoke. I felt Cuban.
The next day, I spent the afternoon with my great uncle. I brought along my camera to record some of his thoughts. I hope to shoot more with him. History is ephemeral, but there is a certain comfort in capturing the present on film.”