Maybe it’s because I was a huge baseball fan and Fidel Castro had been considered a more than decent prospect as a baseball player. Or maybe it was just some pre-adolescent rebellion on my part -- and this was long before Che’s image was showing up on T-shirts -- but I remember being fascinated by the Cuban Revolution, though in checking the dates I was only in fifth, sixth and seventh grades as the 26th of July Movement made its way from the mountains to Havana.
And all these decades later, I still respect the fact that Castro, sitting on an island just 90 miles from our shores, has been able to thumb his nose at the world’s most powerful nation and get away with it for so long, though it’s no doubt fortunate for him that missile-carrying drones weren’t in use until recently.
And I’ll admit that neither youthful nor even relatively aged eyes always see clearly, or at least not with complete perspective, and while it’s easy to cheer for the revolutionaries -- hey, our own country was founded by revolutionaries -- I’ve also heard the other side of the Cuban revolt first hand, from a reporter and writer whom I not only respect, but who has become a friend as well as a colleague.
Emilio and I were about the same age during the revolution, except instead of just hearing and reading about it, he experienced it; his family was among those had to leave their homes and possessions behind and flee their native country, first to Spain and eventually to the United States.
I thought of Emilio while reading a review copy of Remembering Che: My Life with Che Guevara, a book written by Guevara’s widow, Aleida March, and published recently by Ocean Press (www.oceanbooks.com.au).
I thought about Emilio and his family while reading about how, upon reaching Havana, Che and Aleida lived at first in various houses, houses obviously not built by the revolutionaries but houses that they simply occupied after former residents such as Emilio’s family had left.
But just as Emilio’s story is real and poignant, so is that of Aleida March and her family, from her work as a young revolutionary to meeting Ernesto Che Guevara, the Argentine medical student-turned-Cuban hero, to their courtship and marriage and a family life that included building a new economic system and repeated separations as he fought his fight on other fronts.
Midway through the book she writes about new schools being built after the Batista government had been displaced.
“The children came from some of the most remote parts of the island, and would never have had a chance to study without this school,” she writes. “Their parents were happy for their children to be educated and showed confidence in the revolution. I remember how those children saw electric lights for the first time, commenting with surprise that the stars seemed very low in the sky that night.”
And as the book ends, she quotes the eulogy her oldest daughter shared when the remains of Che and others finally were recovered three decades after they died fighting yet another revolution, this one in Bolivia:
“More than 30 years ago our fathers said good-buy to us [as] they set off to continue the ideas of Bolivar and Marti in a continent united and independent. But they never lived to see a triumph.
“They were aware that these dreams can only be achieved through immense sacrifice. We children never saw our fathers again. At the time, most of us were quite young. Now as grown men and women we are experiencing, perhaps for the first time, the pain and intense sadness of our loss...
“Today their remains have been returned to us, but they do not return defeated. They return as heroes, eternally young, courageous, strong and daring...
“They live on.”
-- Larry Edsall