Chapter One, page 13
the time I could read. I had played the role of Cuba, the motherland,
wrapped in a flag, my head topped by a tiny red hat.
And yet there I stood that day in July 1974, watching my classmates giggle as they put on their costumes and the girls brushed each other’s hair while the boys fiddled with the sound system. The salty taste of my tears surprised me, and I ran to the bathroom to hide. On my way back to the show, I ran into Eradia, the teacher who had stood by while Tania made my life miserable that year. She grabbed me by the waist and said, There you are!
Here I am, I replied, bracing for the worst.
I’ve been looking for you, she said. I have no one to play the role of Cuba, and you are perfect for it.
But I don’t have a costume, I said, my mind racing, my heart beating fast. Could I run home and fashion a dress with my mother’s magical sewing machine before the show started in ten minutes? Probably not. You don’t need one. You’ll play revolutionary Cuba, she said, gesturing toward my outfit.
I was wearing black cotton pants and a long red polyester blouse with ruffles in the front. Red and black were the colors of the 26 of July Movement, the group that Castro had led in his quest for power.
Yes, I said, yes! And I ran to the stage, jumping on instead of climbing the stairs. I took my place in line just as the music began. When Eradia read my name and said, "And now, compañeros and compañeras, here’s the Cuba of today, the Cuba of all of us, revolutionary Cuba!" I took a gracious bow and looked over to my mother, who suppressed her surprise and politely smiled back from the audience.
My graduation gift from my teachers was a large book titled Moncada, the name of the military barracks that a group of young men, led by Castro, had attacked in their first attempt to overthrow the government of Batista in July 1953, twenty-one years before I graduated from fifth grade. The shiny cover had what I thought were splashes of black and white paint until a boy pointed out that the black was really blood, the blood of the martyrs who had died so that I could enjoy the freedoms I was told I had. Inside the book were pictures of the dead revolutionaries who had accompanied Castro in that failed mission. Some had been