Saturday, July 24, 2010

Old blouse brings out revolutionary nostalgia

Marta Rojas

Tucked away in Marta Rojas' closet is a memento from the Cuban revolution, a 51-year-old blouse.
"I don't think it fits me anymore," said Rojas, taking it off the hanger. "Let's see."
She slipped her hands gently into the sleeves and pulled the blouse to her chest.
"Look at that!" she said. "I can still wear it after all these years."
But there was a time when Rojas, 82, couldn't wear the blouse on the streets. She had to hide it before Fidel Castro took power because it was the uniform of members of the clandestine July 26 Movement.
After Castro defeated U.S.-backed Fulgencio Batista on Jan. 1, 1959, his followers in Havana could finally wear their July 26 shirts, blouses and armbands in public, said Rojas, the author of five novels.
"January 1st was something of a sensation," she said. "Everyone came out with their July 26 Movement shirts."
But Rojas said her most exciting moment during those early days of the revolution came hours earlier. Not long after midnight on Jan. 1, she said the Havana editor of Bohemia magazine, Enrique de la Osa, called her and other staff members and told them to go to strategic points in the city where gun battles between the rebels and Batista's forces might occur.
"We knew the revolution was going to triumph," she said. "But we didn't know exactly when or how it was going to happen."
Rojas said she had gone with friends that night to the famed Tropicana club, known for its music and dancers. But few people were there, she said.
Many of Havana's wealthy elites on Dec. 31 had gone to the Isla de los Pinos, renamed Isla de la Juventud, or Isle of Youth, after the revolution. They went to attend the opening of El Colony hotel, Rojas said.
Rojas said she decided to go to a guest house near Ciudad Libertad, where there was a military airport.
"I wanted to be near there in case there was a gunfight," she said.
But it was quiet and she went to sleep for the night.
Suddenly, the director of Bohemia magazine called her and woke her.
"He said, 'Fidel's entering Santiago de Cuba,'" the country's second-largest city. "Do you have your notes from Moncada?"
The director was referring to material Rojas had gathered during Castro's trial in 1953.
Cuban authorities had captured the rebel leader after he and some of his followers attacked the Moncada barracks in Santiago de Cuba. Rojas covered Castro's trial, but her stories could not be published because of government censorship.
Rojas had left her notes from Moncada with a girlfriend, a nanny named Santa who had nothing to do with the revolution. The Bohemia director sent a driver to pick up Rojas so she could get the notes.
"That really hit me," she said. "Six years had gone by and I could finally use that material."
She said she worked through the morning to make the magazine's publication deadline. Then, that afternoon, she put on her July 26 blouse and wore it public for the first time.
"Everyone streamed into the streets," said Rojas, who watched as Batista's followers headed to the airport at Ciudad Libertad to flee the country.
Rojas said there was no major fighting in Havana as Batista's forces gave up.
"I didn't hear a single shot," she said.
That was more than a half century ago. Since then, Rojas said, "So many things have happened in this revolution. It's been one thing after another and another."
But she said her most memorable moments came during those pre-dawn hours before Castro's triumphant march into Santiago de Cuba.
"I remember details, even people's names. It's as if I were watching a movie."

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