Reina Luisa Tamayo and Her Relatives Offer Press Conference
by Raul Garcia
Early in the morning the day after Reina Luisa Tamayo’s arrival to Miami, I had the honor and privilege to assist a press conference that this freedom fighter and her family of 12 members were offering various Spanish speaking media outlets, as well as American ones, in the office of the Cuban Democratic Directorate.
When I saw the Zapata Tamayo family up close, walking into the room where the conference would be held, I felt the same way I felt the previous day in the airport. Inspiration. Pride. Honor. In which other possible way can I describe that scene? A mother whose son was assassinated by a despotic government, carrying the box with his ashes in her hands, accompanied by other children and grandchildren, while they all screamed “Zapata Lives” and “Down with the assassin Castro brothers”. Their words, full of passion and resistance, rang throughout the rather small office. Quickly, the press started taking photos. Questions flew from one side of the room to another, while men and women with microphones tried to get as closest possible to Reina.
Once again, I could not help but point out in my mind just how much things had changed for this family. Just a few days ago, a few hours ago, Reina was not allowed to speak in public in her native land. But now, in exile, everyone wanted to hear her words. We all congregated in that room where Reina was about to answer questions. From behind the room, we could see beyond the circle set up by the press with their cameras, microphones, and reporters. Reina Luisa Tamayo and her family accommodated themselves along the wall and raised their signs, their photos of Zapata, and Reina took a seat and carefully placed the box with Zapata’s remains on the conference table, along with small Cuban and American flags. In that room, there were former political prisoners, Ladies in White, human rights activists, political figures, and bloggers.
The conference kicked off with more screams of “Zapata Lives” and Reina quickly began to speak. In her voice, one could hear the pain of a mother worn out by so much violence, so much death, and so much repression. But beyond that profound pain, once could hear the firmness and certainty of a woman who is sure of her convictions. Behind her, her daughter, Reina Maria, held up a sign with a phrase that Orlando Zapata would frequently say during his imprisonment and even during his final hunger strike: “To die for the freedom and democracy of the land is to eternally live in it”. Next to her, a sister-in-law of Reina held a photo of Zapata and next to her stood Reina’s 13 year old granddaughter who was holding up a Cuban flag.
Reina thanked all those who were present, the United States government, the political representatives who facilitated her arrival to Miami (not Arizona) and all those who were always in solidarity with her, her son, and her family. She brought up Orlando Zapata frequently, which made many of her relatives and people present cry. What captured my attention the most was that strength the harbored and passed on to the listeners, that strength which so many dissidents in the island would constantly describe. Reina would conclude each of her statements with a slogan in favor of Cuba’s freedom or in commemoration to her son. During those moments, I felt as if I was standing alongside her in her native Banes walking down the streets surrounded by watchdog political police officials. It was at that very moment when I understood, even before, the bravery of this family and of all those dissidents still in Cuba who continue fighting for freedom everyday.
Afterward, various guests had the chance to speak to her and show their solidarity with the Zapata Tamayo family. It was also the first time that Reina met in person certain activists which always fought to tell her story and to protect her from exile. But in my opinion, one of the most emotional moments was when the former political prisoner Fidel Suarez Cruz had the chance to speak and sat down beside Reina. Suarez Cruz expressed his admiration for Zapata and Reina and also paid homage to the fallen hunger striker, first with a moment of silence and then by shouting inspirational slogans.
The reporters asked Reina many questions. I imagine that in the upcoming days all the different news channels were going to try to talk to the entire family. And I think that is a good thing. I agree with a friend of mine who told me that now, from exile, Reina and her family will represent a hard blow to the Cuban dictatorship because here she will be free to speak her mind, and free to denounce every single crime she was subjected to in the island. And although back in Cuba she never let her voice be shut down, it is very difficult to get messages out when phone lines are tapped and jammed, when the media dubs you a “mercenary”, and where physical blows are the response to any comments that go against the backwards status quo. I believe that people who have access to the media here, whether it be an international, national, or local television channel, a radio station, or a blog navigating through the web, can now capture this face full of pain and sacrifice in person, informing the world about her truth, which is the truth of Cuba. Those who defend the dictatorship by describing it as a just institution which offers an exclusive health and education system or as a legitimate government which respects human rights will have absolutely no excuses left.
When all the cameras were turned off, and when all the journalists wrapped up their reports, I was able to chat with a few Cuban heroes, young and old. One of them was Normando Hernandez, who just recently came to Miami from Spain. It was very pleasant to chat for a few minutes with this friend, and when I saw him hugging Reina Luisa Tamayo I could not help but feel very emotional. Here I was, witnessing this in person- a man who shared prison time with her son, who lived through the entire macabre process from within the dungeons, and who now, standing in freedom and in exile, were sharing a hug. When I then had the opportunity to meet Reina, my words quickly evaporated. I simply did not know what to tell her. All I could do was give her a strong hug. And it was at that moment that she, once again, injected that hope in me. It was then that I felt that Cuba would be free very soon. And through that embrace, I felt the struggle of so many others who continue fighting on the streets of Cuba.
Reina Luisa Tamayo, your indescribable pain is also the pain of so many other Cuban mothers who lost their sons to the hills of Escambray, to the execution walls, to the punishment cells, to the concentration camps, and to the ocean. But your faith is also the same one shared by millions of Cubans, that one day soon, we will all reclaim our freedom and we will all, despite whatever shore we live on now, celebrate together.