My Grandfather Joseph / Rebeca Monzo

My Grandfather in the dark suit.

He left his native Gijón on an unspecified date, because he never liked to specify this detail. His eyes showed his sadness whenever it was mentioned, because after all these years, the wounds never closed. He could still smell the maternal arms when he boarded the boat that would bring him to America.

When he stepped on Cuban soil, squeezed his eyes shut against the intense flash of sun that blinded him. Soon a gentle sea breeze will plant a smile on his face. He was excited, he told us when he saw the tops of the, trees whose leaves looked like clusters of emeralds, bow before the wind. At that moment he began to love this other mother who welcomed him. He became a man, being practically a kid, bringing messages to the Titan who, according to what he told us, was stationed in neighboring lands back in his now beloved land.

There he met a young girl’s winning smile, a daughter of Spaniards born in Cuba. I came in the belly of my mother and she came in the boat, my grandmother always told us.

Grandfather Joseph never cared much for paperwork, and much less for formalities. Therefore, he was never nationalized as a Cuban, because according to him, he carried to Spain in his mind and Cuba in his heart and to prove it was not necessary to fill out forms.

It is precisely because of this is that I, his granddaughter, am now in a quagmire trying to get the damn piece of paper showing his arrival in this, his second homeland.

“My grandfather was married here in the capital, look at the document. He personally signed it when my mother was born, here’s the certificate that proves it. He also died and was buried in his beloved Havana, you can see here the official papers. Do you think,” I asked the officer who assisted me at the Spanish embassy, “that in 1911 my grandfather met my grandmother and married her on the Internet? Or maybe my mother was conceived by artificial insemination in 1912? How is it possible that we need a record of his entry into Cuba, to demonstrate his passage through these lands?”

Our archives are damaged: After fifty-nine years many are in a total state of disrepair, losing countless documents. Nor are they digitized and this greatly complicates the search for data, not to mention that none of the people who work in these places, are interested in making the least effort, looking at such old and dilapidated books.

My grandfather was a freethinker, a bohemian, self-employed (free lance) and above all, a Spanish man who, despite loving Cuba, became a man on this earth, creating a family and dying here, he never bothered to leave papers. He left a beautiful family, great memories and stories and was the painter-sign painter par excellence in Old Havana. Sometimes when I wander through those streets I see him with his modest clothing and brushes, he liked to take them from his pockets, going with them to the barbershops, bars and taverns where he was so well known.

With my mom.

My grandmother said that when Caruso was in Havana, my grandfather did not miss a single event. She also told me that he went, very elegant, to see the first performance of the great singer. He went out all decked out with his straw hat. And when he returned the suit was all smeared with paint. My grandmother asked what happened, and he answered, “What do you want Maria, when I went by the Café La Marina, the owner came to meet me, and asked me to paint the sign of the restaurant that would open the next day, and even though I explained that I was going to the theater, he said that first we were the friends, and that second I could go to the second performance, and so I did it. I left a glowing sign.”

“But Joseph, did you then go all smeared with paint to the theater?”

“Maria, I went to the theater to see them, not for them to see me.”

That was my grandfather Joseph.

April 11 2011