This past July 2 was second anniversary of the death of Tomás Leopold Alfonso Manso. He was born on September 30, 1941, and unexpectedly passed away from a heart attack on July 2, 2010, leaving an irreplaceable emptiness in Taguayabón, the town in which he lived since 1978 and to which he devoted his art, with the same dedication as if Taguayabón was New York City.
In the last months of his life, we shared the same daily routine of having coffee in the morning at the home of a mutual friend, a ritual as important to Cubans as three o’ clock tea is for an Englishman. Tomás adopted me as his spiritual guide and told me the stories about his deepest traumas and desires. In the 51st edition of the folklore magazine Signos from 2005, dedicated to the traditional occupations in Cuba, I published my contribution “Habit Makes the Monk, and Hard Work Traditions Make Taguayabón,” and under its title it said “Tomás Manso Alfonso, our float maker” (pages 65-66). This human being was receiving then one of the very few tributes that honored him during his life, and that he very much appreciated.
The fact that he was a literacy teacher, especially in the Escambray, during the harsh days of the 1960s when Cubans shed the blood of other Cubans, made him a witness of the crimes committed by the Cuban regime, crimes he never forgot.
The firing squads scenes which he was forced to attend turned into a horrific drama that accompanied Tomás throughout his life. He still could hear the cries of “Long live God our King!” from those who were going to die, teenagers among them, if not children.
Tomás could not find any other way to avoid those memories, but secluding himself in art, and Taguayabón had the blessing of being the place for Tomás’s work. Thanks to him, the hardships of a town like this, in remote Cuba, became less because Tomás gave his people a reason to laugh and dream. Probably, most of Taguayabón’s people will never see Broadway, not even Tomás did, but that was not an excuse to not bring it to the Taguayabonians.
The State censors, who were always shadowing Tomás’ projects and who knew very well what he had witnessed, in spite of knowing that this was contrary to the wishes of his family and of El Gavilán, the party neighborhood to which he belonged, made a clumsy attempt to stop me from speaking at the cemetery of San Antonio, on the morning of July 3rd, before his burial.
They failed. And as a tribute to Tomás, on behalf of all of Taguayabón, two years after his deeply felt absence, the blog Cubano Confesante will make available a video that his entire neighborhood El Gavilán dedicated to him, which was publicly exhibited in the 2010 carnival parties that were organized to honor Tomás’ memory. The entire recordings of two mournful farewells before his burial will be also available, that of a retired State Security agent who served as the head of this organ for many years in Caibarién, and my own, which he failed to stop from happening.
Translator’s note: Two video links accompanied this post but they have been removed from YouTube because they are too long.
July 5 2012