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How ‘Guantanamera’ Sung By Celia Cruz Helped Me To Better Understand My Abuelo’s Exile From Cuba

My mother was six when she fled to the United States from Cuba with my abuela and her two siblings. After reuniting with my abuelo who fought against Fidel Castro in the Bay of Pigs War, they moved to Chicago, where they built a life for themselves completely from scratch, still gripping tenderly onto the heritage and cultures that connected them to families and friends back at home. In their efforts to keep and sustain our family’s Cuban heritage, my abuelos and my mother taught me and my siblings to love and cherish the many different and beautiful contributions that their island country has given to the world: cuisine, cafecito, Bacardí, music, and José Marti.

Naturally, as any proud Cuban-American, I have benevolently held onto all of these as my own personal tokens from an island I have never visited or known. I’m quick to boast about each of them as if they were conjured up by my own mother’s hard work in the kitchen. Still, none have Cuba’s treasures have made me feel quite so intimately linked to my family’s first home like the beloved Cuban song “Guantanamera.”

Like my abuelos and my mother’s stories of Cuba, “Guantanamera” is a song that has grown and adapted through its journey. I have heard the story of my abuelos’ wedding day more than a hundred times; the tale of how my mother cried when kids at her school called my abuelo —a Bay of Pigs prisoner who singlehandedly saved hundreds of lives after being captured by Castro — a criminal; the account of my abuela wringing her hands as she debated enrolling her children in Operation Peter Pan and how she later boarded a cargo ship holding onto only her children and memories of her life to meet my abuelo in the United States. Each anecdote is the same but is always slightly altered in some way depending on the storyteller’s mood and time that I plead for their retelling. Some days they’re drawn out, told with prideful smiles, but often they’re said quickly with an ache to forget the portal of bittersweet memories my questions have sent them through. So similarly goes the many different versions of “Guantanamera.”

It is widely accepted that the original lyrics of the song, considered to be Cuba’s unofficial anthem, were romantic in nature, but over time, the song has been interpreted as a political ode. Brought from the rural regions of the island and to airwaves by Cuban radio host Joseíto Fernández in the 1920s, the song quickly caught on among fans. Fernández performed it regularly on his show and, in the tradition of most folk music, improvised and changed verses based on the week’s events. Some days he sang about politics, and other days he purred lyrics that harped about azucar and its rising costs. Still, the song’s opening lines and chorus, “Guantanamera, guajira Guantanamera / Guantanamera, guajira Guantanamera,” always remained the same.

Cuban composer Julián Orbón adapted the “official” lyrics to the song using verses from Cuban freedom fighter José Martí’s poetry collection “Versos Sencillos.” Orbón’s version, the one most commonly recorded by music artists, used Marti’s lines about a “sincere man” who was from “where the palm trees grow (Yo soy un hombre sincero/ De donde crece la palma).

This adaptation, combined with other lyrics from Martí’s poems that express compassion for Cuba’s poor, is ultimately what turned “Guantanamera” into the country’s most recognized patriotic anthem. In the U.S. and internationally, the song has been interpreted and adopted as a rally for peace (in 2004, for instance, the Swedish government flipped it into an offbeat rap song to promote recycling) and performed by a wide range of artists. In 1966, the Sandpipers did a version that became an international hit, and in the years that followed, singers like Jimmy Buffett, Pitbull and even the Fugees recorded their own editions. My personal favorite is the one sung by Cuban-born singer Celía Cruz on her album “Bravo” in 1967.

My Spanish has never quite allowed me to communicate with my abuelo in his native language fluently, but “Guantanamera” has let me do so.

Most conversations with my abuelo come with a melding of his so-so English and my mediocre Spanish. Together, we’re able to find a common ground that allows us to make each other laugh, exchange “te quiero mucho muchos” and grants me the ability to learn about the family and life he was forced to leave behind. In worse case scenarios, my abuela, a retired Spanish teacher, or my mother will intervene to translate. But when it comes to “Guantanamera,” abuelo and I have never needed assistance. Together, we’ve sung the song, our separately known variants, not always familiar with the lines each other sings but always well aware that in those moments they fill us with a deep love for each other and the versions of Cuba we both know.

Recently, during a visit with my abuelos, we sat together in their snug living room listening to Celía Cruz’s illustrious take of “Guantanamera” as her throaty voice sang over flute trills and drums. Old pictures of primos and tias looked down at us from the walls as we first listened carefully to the lyrics.

There’s no knowing what will prompt one of the Cubans in my family to break out into song. My most playful tía will chorus a line to tell stories; my brother does it at the dinner table even though he knows he’ll be told it’s rude, and my mother does it when she wants you to be in a better mood. Like them, my abuelos and I couldn’t help ourselves as Celía’s lively low-range voice started the chorus. Not against the charms of “Guantanamera.” Soon enough, abuela, abuelo and I were all singing the different Spanish versions of the song we hold dear.

Truthfully, if ever there was a moment that I thought I could burst from feeling so whole, it was sitting there in their living room, watching as the burden of my abuelo’s struggles of exile, always easy to decipher in his quietly distracted stares, seemed almost completely forgotten as he sang with pure delight.

“Guantanamera” is a song that has had a rhythmic presence in my life for as long as I can remember.

Like the smell of aftershave on my abuelo’s worn blue guayabera and the cheekiness of my abuela’s wily grin, I could make out that song anywhere, even despite the many versions it holds. Including the one I’ve heard my abuelo hum while brushing his teeth and the one my mother tries to keep in tune to while singing along to Cruz as she drives in the car. Like the different impressions of the song, Cuba is a country that has been strongly woven into our different narratives. Still, while my relationship and experience with Cuba will never tug on the strings of my heart with the same pang as it does on my abuelos or my mother, “Guantanamera” reminds me that the island is much more of a home than a foreign place that my family’s exile might try to make me believe.

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Selena’s Family Says They’re Ready For The Grammys And They’ll Accept The Award For Her

Entertainment

Selena’s Family Says They’re Ready For The Grammys And They’ll Accept The Award For Her

TARA ZIEMBA/AFP via Getty Images

Recently, it was announced that this year’s Grammy Awards were postponed until March thanks to the Coronavirus pandemic. The news disappointed many Selena fans who were excited to see her posthumously awarded a lifetime achievement award.

However, her family has reiterated their intent to collect the award on Selena’s behalf, with her brother telling TMZ that they plan to make a family affair out of it.

Selena’s brother A.B. says the family is ready to accept her posthumous Grammy.

Selena’s older broth, A.B. Quintanilla recently spoke to TMZ about the family accepting Selena’s latest Grammy on her behalf. He said with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Selena’s parents will most likely stay home and that he and his sister Suzette Quintanilla will be in attendance if there’s an in-person ceremony.

“Coming on the end of [the pandemic], I would say that it’s not safe for my mother and father,” A.B. said. “They probably would be staying in.”

The Academy recently announced that the award show would be a smaller, virtual event taking place in March. But that’s no issue according to A.B. He said that he’s got grand plans to turn his sister’s award into a family affair and that they’ve got their popcorn ready.

He also says it feels like Selena’s still here whenever she wins an award or sets new records, even though it’s been a quarter-century since she was murdered.

“It’s kind of bittersweet because she’s breaking these records and she’s doing wonderful things but unfortunately she’s not here,” he admits. “It’s strange how people in their mindset, and even with me sometimes, it feels like she is here…I’m just happy to have been a part of it and that people are still enjoying the beautiful art that made because those pieces that Selena made, in the music world, those are van Gogh’s.”

A.B. also spoke about Netflix’s Selena: The Series, which debuted last month.

He said the series sheds more light on how their family played a part in Selena’s success. A.B. was Selena’s primary producer and songwriter and Suzette was the drummer in her band.

It would be great to see the whole family [accept Selena’s award],” A.B. said. “As people are seeing in the series, this was a family effort. A lot of people are in shock going, ‘Whoa A.B.! We didn’t know you were the guy that wrote the hits and you wrote the music and you had so much pressure on you.’ I’m very grateful for the series and for people learning from the series.”

The Grammy will not be Selena’s first.

In 1994, she became the first female Tejano singer to win in the Best Mexican-American Album category. During her award acceptance speech, Selena thanked her family. Her brother and sister helped to write, produce, and also played instruments on the album. Selena’s father Abraham worked as her manager.

Selena was nominated after her first Grammy win in 1995 for her fourth studio album, Amor Prohibido. Though she did not win the award, was thankful to be thought of in such high regard. She told a reporter at the time, “Just to be around these artists who are considered to be heavyweights is an honor.”

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Bad Bunny Talks Depression And Says Sometimes He Still Feels Like The Boy Who Bagged Groceries Back Home

Entertainment

Bad Bunny Talks Depression And Says Sometimes He Still Feels Like The Boy Who Bagged Groceries Back Home

Kevin Mazur/Getty Images

Bad Bunny is on top of the world. Or, at least, that’s how it appears to all of us on the outside enjoying his record-breaking year. Not only did he release three albums in 2020 but he also landed his debut acting role in the Netflix series Narcos: Mexico and from his Instagram stories, he seems to be in a happy, contentful relationship.

But like so many others, Bad Bunny has his experience with mental health issues, of which he recently opened up about in an interview with El País.

Bad Bunny recently spoke up about his struggle with depression.

Despite his immense success that’s catapulted him to, arguably, the world’s biggest superstar, Bad Bunny admits that sometimes he still feels like the young man who bagged groceries in a supermarket.

The reggaetonero revealed in an interview with El País that right as his career really started to take off, he was not happy. “You asked me before how I hadn’t gone crazy. Well, I think that was the moment that was going to determine if I was going to go crazy or not. From 2016 to 2018 I disappeared, I was stuck in a capsule, without knowing anything. The world saw me, but I was missing,” he said.

Although no doctor diagnosed him, he is sure of what was happening. it only did he feel lost and empty but he had stopped doing many of the things that brought him joy, like watching movies and boxing. Without realizing it, he had also fallen out of contact with much of his family, with whom he was typically very close.

“And that’s when I said: who am I? What’s going on?” he told El País. When he returned home to Puerto Rico from spending time in Argentina, he was able to get back into the right state of mind and remember who he was.

Despite his success, Bad Bunny still worries he’s in financial trouble.

Although today, he is the number one Latin artist on Spotify and the awards for his music keep coming, there are times when Bad Bunny still thinks that he has financial problems.

“Not long ago, I was 100% clear in my head what I have achieved, maybe a year or six months ago; but until then, many times I forgot, I felt that I was the kid from the supermarket. He would happen something and say: “Hell!” And then: “Ah, no, wait, if I have here,” he said, touching his pocket.

Much like Bad Bunny, J Balvin has also been candid about his own mental health struggles.

Bad Bunny is just the most recent to speak to the emotional havoc he experiences despite being a global superstar. And, thankfully, like many other celebrities, he’s been able to find refuge in a reality that allows him to keep his feet on the ground so that he too can enjoy the achievements of his career.

Much like El Conejo, J Balvin is known for the brightness of his style and mentality. But he’s long addressed the importance of caring for one’s mental health. During his Arcoíris Tour, he encouraged people to not be ashamed of seeking professional help, and let the audience know they are not alone.   

“Las enfermedades de salud mental son una realidad. Yo he sufrido de depresión y he sufrido de ansiedad, así que tengo que aceptarlo. Y eso me hace más humano, me hace entender que la vida tiene pruebas,” Balvin said. “Pero si alguien está pasando una situación difícil, no están solos, siempre llega la luz. Tarde o temprano llega la luz.”  

“Mental health illnesses are a reality. I have suffered from depression and anxiety, so I have to accept it. And this makes me more human. It makes me understand that life has challenges,” Balvin said in Spanish. “But if someone is going through a difficult time, they are not alone, light always comes. Sooner or later, the light comes.”  

We need more men like Benito and J Balvin to speak up about their mental health struggles, to help destroy the stigma that exists within our community.

And in the same interview, he also spoke about why he works to elevate the Spanish language.

As for the possibility of singing in English, the answer remains the same: a resounding no.

“You have to break this view that the gringos are Gods…No, papi,” he told El País. And, although he’s collaborated with artists like Drake, Cardi B and Jennifer Lopez, he has always sang in Spanish and with his famous accent.

“I am very proud to reach the level where we are speaking in Spanish, and not only in Spanish, but in the Spanish that we speak in Puerto Rico. Without changing the accent,” he said.

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