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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When it comes to relationships, there’s no doubt that some good advice can go a long way. Whether you’re in your early days or headed down the aisle, we found the best advice Reddit could give for you to apply for your blossoming relationship.
Check it out below!
Do two tasks for your partner and don’t make a big deal out of it.
“For me, my grandfather gave me the best advice. He said, ‘choose two things to do around the house that she never has to ask you to do. Do the best job you can do and take pride in it but never draw attention to or complain about it. Just do it and expect nothing in return.’ I cook dinner and do the dishes/cleanup cooking messes. It took my wife almost a year to notice. When she did however I would find my laundry was magically done on its own, folded and put away. When I told her she doesn’t have to do my laundry she stated “you always cook and clean for me! I figured it was the least I could do!” – u/Ironwolf9876
Be selfless between the sheets
” I feel like this same goes for sex – do that little bit extra to make your partner feel sexy and special every time. A little bit of selflessness on both sides adds up to a world of extra pleasure for each.” – philipjeremypatrick
Don’t always go for 50/50.
“The one I heard is “healthy relationships are not 50/50. Each person should be putting in 100%.” – reddit user
Give your S.O. the benefit of the doubt.
“The best relationship advice I have heard came from an interview Michael J Fox did where he talked about how his marriage had lasted so long. He said ‘We give each other the benefit of the doubt.’ If your SO does something thatakes you worried, angry or sad, ask them to tell you their side of the story before you let your emotions run wild. There is probably a reasonable explanation and a good reason for how he/she acted. That will help avoid a lot of conflicts and foster trust.” – Loive
If you’re arguing to win you’ve already lost.
“You shouldn’t be arguing trying to prove that you’re right or that she is wrong. You should be communicating what you each see the situation as and come to a mutual understanding or agreement. Relationships aren’t a competition. Even if you guys end up not agreeing, at least you’ll know why it upsets the other person and will know not to do that because it negatively affects them.” – cdotace
Be sure they’re the one.
“My mother asked me the night i proposed to my wife if i was sure i wanted to be with her. It made me mad in the moment, but i realized she made a valid point. 6 years and twin boys later, I have never been more sure about a decision in my life. Thanks mom.” – sillysimon12
Get married when you’re poor.
“I was fortunate enough to be invited to a party where there were several elderly couples. At the time, I was in my early twenties, and decided to take advantage of the opportunity. A couple in attendance had been married for over 60 years. I asked them, “What advice do you have for a young person like me? The woman said, ‘Get married when you’re dirt poor…’ My mind was blown. I thought to myself, “Wow, that is some incredible advice. Literally start a life together, and build it up from nothing. That would create an unbreakable bond and friendship.’ Then she finished with ‘… so you can’t afford to get divorced!'” – MutantCoach
Say I love you before you leave for work in the morning.
“1. Say I love you (and mean it) every morning before you leave for work. You may not see them again. 2. If they regularly do something small that annoys you, first see if you are able to stop being annoyed by it before asking them to change.” – Reddit user
How do you do the little things.
“To achieve an amazing relationship, you need to consider what you do in the little things. What your girlfriend/wife is like when she greets you at the front door, over the table at breakfast, etc. These little things add up to 80% of the success of your relationship. Dedicate yourself and be focused completely in the moment in these little moments and you will achieve the best relationship that you have ever had.” – ImpulseTee
Carry the load. Know it’s like moving a sofa.
“I heard a comic once say a relationship is like moving a heavy, awkward sofa up 3 flights of stairs. The whole time you’re talking to the other person, and you wonder if they’re carrying their load, and it can be tough. But its easier than doing it alone.” – beingtwiceasnice
Be on the same page before you get married.
“Being in love with someone is a good reason to date them, but not necessarily marry them. People fall in love all the time but if the two of you don’t agree on the important life decisions (kids, religion, fiscal responsibility, etc.) then your marriage is likely to face some serious challenges.” – bdd1001
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