‘Patria y Vida’ Documentary Reveals Truth Behind Cuba’s Regime and How Cubans are Fighting Back
When “Patria y Vida” was released in February 2021, it finally gave the people of Cuba the anthem they needed and deserved. After 60 years of dictatorship, discord and destitution, the song flipped Fidel Castro’s barbaric slogan on its head, demanding “homeland and life” instead of “homeland or death.”
The Grammy-award-winning song, which currently has 13 million views on YouTube, came from the minds of a handful of valiant key players. Yotuel Romero, one of the founding members of the Cuban hip-hop group, Orishas, originally wrote the song with his wife, Beatriz Luengo.
Then, they recruited Alexander Delgado and Randy Malcom from Gente De Zona. Also, singer-songwriter Descemer Bueno, along with Maykel Osboro and Eliécer “El Funky” Márquez.
Osboro was living on the island and was arrested because of the song’s condemnation of the regime. Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara, who is a performance artist and activist, was also arrested.
Both were arrested with zero explanation or formal legal proceedings. Simply because they sang a song. This not only illustrates the horrific reality that Cubans must endure, but also the fragility of a tyrannical government that fears the power of words.
The song ignited a fearless movement among Cubans
The lyrics of “Patria y Vida” were enough to incite a movement that drew thousands of Cubans out from their homes and into the streets. Cubans were risking everything to demand change, once and for all. For the first time in a long time, Cubans felt something that had always seemed so out of reach: hope.
“Patria y vida!” they chanted as they marched, even as the police bludgeoned them, as people, like Osorbo and Alcantara, began disappearing. As young men lay lifeless on the pavement — even then, nothing could extinguish the fire that “Patria y Vida” ignited.
“Patria y Vida: The Power of Music” tells the story behind the song
Romero and Luengo told their story in a new documentary, “Patria y Vida: The Power of Music.”
mitú spoke to them about the documentary and the resilience of the Cuban people, the exile’s longing to return home and why it’s so important to show the world the truth about Cuba, an island nation hidden by the smoke and mirrors of a deceitful and corrupt government.
How and why did you decide to film a documentary about the song?
LUENGO: One day, I was reading an article written by a musicologist at the University of Berkeley about “Patria y Vida.” She said that there had been a bunch of songs of protest throughout history that had accompanied social-political movements. But “Patria y Vida” had been the first time in documented human history that a movement had been born from a song. That day, I understood that this story was way bigger than us.
All these years, when [Yotuel] spoke about all the problems in Cuba, [people] always challenged him, saying, ‘Well, Cubans don’t go out on the streets to protest. Cubans are always happy. When you go to Cuba, the people are happy.’ On July 11 , that narrative absolutely changed. And the whole world had their eyes on Cuba, and finally, the world understood that Cubans wanted change.
I understood that for Cubans to realize the reality of what they had achieved in only one day and to be able to give them that empowerment, and for humanity. I feel that we’re living in a moment where there is a lot of war, lots of damaging conversations. Art has a lot of work to do.
We’re not the first to try to create empathy with pain through art. It’s happened before. There have been many great human stories with which we’ve empathized that have [worked in tandem with] art. And this was the reality that inspired us to begin to project.
What is one of the most powerful pieces of the documentary’s narrative?
ROMERO: There’s 11 million Maykels in Cuba.
LUENGO: We want to reinforce the idea that in Cuba, it’s a war between good and evil. And it’s clear in the documentary that the victims and the good ones are the people of Cuba who are fighting so hard for freedom.
ROMERO: Something I discovered about the documentary as I watched it, is that we’re six black men featured in the song. And it makes me laugh because the regime always [promised racial equality] and 64 years later, six black men write a song that made them tremble.
So, I realized that they never did anything for us. Our race is the most damaged, the most incarcerated, the most discriminated, the most killed and the song speaks for itself! It happened accidentally, but I’m happy and I feel proud of the song and everyone who participated.
What’s your message to the Cuban people who suffer but never give up?
ROMERO: First of all, I want to thank them for their courage. I think they deserve gratitude — we almost, almost, did it. Just one day of demonstrations and look at how the rest of the world took notice that Cuba wants to be free. That the real Cuba is not a composite of the images that they want to sell — rum, tobacco, women, beaches — no. Cubans are suffering. Cubans want to be free.
On July 11th, they demonstrated to the world that they’re not happy with their reality and that they don’t want that reality. So, thank you for all your bravery. They didn’t take to the streets for 60 years and then they finally did it, and they achieved it, and they compelled the rest of the world.
We want them to keep fighting for their freedom. We want the world to be empathetic with the Cuban people, just like the world is empathetic to the people of Ukraine who are fighting for a just cause, who want them to be free — it’s the same thing. Our enemy is from within. It’s the Cuban government.
I want the world to help Cuba be free. How can they help? Every time someone talks about Cuba, just say, ‘That’s not the reality of Cuba. I’ve seen a documentary called ‘Patria y Vida: The Power of Music’, and I saw and understood the reality of the Cuban people.’ That’s what I want, empathy for the Cuban people.
LUENGO: When I was working on the documentary, it was being edited by Spain’s top editors […] they are very used to seeing images of all kinds. And all of a sudden, we got to the images of July 11, and we see people in flip flops, or without shoes, [poorly] dressed. […] They took to the streets so innocently, with nothing in hand, shouting, “Libertad!” [Protesting] was a universe so unknown to them. And the editors started crying.
Because at that point in the movie, after talking about the fear and all the reasons, they manage to take to the streets and show so much heart. […] I don’t know a single Cuban who has metaphorically “burned their ships” when they get to another country. Which is something lots of people do.
[Some people] get to another country, and they say, “Well, I’m free now, I’m going to forget about my personal trauma and try to move on from that and all I’ve suffered.” Cuban people aren’t like that. A Cuban goes to another country and creates their own Cuba and is thinking about their people and about how they can help and are always telling others, “Hermano, Cuba está en candela.”
The people never forget their homeland; it’s an eternal brotherhood, […] it’s a shared destiny. Cubans in Cuba have their homeland, but they’ve been robbed of a life. And Cubans in exile have lived a life but they’ve been left without their homeland. So, for me, “brotherhood” is a very big word here.
I want the Cubans in Cuba to rid themselves of that false narrative and realize the profound love among their own [in exile], the ones who took to the streets one day, leaving everything in their respective cities, their jobs, their children with neighbors […] to say, ‘Cuba has taken to the streets and so are we.’ That’s very moving.
What’s your message to Cuban exiles who dream about returning one day?
ROMERO: We will be returning. We’ll be returning because, for me, God gives us life. To say ‘Patria y vida’ is to say ‘Patria y Dios.’ So, if we put God first, God can do it all. I think that faith is very helpful. Jesus was a man of justice and there needs to be justice in Cuba against all the perpetrators. I think we’re going to receive that blessing and we’re all going to return to our homeland.
There are many indications that lead me to believe, me and many other Cubans, that [the regime] is over, which is why they’ve increased the terror towards Cubans on the island, they’ve hardened the laws, because they fear the end. And when the night is at its darkest, that’s when it’s closest to the dawn.
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