Tree of Hope
Photo taken by Mercy Lastre
The future is unpredictable in all aspects, and everyday life increasingly proves this. Last Christmas, I spent it rotting away in a jail cell at the provincial prison of Canaletas in Ciego de Avila. Thousands of miles away, a Cuban woman was setting up her Christmas tree, hanging up photos of various political prisoners of conscience from the Black Spring of 2003. It was her way of showing solidarity with her compatriots who were imprisoned for political motives.
Mercy Lastre is Cuban by birth and a student of Marti’s thoughts. Despite having practically lived her entire life in Spain, she has never stopped feeling Cuban. As a child, she was forced to abandon her homeland, suffering the same fate as thousands of other Cubans who have been dispersed throughout foreign lands. However, despite so much solidarity, I am still a foreigner in Spain.
Now she tells me that during the Christmas holiday of 2009 she decided to hang our photos on her Christmas tree, for she had a strong feeling that we would soon be free. Fortunately, that was the case for some of us but there are still 11 from our group that remain behind the bars just because of one man’s caprice, as he thinks he is above everyone and everything.
For the first time in my life I have enjoyed a Christmas in freedom. I have come to know the magic of the Three Wise Men Day, and as if that was not enough, I enjoyed New Years with Mercy and her family. Now, this Cuban woman tells me with complete certainty: dreams can come true; we just need to believe in ourselves and work for it.
Our destiny now takes us down the path of exile. It is hard, that is for sure. But we will not rest until we achieve what we want the most: democracy in Cuba. Now I understand what a tree of hope, such as Mercy’s, symbolizes. But we must aspire to have that Christmas tree empty next time, without photos of any political prisoners. When that day arrives, we will all set up a huge tree in our country, and we will celebrate Christmas—that holiday which has been robbed from us for more than half a century of communist dictatorship. Also, on that day, the tune titled “Song for Orlando Zapata”, penned by Mercy herself and sung by her husband Rafael Fernando, will be hummed by all of us who gave a piece of our lives for the freedom of Cuba.