The Pioneer

The Pioneer

Cristian Sanchez

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Back to Article

Cristian Sanchez

Photo by Cristian Sanchez/Contributor

Photo by Cristian Sanchez/Contributor

Photo by Cristian Sanchez/Contributor

Cristian Sanchez,
Contributor

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Breathless in a foreign land

Just to get something out of the way let me start off by saying that I’m not an emotional person. At least not overtly emotional or sentimental. Sure, I’m passionate about a lot of things and I’ll express excitement every now and then but overall, let’s just say the word “stoic” isn’t alien to me when I hear others’ descriptions about myself. However, one particular moment while inside the Museum of the Revolution left me absolutely floored.

I understand that to most people, history is one of the most boring subjects. As a matter of fact, I’ve been known to make the occasional wisecrack at the expense of my own major numerous times. The tour was the perfect example of this as I could see the rest of the group absolutely drained of energy. I had been pretty tired out as well, but once I got on the bus to head to the museum I felt a sense of excitement that is all too rare these days. I saw an opportunity to break off from the group and explore a place that I had only read about and seen in photographs, taking my time and simply absorbing my surroundings how I wanted to.

Finally ending up on the 2nd floor, I, of course, went to go see the most famous image of all time, the large portrait of Che Guevara. I should mention that Che is without a doubt one of my own greatest personal heroes and that image is something I’ve seen over a million times. I enjoyed the other pictures that were on display but when I finally turned my eyes toward the glass display case in the corner, I felt my heart skip a beat. Not knowing exactly what was inside but knowing that something had to be in there I quickly ran over.

At that moment, I couldn’t help but stare and for once not have a single thought running through my mind as I gazed at his personal belongings. People talk about “history coming to life,” and I had felt that before in some experiences, but none of those come close to what I felt when I looked at his uniform and a personal note with his own signature.

 

Unforgettable conversation

It’s not often someone gets to meet a celebrity. There are many things on this trip that I am truly grateful to have experienced so far but, I have to say that sitting down with Roberto Salas and chatting with him about his experiences left me with the biggest smile on my face I could possibly imagine. In learning about the past from a book, there is always this sort of dissociation that occurs between the generations told on pages and the generation that reads about them. It’s this disconnect that often makes others disenchanted with history in general.

“Why should we learn about so and so and what they did? Who cares what happened at such and such a place on whatever date? Who cares?” Questions like these are just the tip of the Iceberg in a long list of remarks that I’ve come across. Having someone like Salas is just the remedy for instances such as this because telling a story as an experience and not a recounting of events is just that much more effective at getting history across to a broader audience.

On top of this, the phrase “a picture is worth a thousand words” certainly rings true in his case as well, making Roberto Salas the ultimate fountain of information regarding this particular period in history.

I must admit I was quite intimidated at first, being that this was a man whose photos I had seen thousands of times in my studies. I’ve never been much for small talk, so how in the world was I just going to ask him all about something I had only read about but he experienced firsthand? Luckily, I received an open welcome I had not expected. As soon as my questions came out of my mouth, Mr. Salas was more than willing to give me vivid descriptions of monumental figures of the revolution, the events he recorded, and even his own insight into important issues of both past and present. At the end of our conversation, it felt as though I had been talking to a professor I had known for a long time, but in the end, he was so, so much more. He was history come to life.

 

Black gives way to blue

I love being home. I missed the comfort, I missed my friends, family, and just about everything else you can think of. But that doesn’t mean that Cuba won’t stay with me for as long as I live. I now miss a country that I got to know for only two weeks but that time, as brief as it may seem, was worth every waking moment. On our final night, I chose not to sleep but rather watch the sun rise at exactly 7 in the morning. The lack of sleep took its toll later in the day but in the end, I would do it a thousand times over just to see the light hit the water in Havana just one more time.

I kept looking out in disbelief that it was the final day, but at the same time, there was a subtle bliss that I had never felt before. I didn’t care about anything else for about an hour. For once I was actually cold as the sea breeze kept blowing in the early hours of the day and I embraced it. 

As the sun started to make its way past the clouds, a brilliant combination of colors ate away at the black night sky until it was no more. The moon defiantly stood out until it too was barely visible in the sunlight. I regret not bringing a camera but for spur of the moment actions such as these, being preoccupied with taking pictures was the last thing on my mind. I can also honestly say that no picture could ever do the sight any justice but I digress.

A storm made its way over to us as we waited for our final taxi to the airport. It was the heaviest rain of the entire trip. At the risk of coming off as melodramatic, I couldn’t help but think that in some strange way, Cuba was crying over our departure.

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California State University East Bay
Cristian Sanchez