Beautiful and Brotherly Mexico

By Rosa Miriam Elizalde on September 17, 2021

all of us in defense of Cuba, photo: Prensa Latina

It would have to be a Mexican who explained to us in the most eloquent way what an island is. In La ruta de Hernán Cortés, Fernando Benítez says that “an island is a clearly delimited reality, an invitation to isolation and a way to escape from the known world. An island is also a small original universe, a castle surrounded by its moat, a place sui generis, without borders, without annoying neighbors, autonomous and round? Robinson, the greatest of castaways, would not have existed without an island.”

An island does not exist without land and castaways. The first pro-independence Cubans arrived in Mexico, expelled by the colonial and republican despots. The most Mexican of all Cubans, the poet José María Heredia, is buried in an unknown tomb in the Mexican capital.  José Martí, our National Hero, who lived and married in these lands, would confess that “if I were not Cuban, I would like to be Mexican; and if I were, I would offer it the best of my life”.

The communist hero Julio Antonio Mella, immortalized by the photos of his beloved Tina Modotti, died on January 10, 1929 on Abraham Gonzalez Street, in Colonia Juarez, Mexico City. After being shot by a hitman of dictator Gerardo Machado, he had time to identify his assassin and say “I die for the Revolution”. In Tinísima, Elena Poniatowska recreated the scene and the funeral that Diego Rivera and Frida Khalo would lead.  When Diego dismissed the mourning, he praised the Cuban’s “purity of action and opinion and reckless courage” and years later he painted Mella looking lovingly at Tina in his series “Del corrido a la revolución” (From the corrido to the revolution).

The Mexican experience of Fidel and Raul Castro, of Che Guevara and his comrades who set out on the Granma yacht from the port of Tuxpan in the revolutionary adventure that ended with the victory of the Rebel Army and the escape of dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959, has been documented down to the smallest detail.  Since then, much has happened and, with more or less inclined presidents, there has been no lack of Mexico’s invariably dignified attitude against the US encirclement of Cuba.

But that is only one part of the binary equation between the island and the mainland. The other part of the story has to do with what an ancient Greek custom understood by “token”, which was the action of dividing in two an object, a coin or a piece of clay, and the owners would turn to their halves when necessary, in a situation where hospitality or solidarity was needed, for example.  The history of the relationship between Mexico and Cuba is not reducible to last-minute anti-communist labels, because it is a symbol, a pact of mutual recognition, a value that does not belong to any of the parties separately. It is culture, material and immaterial, and it is common.

There is Cuban blood in the Mexican War of Independence and it is there, even if it is not told in school textbooks. Some of the closest collaborators of Benito Juarez and his son-in-law and close collaborator, the poet Pedro Santacilia, were Cubans. Andrés Manuel López Obrador would recall this week in La Mañanera that the ambassador of the island, Manuel Márquez Sterling, tried to save the life of President Francisco Madero and take him to Cuba in February 1913.  Not knowing that he would be assassinated soon after, Don Francisco gave him a photograph specially dedicated to the Cuban friend who had gone to see him while he was in captivity: “Keep it in memory of this desolate night”.

It will be difficult for many Cubans, those of us who live surrounded by the moat of the U.S. blockade, to forget these celebrations for the Cry of Independence in Mexico.  Disregarding the shrieks of the transnational right wing and honoring the history of the two countries, AMLO raised the Mexican half of the symbol and made the most moving speech that many Cubans remember since Lázaro Cárdenas until today: “Miguel Díaz-Canel (…) represents a people that has known, like few in the world, how to defend with dignity their right to live free and independent, without allowing interference in their internal affairs by any foreign power”.

And when Andres Manuel says something like this, he speaks for the Mexico that has known how to build by living together, the one that has created bonds instead of walls, the one that has shared common spaces, the one that does not shout that it has “common sense” but has, indeed, a sense of commonality. This is the beautiful and brotherly Mexico. A symbol.

Source: La Jornada, translation Resumen Latinoamericano – English