Clarke is one of dozens of people who came to the April 4 opening of “I Will Die the Way I’ve Lived,” an exhibit of 15 watercolors by Antonio Guerrero, one of the Cuban Five, at the Bronx Library Center. The paintings will be up for the month of April on the fourth floor of the library, in the Latino & Puerto Rican Cultural Center’s Heritage Gallery, as part of the center’s celebration of National Poetry Month.
“These paintings are so important,” Isaura Hernandez said after viewing the exhibit. “They are in prison, so it’s like this becomes their voice.” Hernandez, who works in the shipping department of a golf equipment store in Manhattan, came with her brother and two friends.
“I’m always amazed that more people don’t know about the Cuban Five,” said Donna Santana. “But the media just tells us what they want us to know.” Santana is a staff member of AFSCME District Council 1707 and also works weekends at Staples. She brought Clarke, a co-worker at Staples, to the event.
“A lot of families and other patrons of the library have dealings with the prison system,” Linda Caycedo, the librarian who organized the exhibit, said in welcoming people to the program. “It’s important to have resources for them, and I don’t just mean books. This program and exhibit are part of fulfilling the library’s mission to inspire lifelong learning, advance knowledge, and strengthen our communities.”
Sery Colón, a reciter of poetry and producer of cultural events in New York’s Puerto Rican community, and Carmen D. Lucca, a poet and translator, each read a poem by Guerrero. Colón read “From the Hole.” Lucca read the poem that is depicted in his painting “The ‘Rec,” — the “recreation” cage at the Miami Detention Center where Guerrero began many of his poems.
“Each event like this one is a real act in favor of the Cuban Five, the Cuban Revolution and the Cuban people,” said Ariel Hernández, a first secretary at Cuba’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations. “For us it’s another way to bring the fight of the Five to New York. And it’s especially important to have it in a working-class neighborhood in the Bronx.”
“The Cuban Five are in prison because they are examples of the Cuban Revolution, of the men and women who brought into being the first free territory of the Americas, of men and women who to this day refuse to bow to Washington,” said Deborah Liatos, a member of the Socialist Workers Party.
Following the short program in a meeting room downstairs, there was a reception while small groups went up to view the paintings. People were still talking two hours later, when the library closed for the night.
“Seeing the paintings in the booklet I Will Die the Way I’ve Lived was really nice. But full size, up on the wall, they really come to life,” said Jhunior Garcia, a student at Bronx Community College who helped walk people through the exhibit. “Learning more about the Cuban Five tonight makes them even more powerful. Jails are the darkest place, but the Cuban Five and other prisoners talk to each other, share poems, and find ways to communicate.”
“When I heard about the program I had to come to support the Cuban Five,” said Gwen Debrow, who works as a customer service representative for Goodwill.
Ben Ramos, who works at an afterschool program in the neighborhood, also helped tour visitors through the exhibit. “This is a very international neighborhood, a poor area,” said Ramos, who is a leader of the Popular Education Project to Free the Cuban 5 and ProLibertad, an organization that fights for the release of Puerto Rican political prisoners. “It’s powerful to have the exhibit here. It’s only through reaching out like this that the Five can win the mass solidarity that can free them.”
The library will host a closing program for the exhibit on Friday, April 25, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.