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Vol. 78/No. 21      June 2, 2014

Harlem meeting: Fight to free
Cuban 5 ‘near and dear to us’
(feature article)
NEW YORK — Some 40 people participated in the May 3 opening reception of the Cuban Five art exhibit “I Will Die the Way I’ve Lived,” 15 watercolors for 15 years by Antonio Guerrero at the Jackie Robinson Center in Harlem.

Guerrero’s paintings portray the first 17 months that he and his four comrades, known as the Cuban Five, spent in isolation after their arrest, frame-up and incarceration in Miami. (See “Who Are the Cuban Five” on page 7.)

Located in a public housing complex, the center offers an after-school program, dance classes, activities for teenagers, a basketball clinic and other activities.

Thirteen members of the Jackie Robinson Tenant’s Association toured the exhibit after their monthly meeting May 15.

Those attending the opening included neighborhood residents, friends and relatives of the center’s staff, and others who have been following the fight to free the Five.

“I love it. I can relate to every single picture,” said Nyema Lopez, who came to see the prison paintings with her two children. “My husband has been incarcerated for 14 years and he knows about these kinds of experiences.”

“They were trying to help. Like a lot of people, they were wrongly convicted,” said Donna Dennis, who lives in the neighborhood and was just learning about the Five. “I was really impressed by how they made the dice and chess board from what they had on hand.”

“With every painting you put your own perspective on it,” said Leroy Erick Williams, a maintenance worker who lives in the apartments above the center. “You have a rose outside the vent,” he said, pointing to “The Air Vent,” one of the watercolors. “Life and beauty are not taken from him, because his mind is not captive, there is life beyond the walls.”

In a description of the painting, Guerrero recalls how he would stand on the toilet to talk through the vent to those held in the adjoining cell. “This is how I read my new poems to my brothers,” he said. Similar descriptions by Guerrero were posted next to each painting.

Also participating in the opening were Juyeon Rhee and Soobok Kim, supporters of the fight for democratic rights in South Korea and Korean reunification. “The vent reminds me of how political prisoners in South Korea communicated with each other,” said Rhee.

“We have had 500 Koreans imprisoned in the South for their political beliefs,” Kim said. “Like the Cuban Five, despite torture and other horrendous prison conditions, they did not change their beliefs.”

The exhibit also featured a bulletin board with photos and biographies of each of the Five and another that featured letters decorated with glitter that children who attend the center’s after-school program had written to them.

“I wish there was something I could do to get you out of jail,” a 10-year-old boy wrote. “But I am just a kid, and the only thing I can do is tell your story to other kids.”

Shakiema Dixon of the Jackie Robinson Center, who organized the showing with help from staff members, chaired the brief program. “We did not know anything about the Cuban Five, but once I looked into it I realized that the exhibit is an issue near and dear to my heart and to the community,” she said.

Aaliyah Smalls, 12, who attends the after-school program and whose mother works at the center, read “Nephew,” one of Guerrero’s poems.

“The exhibit is not only about Cuba and the Cuban Five. It is about us, because of the millions of families like us who experience the prison system,” said Mary-Alice Waters, president of Pathfinder Press and the editor of I Will Die the Way I’ve Lived, which includes reprints of the paintings and descriptions by Guerrero, Gerardo Hernández and Ramón Labañino — the three of the Five who remain in prison. “When we fight for them, we fight for ourselves and for those in our community.”

Ariel Hernández, a first secretary at Cuba’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations, was the final speaker. “In Cuba, the Five are our heroes because they were trying to prevent terrorist acts against the Cuban Revolution,” he said.

“Harlem is very important to the people of Cuba,” Hernández said. He recounted how in 1960 Fidel Castro, who was in New York to address the United Nations, led the Cuban delegation out of a Midtown hotel following management’s insulting insistence of a $10,000 cash deposit. In an act of solidarity with the Black struggle in the U.S., Castro and the rest of the Cuban delegation went to the Hotel Theresa in Harlem, where they stayed for the rest of their visit. Thousands of Harlem residents poured into the streets to welcome them, as did Malcolm X, who visited briefly with Castro.

The spread for the reception included pies, cakes and cobblers baked by staff members and members of the tenants’ association.

Visitors to the two-week exhibit bought 15 books on the Cuban Five published by Pathfinder Press, as well as three subscriptions to the Militant newspaper, a copy of Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power and Women in Cuba: The Making of a Revolution Within the Revolution. Thirty participated in the May 17 closing event.

Five people bought bus tickets for the June 7 rally in Washington, D.C., that is part of “5 Days for the Cuban 5.”
Related articles:
Greece event: ‘The 5 represent fighting spirit of Cuban people’
Who Are the Cuban 5?
Exhibits of paintings by Antonio Guerrero
5 days for the Cuban 5
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