Reyita: The Life of a Black Cuban Woman in the 20th Century

Autobiographies are often publicized with the claim that this person is ‘extraordinary’; that they showed great courage in a crisis or extreme fortitude in suffering. The assumption is that the ‘ordinary’ life, the everyday existence is inferior and unworthy of our perusal. What, then, are we to make of the diffident opening of the story of Maria de los Reyes Castillo Bueno, as she quietly begins to tell us of her life? ‘I am Reyita, a regular, ordinary person. A natural person, respectful, helpful, decent, affectionate and very independent.’ As Marx remarked, people make their own history, but they do so under circumstances not of their own choosing. Reyita, this ordinary person, can tell a tale that not only spans the 20th century but also encompasses both the domestic and the grandly public.

As a child, Reyita knew the dictator Batista and she lost a son in the Revolution but what grabs the attention in her account are the small details; the songs she sang, the traditional remedies her family relied on and above all her unwavering faith in a better future.

The book is based on extensive interviews with Reyita by her daughter Daisy Rubiera Castillo, and there is an erudite introduction by Elisabeth Dore who gives us the political and social background. Finally, though, what emerges from this consummate example of oral history is the serene, proud figure of Reyita who ends by saying, aged 94: ‘I feel good as new. Life is reborn every day and so am I.’

New Internationalist issue 337 magazine cover This article is from the August 2001 issue of New Internationalist.
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