Cuban defectors a first for MLS
Michelle Kaufman, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted on Sun, Jun. 13, 2004
Rey Angel Martinez and Alberto Delgado
sneaked past the Cuban national team's 10
security guards and sprinted from a Los
Angeles Hilton hotel more than two years
ago, desperate for freedom and a chance
to play professional soccer. Martinez was
set to realize his dream Saturday night
as a member of the Colorado Rapids, becoming
the first Cuban immigrant in Major League
Martinez, 24, spent the past two years
waiting for his residency papers in Miami.
He played a season for St. Thomas University,
played with local club teams, and occasionally
drove a limousine for his uncle's car service.
But he never lost sight of his goal to play
in MLS. Martinez was invited to train with
the Rapids on April 8, signed with the club
Thursday, and was at RFK Stadium on Saturday
for the game against D.C. United.
Delgado, 25, has been training with the
Rapids, too, but has not received his work
''I feel so wonderful right now,'' Martinez
said by phone from the Denver airport Friday
as the team boarded a flight to Washington.
"This is a great opportunity for me.
All I wanted was an opportunity to develop
as a player and make a living playing the
sport I love. I didn't think it would take
this long, but it was worth the wait.''
Martinez was a forward on the Cuban national
team and played for Cuidad de la Habana,
which won the Cuban amateur league title
in 1998. When he and Delgado decided to
defect during the 2002 CONCACAF Gold Cup,
they realized they were taking a big risk.
''If they catch you, they throw you off
the national team, put you in prison and
your family probably gets punished, too,''
Martinez said. "It was scary.''
The two players went to the lobby during
breakfast that February 2002 morning, pretending
they wanted to make a phone call. Instead,
they walked out of the hotel lobby, and
started running. And running. And running.
They ran for 30 minutes, until they hailed
a cab and went to the house of a friend.
They wound up in Miami with Martinez's
uncle, Tony Sanchez, who suggested they
enroll at St. Thomas and try out for the
soccer team. They played one season at St.
Thomas and are now ready to test their skills
against American pros.
''There are so many players in Cuba who
could easily make MLS squads, but they never
have the chance to develop or prove themselves
over there,'' Martinez said. "It's
like our baseball players. All we need is
a shot. I finally have mine, and I hope
to show what I can do.''
Conchs still swing to a Cuban beat
Key West honors its roots
with fifth annual festival
By Jennifer Babson. email@example.com
Posted on Sun, Jun. 13, 2004
KEY WEST - He never met a tin can, metal
pot or plastic cap he couldn't massage a
beat out of.
But when percussionist Buddy Chavez, 73,
closes his eyes, flexes his hands and plays
the bongos -- or maybe their big cousins,
the congas -- he's also playing a legacy.
For right next to him, often, is son Roy,
''When I watch him play, it feels like
I'm doing it,'' says Buddy Chavez, who began
his career at the age of 11, when he swiped
pots and pans from his mother while playing
hooky and fashioned drumsticks from the
legs of a chair.
The subsequent years have spanned it all:
a childhood job as a rumba dancer in a burlesque
revue, a longtime show at the Columbia restaurant
in Tampa's Ybor City, hotel gigs in Aruba,
a stint in New Orleans and regular dates
at now-defunct Key West landmarks like the
Old Havana Madrid club. Well-known musicians
he's played with or taught include Armando
Manzanero, Joe Lala, Daniel Santos, Roberto
Ledesma and Lionel Suarez.
Charismatic and spry, he's also on wife
''Musicians have a lot of trouble,'' Chavez
explains. "Jealousy and all that.''
One of the last of a special generation
in Key West -- the old-time ''Conchs'' --
Chavez is Cuban by culture, American by
birth and Key Wester by historical happenstance.
Conchs drink café con leche -- known
simply as con leche -- recall the ritual
of Sunday cockfights and were raised to
believe that the street in front of the
house should be as broom-clean as the inside.
But old age and overdevelopment on this
tiny island have thinned their ranks.
Like many of his friends, Chavez sold his
house and moved out of Key West's historic,
million-dollar Old Town district nearly
a decade ago. Now, the entrance to his one-bedroom
apartment in a city-run senior citizen building
is affixed with both the Virgin Mary and
a Conch Republic flag. He plays dominoes
most evenings and meets old pals for cafecito
around the corner each morning.
This week, Chavez -- in what's become an
annual rite -- will play a comparsa on a
metal pot in the city's fifth annual Cuban
American Heritage Festival. The six-day
event includes cigar samplings, a ''coast-to-coast''
conga line from the Gulf to the Atlantic
that will feature Chavez and a Saturday
night salsa party at a local landmark restaurant,
El Meson de Pepe's.
''He symbolizes with his son what we are
trying to do with the festival -- and that's
trying to make people aware of their heritage
and to be proud that they are Cubans,''
says Fred Salinero, a Conch and a festival
Key West's Conchs are a bit different than
the Cubans in Miami, Salinero admits.
''For those old folks, some of 'em were
born here, but still their first language
is Spanish. Our Spanish here is cayo huesado
-- Key West Spanish. We understand each
other, but the pronunciation is a little
bit different'' than in Miami.
While Conchs consume ropa vieja or picadillo
for dinner, Key lime pie has a place next
to flan for dessert.
Key West has a unique place in Cuban history.
In 1871, Cubans who migrated to Key West's
many cigar factories founded the city's
historic San Carlos Institute -- a pit stop
for patriot José Martí as
he sought funds for the war of independence
The city also produced Florida's first
Cuban-American legislator in 1896.
''The Cubans in Miami, you have got to
realize, are just over from Cuba recently,''
Salinero says. "Forty years is recent.
Cubans in Key West, we've been here since
For Chavez, that connection to Cuba was
expressed through music.
At 14, he bought his first set of bongos
from a local band leader for $50 -- money
he earned shining shoes on Duval Street.
''I paid him $5 a week,'' Chavez says.
Inspiration was beamed from prerevolutionary
Havana via radio -- which was monitored
with great interest 90 miles away.
''We didn't have a lot of musicians here,
but we used to listen to Cuba. They had
a lot of radio stations then. We got a lot
of ideas,'' he says.
When Roy was a tot, Buddy presented him
with a childhood choice that would change
both their lives.
''He put a bicycle under the tree and a
drum,'' Roy recalls. 'And he told my mom,
'If he's going to be a drummer, he's going
to go right to the drum.' ''
By the time he was 2 ½, Roy was
onstage with dad.
Like his father, Roy began with bongos,
graduated to congas, then mastered the timbales.
''My dad says when I was in my mother's
belly, you could feel her stomach and it
was jumping, like I wanted to get out and
play with him,'' says Roy, who performs
several nights a week with a Key West ensemble,
Caribe, though he has a day job working
as a foreman in the city's public works
MISSES OLD FRIENDS
Though his son has carried on his legacy,
Buddy says he misses some of his old friends,
for whom comparsa was a weekly ritual.
''My people, they don't dance anymore because
they have gotten older and they have died,''
he says. "I had my crowd, but that
crowd is gone now.''
The dances were an important part of the
city's social fabric, according to local
historian Tom Hambright.
''The Cuban community always had the comparsa
dances, and they were always big on having
social dances,'' Hambright says.
When Buddy plays now, the crowd is often
made up of enthusiastic tourists who know
nothing of the way things used to be. Gone
is the old-fashioned risqué ambience,
along with the small town that put a priority
on family and always lent a hand.
''I got to accept it, but it makes me sad,
too,'' Chavez says.
But the man who's always looking for the
beat lets the music move him elsewhere.
''Honey, I tell my son that the day I pass
away, I want a bunch of musicians to come
into my funeral home,'' Chavez says. "And
I want my son to put my cans -- what I play
now -- on top of my grave, so everybody,
when they go there, can see the Buddy Chavez
rhythm machine and maybe play on it.
'That's talkin' 'Hello' to me.''
Shake a leg at chicken, Cuban festivals
Posted on Sun, Jun. 13,
Why did the Cuban chicken cross the Gulf
Stream? To be part of the ChickenFest and
Cuban Heritage festivals taking place in
Key West, of course. Key West's rich Cuban
heritage will be celebrated Monday through
Saturday with events that include a cigar
dinner, a traditional Cuban feast and a
salsa party. Located just 90 miles from
Cuba, Key West's family-oriented Cuban American
Heritage Festival showcases the vibrant
culture and customs brought by cigar makers
to Key West in the 1800s. The festival's
highlight will be a ''coast-to-coast'' conga
line, featuring comparsa dancers, salsa
musicians, a few chickens and costumed revelers
promenading down the island's renowned Duval
Street from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf
of Mexico. For more information and a complete
schedule, call 305-295-9665 or visit www.cubanfest.com.
Flock Fest: Among those scheduled to dance
in the coast-to-coast conga line is a group
of costumed chickens celebrating the new
ChickenFest Key West, set for Thursday through
Sunday. Paying homage to the island's free-ranging
''birds of paradise,'' the festival will
feature family-friendly fowl play, including
a competition for the best-looking ''drumsticks,''
the Chicken Scratch Miniature Golf Tournament
and the Fowl Follies talent contest. Other
events include a Tastes Like Chicken Cook-off
with chickenless cuisine, the Why Did the
Chicken Cross the Street Fair, an all-day
egg-stravaganza for children, a Poultry
in Motion Parade, Foghorn Leghorn look-alikes
and rooster revelers of all sorts. For more
events and times, visit the official ChickenFest
Key West Web site at www.cfkw.org.
Roosters! Roosters! Cuba! Cuba! at 814
Duval St. in Key West is presenting an exhibition
of rooster and chicken paintings and etchings
to coincide with ChickenFest. The exhibition
presents works by artists from various locations
around Cuba, including Havana and Holguin,
and are a tribute to its celebrated gallos,
or roosters. In Cuba, the rooster symbolizes
masculinity or the Cuban man. It also has
religious significance in Santeria. Media
include oil on canvas, pen and ink with
watercolor and ''colografia,'' a form of
painted etchings. Each image is unique,
and only a limited edition of a series is
usually created. Visit Cuba! Cuba! from
10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, or visit www.CubaCubaStore.com.
The phone number is 305-295-9442.
Kids are indoctrinated early
William Robinson. Posted
on Sun, Jun. 13, 2004.
As an American who has legally visited
Cuba three times through trips licensed
by the Treasury Department, I must comment
on the recent derailment in Cuba of a train
loaded with schoolchildren. The first two
trips I made to Cuba were part of a cultural
exchange in 2002 and 2003. I am a U.S. railroad
employee and was part of a group that was
allowed to visit sugar mills and operate
steam locomotives during the sugar harvest.
We traveled throughout the Cuban rail system
on various equipment, including the type
involved in the accident. The first time
that the group went to Christina Estacion
in Havana in 2002, it was an unofficial,
unannounced and unwelcome visit. We were
asked to leave and told that no photographs
were permitted. Still, we were able to squeeze
a few off -- it is hard to stop 60 American
railroad enthusiasts from taking photos.
In the station, there were thousands of
young teenagers, and trains were filled
to capacity with them. They acted as teens
do, laughing and playing. I saw a few such
trains on our journey, which made me question
their true purpose. The passenger cars were
old Romanian and Russian boxcars converted
for use as coaches. They were fitted with
metal and plastic seats. Our group traveled
on these cars occasionally.
As much as I regret using the analogy,
the sight of the children on these trains
reminded me of the Nazi death trains of
World War II. Later, Cubans told me that
these trains were taking children from Havana
to boarding schools in the countryside.
I was told, during their week at these schools,
the children attended education classes
and, it was implied, they were indoctrinated
with political dogma and military training.
The teens would board the trains again
on a Friday and go back home to Havana to
spend the weekend with their families. On
Sunday afternoon, the children would again
board the trains and travel back to the
schools. Monday, each child would be interviewed
by their instructor about their home life
and their parents' actions.
In other words, Big Brother spies on the
Cuban citizens through the eyes of their
children. This is just one of several similar
stories I heard from Cubans while on my
trips through the island.
As an American who has seen Castro's Cuba,
I can no longer take my rights and liberties
for granted. Cuba is so near to our shores;
I think that every American should have
the right to visit and experience it for
what it truly is: an oppressed country that
survives by crushing the spirit and dreams
of its citizens.
By seeing the truth in Cuba, Americans
finally will appreciate what they have as
U.S. citizens and do something about the
situation there. It is almost a shame that
we have wasted our time with Iraq. Sometimes
I think that we should have liberated Cuba
I am not advocating that we invade Cuba.
But Cubans are friendly to Americans and
would, at the least, appreciate the sacrifice
our soldiers would make, if we did.