Tag Archives: Che Guevara

Ruben Guardado: An ABC Scholar’s A+ Speech

Yesterday, “06880” readers were inspired by a speech from Khaliq Sanda. The A Better Chance scholar spoke movingly at Saturday’s ABC gala about his 4 years in Westport.

Khaliq’s fellow senior (and roommate) Ruben Guardado also awed the large crowd. Today, “06880” readers will be similarly moved by this outstanding young man’s words. He said:

Last year, I did my junior research paper on Che Guevara. I wrote a quote that meant a lot to me in one of my notebooks. Now, as I look back on the last 4 years, it’s become even more meaningful. “The road to success,” Che said, “is pictured as one beset with perils but which it would seem an individual with the proper qualities can overcome to attain the goal. The reward is seen in the distance; the way is lonely.”

Of course, Che was talking about revolutionary struggle in Cuba and elsewhere. But I realize now that I’ve traveled the road he described.

Ruben Guardado delivers his speech at the ABC gala with confidence and poise.

Ruben Guardado delivers his speech at the ABC gala with confidence and poise.

I was a little nervous when I first came to Westport, but I was ready to dive into the world headfirst. I had visited Staples in 8th grade, and it was literally awe-inspiring. It seemed like the perfect place to go to school, but I knew that it would mean leaving behind everything — and everyone — I knew.

I grew up in San Diego, in the barrio, where everyone was Hispanic or Latino. My heritage was pretty unremarkable because it was the heritage we all shared. We didn’t think about it or talk about it. We just took it for granted: we all spoke Spanish, we all ate tamales at Christmas, we all went to quinceañeras when our cousins turned 15.

Then I moved here. And hardly anyone was Hispanic or Latino, and no one spoke Spanish — although a lot of people were trying to learn it. No one ate tamales at Christmas, and instead of quinceañeras everyone went to bar mitzvahs. Suddenly my heritage became pretty remarkable, even to me. And that is probably the most important aspect of my experience as an ABC scholar. Being here has enabled me to grow and change — but also to become more myself.

Graduating seniors Ruben Guardado (right) and Khaliq Sanda pose with Anthony Soto, the gala MC, and the 1st Westport ABC alum to earn a graduate degree.

Graduating seniors Ruben Guardado (right) and Khaliq Sanda pose with Anthony Soto, the 1st Westport ABC alum to earn a graduate degree.

When I first got here, my day-to-day interactions with the kids who became my friends, the teachers who taught me, and the adults who cared for me highlighted the differences between us. The weight of it all finally hit me. I walked around with a large lead ball in my stomach. But even though I was homesick, I had the support of my family and the A Better Chance community.

In time, I found my place in the school community, and I found activities I enjoyed and people I really liked. I stopped seeing my peers as a monolithic group of teenagers, and I started seeing them as individuals. And I think that the same thing happened to them: they stopped seeing me as a Hispanic kid and started seeing me as Ruben, who happens to be Hispanic.

It has totally been a 2-way street. We have shared and borrowed from each other’s cultures. And now I am proud to be Ruben, who happens to be Hispanic and who happens to wear Sperry Topsiders, which I can guarantee you no one in the barrio wears. When I wear them home on break, I definitely get some funny looks. But I am kind of proud of them. They are proof that I am part of 2 cultures now. I am San Diego and Westport.

As a junior — feeling more secure — Ruben chose Che Guevara as the topic for his research paper. He learned that despite his flaws, Che had a vision to help the unrepresented and oppressed. Ruben also learned that his culture is filled with leaders, pioneers, writers, artists, scientists and musicians.

Ruben thought that engineering might be a way to address some of the problems he saw in San Diego and elsewhere. He understood the importance of working together, to help others. He repeated Che’s quote: “The reward is seen in the distance; the way is lonely.”

But, Ruben continued: My way has not been lonely. Even at the beginning, when I first got here, I never felt alone. I always knew there were people who were with me every step of the way.

Volunteers for the A Better Chance gala included Staples students. The signed Joe Namath jersey on the wall was one of many auction items.

Volunteers for the A Better Chance gala included Staples students. The signed Joe Namath jersey on the wall was one of many auction items.

He thanked past and present ABC chairmen Steve Daniels and Eric Seidman, house parents Desiree and Titus McDougald, house cook Merrill Boehmer, many volunteer drivers and tutors, and his host family: Nancy Yates, Bob Andrew, and their sons Sam, Ben and Eli. Then he said:

Although only one member of my family is here, I would like to thank my dad, Ricardo, who was the motivation for everything I did. My brother Raul and sister Viri were always waiting for me to get home so we could get back to bickering, which — strangely — I missed while I was away.

And last but not least, the most important person throughout this entire process: my mother, Teresa, who was my inspiration, as well as a great friend when I needed someone to talk to. Thank you all for always being there and for supporting me in everything that I do.

Ruben paused, took a big breath, smiled, and concluded:

I’ve learned many things during the past 4 years, but the most important thing I’ve learned is who I am. As much as this has been a journey of miles, it’s been a journey of self-discovery.  I am who I am because of all of you.

Thank you.



A Weird Way To Celebrate The 4th

Independence Day is all about revolution.

Revolution was on the mind of this Old Mill homeowner today too:

Che GuevaraIt just wasn’t the American one.

De Westport A Cuba

Sometimes you can go home again.

Even if home is Cuba.

Maite Hernandez was born in Puerto Rico. She and her husband, Roy Marmelo — he’s Portuguese — have lived in Westport for nearly a decade. But her parents are Cuban, and many relatives still live there.

In 1997 Maite and Roy visited Cuba. They traveled the back way — through Mexico.

But recently, over Christmas break, Maite and Roy and their 4 children enjoyed a family reunion in Havana. They went the new way — on a Delta charter from Miami. Other relatives came from Los Angeles and Barcelona.

The Marmelo family, in Cuba.

Americans can now visit Cuba for religious, educational and family reasons. And what better family event than seeing long-lost relatives — and introducing the Marmelo kids Andres, Claudia, Júlia and Lucas to cousins they’ve never met?

Maite’s aunt Lucy has visited Westport before. (She’s allowed out of the country because, with 5 children of her own, she’s not considered a flight risk.) She and her other relatives still in Cuba live better than many in that country, Roy says. They’re well educated, and serve in prestigious professions like medicine and government. They live in Miramar, a Havana suburb filled with embassy homes.

One of Lucy’s daughters is a famous TV soap opera actress. A son, who serves in the Army, accompanied Fidel Castro on a trip to Mexico. He drove the Marmelos around in his van — just as he did Peter Frampton, on the singer’s visit to Cuba.

Lucy’s neighbor is Aleida March — Che Guevara’s widow. Andres Marmelo must be the only Bedford Middle School 8th grader to have met that connection to history.

A 1950's car, in 2012 Cuba.

Cuba is a study in contrasts, Roy says. Propoganda is everywhere — you can’t avoid seeing signs promoting 53 years of revolution — and so are the 1950s-era American cars that Cubans take pride in maintaining. But there are BMWs too.

The Marmelos visited a military museum (where they saw the American-made boat that brought Fidel back home from Mexico), as well as the Hemingway museum with his boat.

But recent changes allow Cubans to buy permits to sell items in front of their homes. They can open up bakeries. A Hernandez cousin says “80 to 90 percent” of citizens no longer believe much of the propoganda.

“In 1997, when we talked about politics we were told to lower our voices,” Roy says. “This time, that didn’t happen.” Cubans were even dancing to Gloria Estefan’s song, “Cuba Libre” (“Free Cuba”).

There is plenty of food — but it’s very expensive. The Hernandez family went all out to show their far-flung relatives a good time. Still, there was plenty of white rice, black beans and pork. “It was a good lesson for the kids,” Roy says.

Andres Marmelo saw plenty of eye-opening sights in Cuba -- including Che Guevara's face on the Ministry of Interior in Havana. The building proclaims "Hasta la victoria siempre" -- "To victory always."

“Everything in Westport is perfect and beautiful,” Maite adds. “Everyone is well dressed. It’s a bubble. You don’t see poverty. Cuba was an eye-opener.”

The sheets are so rough, they scratch. Maite’s relatives requested linens from America and Spain.

It was an eye-opener in other ways too. Cubans with connections have flat screen TVs. They hide illegal satellite dishes in water towers, and watch ESPN.

Maite’s cousin pays someone for internet access. The cousins have Facebook — “but they get on at like 3 a.m., with a dial-up modem,” Maite says.

There is plenty of night life in Havana. Young people go to bars — one is called the Yellow Submarine — and the famous Tropicana night club is still around. It looks good, Roy says.

The Marmelos spent most of their time in and around Havana. Each relative spent time entertaining them. They did take a side trip to Maite’s mother’s old beach house, and drove by Fidel and Raúl Castro’s ranches. (Photos were forbidden.)

The Marmelos are back now in Westport. The kids are sorting out everything they saw and did. Their parents thoroughly enjoyed the family reunion. They’ve got hundreds of photos, and souvenirs like a couple of paintings.

No Cuban cigars, though. Roy says getting them through customs is too much of a hassle.

A toll plaza on the coast celebrates 53 years of revolution.