January 2019: Rescuing History for Cuban Friends

A painting of a Cuban Quaker church

Image courtesy of the Puente de Amigos Committeee

We—Gina Nortonsmith and Macci Schmidt (Northampton, MA Friends Meeting)—arrived at the Frank Pais International airport in Holguín on January 4, 2019, accompanied by Vivian and Andrea, Benigno Sanchez-Eppler’s (Northampton) student research assistants, who also acted as translators. We four traveled under the auspices of Puente de Amigos under Puente disciplines. Our  “assignment” was to assess and inventory the minutes and other important documents of five monthly meetings in Cuba, to scan the minutes of the Executive Committee of Cuba Yearly Meeting (CYM), and to provide some guidance to Cuban Friends on preserving and maintaining their documents.

Cuban Friends were warm and generous with their time. In Benigno’s absence, Ramón Gonzales Longoria shepherded us and oversaw our work. Ramón made all the housing arrangements (since we weren’t permitted to stay as guests of the churches under the tourist visas) and contacts for us in the five churches where we worked as well as in the Havana church, where we spent the last four days of our stay. Though he had a very busy schedule, Ramón also took us on two wonderful beach outings and out for special meals, and arranged times for Andrea and Vivian to meet with young Friends. Vivian and Andrea made warm connections in Gibara with young Cuban Friends and learned much more from them about life in Cuba than Gina or Macci would have. In Havana, Danays Martinez from the church met us at the bus station, found us a great café near our hostel, took us to a jazz concert, and generally showed us the town. She arranged for a guide and car for us to visit places outside Old Havana, and took Andrea and Vivian out one evening. The four of us attended two Sunday services at the church in Gibara, and Macci and Gina went to services at the Havana church.

We all felt that we did good work, although Gina and Macci would like to have had more time and resources to do more. Vivian and Andrea had specific work on CYM records to complete for Benigno, but when they finished with that, they cheerfully pitched in to help with the monthly meeting inventories and assessments. We were able to complete the work for four churches—Gibara, Holguín, Puerto Padre, and Velasco—but only about half of it for Banes. Fortunately, some Friends from Banes met with us to understand what they could do in future to preserve their documents, and we believe that they will complete the work we started. We had similar meetings in Puerto Padre and Holguín. Those who attended were enthusiastic about conserving the history of their churches and were grateful for our visits.