|Rita Geada, Miami, 2010|
First, Rita Prulletti was a Cuban refugee from Castro's communist and equally fresh revolution. She was a scholar, having received her doctorate from the University of Havana. The Organization of American States enabled her to complete post-doctoral studies at the University of Buenos Aires. No doubt, she left Cuba in haste, perhaps escaping with the usual suitcase of clothes and leaving family, future and homeland behind. She refused to talk about her experience. A biography mentions her arrival in the United States in 1963 to teach at Southern Connecticut State College. There is no mention of her teaching at Wi Hi. Was it too painful? An embarrassment? Reasons why are in the past, but they are never really dead.
In mid-October 1962, the Soviet Union attempted to place missiles in Cuba. For the United States, the Cold War suddenly took on a much hotter dimension. Soon, the drone of aircraft heading south from Dover Air Force Base was a daily occurrence. At the first sounds, we moved to the windows or gazed up from the playing fields to watch the formations of twenty or thirty aircraft overhead. In wave after wave, they flew into the confrontation that, at this point, was beyond our horizon but in our eyes and ears with every evening newscast. Curiously, OTR does not recall if Profesora Prulletti was in the classroom at that time. How odd, he thinks. Could her introversion, the nervous fleeting smiles, have masked her so well that even her presence at the height of such a crisis could go unnoticed? The answer rests in the profesora's need to be somewhere, anywhere, at the time, but not fixed in place. The Cuban revolution forged her into a searcher. Within two years, she moved on from what was a holding pattern. All of us have at some time or another found ourselves suspended between past and future in a necessary but not ideal present. "La profesora" found her physical place in Connecticut and in retirement today in the Cuban community in Miami where she continues to lecture and write poetry.
Rita Geada is recognized as a leading poet, essayist, short story writer, and member of the "First Generation of the Cuban Diaspora." In her work, she longs for the security of place and family she knew in Cuba before her life was uprooted. For Geada, history is not so much forgotten as it is polluted by self-interest and confusion. It is a world drifting with little hope of finding safe harbors in institutions that at one time held humanity together in both purpose and direction. Still, in this dark world, she longs for the lost years in her homeland, for hope in the restoration of freedom, and joy in camaraderie among the exiles.
In so many ways, Rita Geada, never left the holding pattern that was our Spanish class. Today, she is likely an after-though in the faculty annals at the old alma mater. OTR doubts that very, very few English speaking Americans would recognize her name. Still, a quirky mismatch forty years ago led to five years of academic Spanish on the part of this writer and temporary harbor for a significant participant-observer in the American Experience. OTR hopes that we can learn from Geada's shattered years and their aftermath. A renewed appreciation for family, faith, respectful debate, and national institutions in this difficult time would be a fine tribute to my shy profesora who found her refuge with the Mother of Exiles so many years ago.
For Spanish-speakers, here is Rita Geada discussing her life and work at a conference in south Florida in January 2012:
Paradise Lost or Gained?: The Literature of Hispanic Exile, Fernando Alegria and Jorgo Ruffinelli, Arte Publico Press, 1990;
Handbook of Hispanic Cultures in the United States, Nicolas Kanellos and Claudio Esteva Fabregat, Arte Publico Press, 1994
Amazon.com has a list of the Spanish editions of Geada's recent publications.