Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Profesora Rita Geada de Prulletti: A Cuban Refugee Embraces The Mother Of Exiles

Rita Geada, Miami, 2010
We sat in high school Spanish class early in the year awaiting an introduction to our new teacher, Rita Geada de Prulletti (1934 or 1937-  ). Weeks earlier, we had heard that she was a most learned woman, a professor, and would impart her native language upon us with great skill.  We expected anything but a deeply shy woman of barely 26 years old, with raven black hair, dark eyes, and a polite and nervous smile. The "profesora" seemed reluctant to meet us. When she spoke, we understood. She knew virtually no English. On hearing her, I'm sure more than one boy began constructing a list of how best to terrorize Spanish class for the rest of the year. As an academic and intellectual - she published her first book of poetry when she was 22 - the year was difficult for her. Where she expected respect and classroom order as in her home country, she was tested repeatedly, one time to tears, but she prevailed. We were immersed in Spanish as there was no alternative and we - most of us - learned it well. Through the profesora's shyness, her search for discipline and respect, the tears, and her perseverance, we learned far more than a second language. We learned about life. 

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. 


Anonymous said...

Great person, great [unassuming poet] Politically independent, no
doubt future scholars will give
her a deserved WELCOME to the Cuban Poets [in and out of Cuba].

Anonymous said...

Wow, what a memory!! She has green eyes!!!Maybe others will search their memory!!

Anonymous said...

Thank you OTR for your deep apreciation as a student, on my first year of teaching in the USA.
I felt a strong emotion knowing I left a good footprint on you, and feeling your sensitivity at such a tender age, of what was going on, which you expressed in your excellent article.
You are correct! It was a very tough, hard year! My first year as an exile.
For your info:
During Oct. crisis I was still in Buenos Aires.
I did post doctoral studies a theUniversity of Miami and went to teach in CT in 1966.
My eyes are green!!!
Thanks!! Keep in touch!
Rita Geada

Kristina M. Sierra said...

Wow my Tia!!! She is my great Aunt (my grandmother's sis), I am her niece and Yes she has left her footprint on many people including me. She is intelligent, funny, sensitive, ecentric, etc. She is all of these things and much more. I feel very proud of being her niece, I love her very much and we share a great bond. Love you Tia Rita!!!

P.S. Its very nice to see that some of her past students remember her with such kindness and respect. Thank you for sharing.

Old Tybee Ranger said...

Profesora Geada and Ms. Sierra. Thank you for the kind words. I hope this story gets more distribution in the Cuban community in south Florida. The Cuban experience in the U.S. in the last half century continues to be of great interest to me and I follow it almost daily, especially through the blog, Babalu.