2010 Cuba journey: The prequel

This story is the PREQUEL to Cuba a ten day journey

How I met Julio Cabeza’s in 1975
In 1975 my mother, Nina Serrano, met a young Cuban theater director, Huberto Llamas. Huberto had recently graduated from the university and was completing his community service by setting up a rural theater group in a new community in the country side.

La Loma Del Tanque

The community, La Loma del Tanque, was a modern housing complex built on top of a mountain near the coastal town of Santa Cruz del Norte (home to the Havana Club rum factory) and the local sugar producing town of Hershey, formerly owned by, well, Mr. Hershey.
La Loma del Tanque, (The Tank Hill) refers to the slave tank that marked the spot for centuries.

In the early 1970s an initiative began to help rural farmers get access to electricity, education, health care, TV, and running water by offering them housing in apartment complexes in the country side.

Photo of a Cuban "Bohio" courtesy of: Nebraska and Cuba: Past, Present, and Future http://www.nebraskacuba.com

The theater group was made up of farmers who had recently moved from isolated huts (Bohios) to the housing complex. The idea was to work out the problems of this transition and to engage the farmers in cultural activities.

View from La Loma del Tanque - overlooking Santa Cruz del Norte - Photo by Julio Cabeza


I received a message on Facebook…”are you the Valerie Landau that was in Cuba in 1975?” from Julio Cabezas.

Yes, I replied and we had a short Facebook exchange…I did not remember how we met…

Fast forward to the journey in June 2010.

I arrived at Julio’s home, after 35 years and after a warm welcome, Julio told this story….

I was taking my aunt to the hospital a few months ago….and an old man called me over….”Julio, come here…I want you to send a message to the Americana con el Cuerpazo, Nian Serrano…tell her, because of her I can die in peace.”
“All my life I was a violent man, fighting and feuding with a family that lived some ways from my house. When we moved to “La Loma del Tanque” we were right next to each other–making our lives miserable with fighting and feuding.

When we joined the theater group the Americana Nina Serrano said, “What a great story. It is Shakespearean. We will make a play. Perfect, now you go into a group and you decide the ending of the play…All plays have a beginning, middle and end. The end determines whether it is a comedy or tragedy. Now in your group write the ending of the play…is this story a tragedy or comedy.

In the group we wrote a resolution to the conflict and in the play the two men shook hands. We were cast to play these men. We did not want to shake hands. The Americana Nina Serrano said, you are just acting, it’s not you shaking hands, it’s the character you are playing….but at that moment of shaking hands with my life-long enemy, I had a revelation…and never fought again. I realized I could write the ending to my ife…and now at 92, I die a peaceful man…thanks to the Americana Nina Serrano.

So, Julio, I ask you, please find that Americana Nina Serrano and tell her my story and thank her.


Julio then searched on the internet at his work (the local TV station) and found me on Facebook…

I asked him how we met….

“I was 14 years old sitting on my front porch (here in Santa Cruz del Norte) and Huberto and your mother were walking by. Huberto asked me “Young man, how would you like to join a theater group?”

“What is a theater group?” I asked.

Your mother and Huberto sold me on the idea with talk of games and trips to Havana. I went to the first meeting and was disappointed when surrounded with what I perceived then as all old people.

But Huberto insisted that I keep my commitment until after our performance as the troupe was counting on me, as my part required a young actor. So after our first performance in Havana, I was ready to quit….when just at that moment you and your good friend Marta Martinez arrived.

“Hmmm,” I thought, theater just got a lot more interesting.”

I served as your guide, and several of your friends came to visit, and we went to the beach and swam in the river and explored and played for the summer.

I stayed on as a member of the theater group to stay close. My younger brother played in an adapted version of “The Chicken Made of Rags”

(later that day, Julio’s mother came by and sang the chorus of a song from the musical play the Chicken Made of Rags written by my uncle, Philip Serrano translated into Spanish….Yo quisiera volvar. The English version “I wish that I could fly

Julio’s mother said, “I still remember seeing my son, who played the caterpillar, crawling around, trapped in the net.”

Julio, recited the lyrics to a song written for one of the plays by Jorge Luis Triana.

I posted the lyrics to Santa Cruz


4 thoughts on “2010 Cuba journey: The prequel

  1. Val, thank you for this wonderful story. It is so wonderful, it is almost unbelievable, except that I, as Nina’s friend , have heard stories like this about and from her ( and members of her family including you ) for many years. I hope to come on your next trip to Cuba. I had just written on facebook ” How was your trip to Cuba ” when I scrolled down and came to the entries for this blog. Wonderful wonderful wonderful.

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