When the former students of the Jesuit school known as Colegio de Dolores gather for their annual reunion, their nostalgic moments are more profound than most. In addition to lost youth, lost innocence, and lost loves, the Dolorinos mourn the loss of their homeland. “Unmoored” is how author Patrick Symmes describes The Boys from Dolores, these cubanos in self-imposed exile.
Symmes’ biography of the boys from Dolores School begins with a photo taken in 1942 of the 238 students then enrolled in the Colegio. Many of them would be worthy subjects for a biography – television icon Desi Arnaz; Luis Aguilar Leon, aka Lundy, best known for his article ‘El Profeta Habla de los Cubanos’; the Bacardi boys of rum fame—yet the central subject of this work is none of those but rather the student who never attends the reunions: the middle Castro son, Fidel.
Fidel’s classmate Lundy “didn’t like Fidel,” yet like many among the alumni, he was initially a supporter. “The moment he first saw the future, he said, was ‘on the third or fourth day of the Revolution’” Lundy went into Santiago where he encountered the ordinary people of Cuba, and one after another of them warned him of what was to come. “It’s going to be a government of the whip,” says one man. “If those guys [Fidel’s rebels] win power,” warns another, “hunger will come to Cuba.” These, then, were the true Profetas, predicting what Lundy and most of the other Dolorinos eventually saw to be true.
“One of every ten Cubans have fled the island since Castro’s revolution,” Symmes tells us. Every one of them has a story worth telling, and it speaks well of the author’s determination that he tracks so many of the Dolorinos to hear those stories firsthand. Through their words, we begin to feel the ache and the disappointment, and we can almost understand why, more than a half century later, the exiles still dream of returning home.
Symmes established himself as an above-average journalist when he followed the path of Che Guevarra’s The Motorcycle Diaries in order to write Chasing Che. In The Boys from Dolores, Symmes once again proves that he is more than a reporter of facts. Seemingly enamored of the world that made Fidel not only a dictator but a feared and despised legend, Symmes’ lyrical account of events engulfs the reader in the bittersweet lives of the men who tell their stories here.
As if mesmerized by the tale of Fidel Castro and the almost mythical island he controls, Symmes delivers a poignant portrait of the displaced Cubans, allowing the life of Fidel to unfold with dream-like patience through the remembered bits and pieces of others’ lives.
Those born of my generation and afterward don’t remember a Cuba without Castro. The boys from Dolores who share their stories here probably don’t remember it accurately; one senses that they believe the usurper of their home and of their hope is a temporary aberration, a nightmare figure who will be vanquished allowing them to return to the idealized society they remember. Like El Profeta aka Lundy, who has fallen prey to Alzheimer’s, the memories of the exiles fade as that generation dies. Perhaps it is as Symmes speculates, “Cubans might become like the Jews, defined by their floating state, reciting what was lost in an ancient homeland.”
Not a history of the Revolution or the politics, or of the life of that one man who appears to be the creator of modern-day Cuba, The Boys from Dolores is an expertly woven tapestry that depicts the fuller picture of Cuba’s evolution. The impressions of Fidel Castro, the personal stories and memories related by those who knew the boy and the man set this work apart from other biographies and make it more a poetic tribute to the loyal cubanos than a fact-filled dossier about a callous dictator.