Father’s Day

Havana, Cuba
June 16, 2002

Today is Father’s Day and also my dad’s birthday. It’s been a little over a month since his funeral and I’m gonna spend this poignant day with him after all.

My cozzin Luis had told us about a gathering at Casa del Abuelos at Associacion Lung Kong. I’m overwhelmed by the warm welcome of these uncles left behind here by history. They’re all round my dad’s age… some from the same village area. Amongst these relics of the bachelor society was an old auntie.

She clutched onto my hand like a long lost mother and tells me she’s from my home county Toishan. She speaks to me in the singsong dialect while starring at me longingly with happy yet melancholic eyes. I grew up with Toisanese but rarely get to use it anymore. It use to be the commonly spoken dialect of overseas Chinese who came from rural villages, but it’s becoming almost obsolete with newer immigrants arriving from larger urban centres of China and Hong Kong.

Interviewing Luis at cemetery 2
Interviewing Luis at cemetery 2

Alejandro Chiu-Wong runs the old age home. He’s a seventy-something relic from the leftist Pearl River Production Company in Hong Kong during the McCarthy era. He is a jovial character who reminds me of Leung Sing Bor, a Chinese comic actor from my childhood. I catch some great ambient footage of him today. My favourite clip is the sequence of him sitting around with his cronies in his shabby office/storage room counting the days’ take of Yankee dollars. I love the ambiance. They look like a bunch of mob bosses settling some score. It was a scene out of “Days Of Being Wild”. I think Cheuk is convinced to make him our story.

Alejandro is resisting my idea to interview him in his office today. Like most folks, he doesn’t want anybody to see his dirty laundry. “Aiyah…it’s too messy!” But I’m in love with the sequence from yesterday’s mob heist. I don’t think the best art department could have given me this. Even though it’s hot, stuffy and windowless… I’m determined to interview him there. We wear him down and he gives in to the idea.

We’re hanging out with Alejandro for the day. We start the day at his house for tea. He shows us old photos from his past and somehow ends up pouring his heart out about his love life. He tells us that he’s now 72 and of all the women in his life, he’s only loved one, a lowly actress at the film studio, and she broke his heart. There are lots of photos of his sweetheart… all decked out in big hair, high heels, swinging 50’s fashion. It’s obvious that he’s been carrying a torch for her all these years.

I don’t know why he started telling us all this. Maybe I’m a reminder of his youth. I hope I don’t end up telling some kid how the only one I loved broke my heart when I’m in my 70’s… That prospect is way too depressing.

I had heard my Great Grandfather talk about buddies who had left the Americas to escape racism and headed south to places like Havana and Lima. But I had no idea of the vast amount of history we have down here. As we tour the various Chinatown associations like the Freemasons Society that my Great Grandfather belonged to, it makes me think of what’s happening back home these days with a lot of history and culture being ignored and destroyed to make way for everything new in the name of progress. Will our history only survive then in forgotten far away diasporas like these in Havana?