Fidel Castro, My Life
A Spoken Autobiography
- Fidel Castro and Ignacio Ramonet
Chapter One: The Childhood of a Leader
The earliest childhood memories of Fidel centered around the small village of Birán in the province of Oriente, now called Holguín. He arrived into this world on his farm, Manacas, in his home on the 13th of August, 1926. His father, Ángel Castro Argiz, was born into a poor family in the town of Láncara in the area of Spain known as Galicia. During that period in Spanish history, rich men could pay a poor person to enter the army for them, and that’s how Fidel’s father came to the island in 1895 during the second War of Independence in Cuba. Though his father returned to Spain in 1898, he loved the island so much that he returned the following year to stay. In an ironic twist of fate, Ángel would make his small fortune supervising thirty or so men for the United Fruit Company, the largest company around.
Fidel’s mother, Lina Ruz González, was born in the Pinar del Río province, and was twenty-five years younger than his father. She eventually gave birth to a total of seven children with Fidel being the third one. For Fidel, she was the true power in the family, a woman who never tired and who made sure that all the chores were taken care of quickly and adequately. She was also the one whom everyone leaned on during their periods of emotional stress.
Though Fidel grew up in a relatively well-to-do family, he seldom took advantage of his preferred status over others. He would often collect cans of leftover food from his meal and hand them to the poorer kids in the area. These early memories of poverty all around him had a great impact on his way of seeing and understanding the rest of the world. Since he was also one of the few who knew how to read and write, his services were often in demand by others who wanted to write a love note to a pretty girl, or who wanted to know current events from the newspapers. Thus, when civil war broke out in Spain in the summer of 1936, he became the official voice of the news for others, especially the Spaniards who had relocated there. In this way, Fidel became an expert on the war.
But Fidel’s first introduction to warfare and its effects began when he starting learning the Bible and then continued in the religious schools he later attended. His first taste of military authority, however, occurred during his schooling years at Santiago during the reign of the Cuban dictator Gerardo Machado. Near the teacher’s home where he stayed while attending school in Santiago, was a small high school where the student body was actively anti-Machado. The various scenes of soldiers occupying that school and beating on civilians with their rifle butts left a lasting impression on young Fidel. All these early scenes of disparity of wealth, lack of basic reading and writing skills, and the misuse of authority by the military would stay with him for the rest of his life and help forge the budding rebel within.