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Raíces de mi Corazón
Roots of my Heart:
Summary by Gloria Rolando

See Raíces de mi corazón/Roots of My Heart
for other information on the film

Order on DVD/VHS for $25

Mercedes daydreaming over the family fotos

The story narrated in Raíces de mi Corazón takes place in Havana, Cuba. We follow one day in the life of Mercedes, the protagonist, although there are scenes which take place in the past, some short, others much longer.

At the beginning, Mercedes is in her boss’s office and awaits her assignment to a new project at the publishing firm she works for. The dialog between the two women is tense. Mercedes does not agree with her boss about the research she wants her to do -- Mercedes had asked earlier to begin research into the history of black women in Cuba. Mercedes feels herself underestimated, misunderstood by Zoila, her boss. Her protests are energetic and she tries to make her understand that the results of such a research are an important part of the country’s realities.

During the opening credit sequence, we view various corners of Mercedes’ house. Old photographs adorn the house. Mercedes appears leafing through the pages of a family album as well as through very old newspaper clippings which we later find out pertain to the Independents of Color, a political party. At the end of the opening credits, Mercedes leaves the house to begin her daily routine. She heads over to the hairdresser’s. There, while she gets her hair done in an African style, she has a talk with her friend Carmen. Mercedes reveals all of her disgust at her conversation with Zoila. But Carmen urges her to take advantage of this investigation her boss wants her to do as she would get to consult newspapers and magazines from the beginning of the 20th century. Carmen also suggests that she continue with the idea of doing a family history starting with the large number of photos that Mercedes inherited. Mercedes comments that a few days ago she visited her mother and her grandmother Concepción. Her mother gave her more photos and an envelope in which her grandmother put a series of newspaper clippings. This is something new for Mercedes, so both friends, after their hair is done, go to the National Library, where they comment on the newspaper clippings. Carmen declares that someone in the family was involved with or had something to do with the Independents of Color: some clippings are from the Party’s paper, which was called "Previsión." Mercedes suspects that perhaps the photo of her great-grandparents – Maria Victoria and José Julián - must have some relationship with this Party history. Both comment on the objectives of this political organization, which never had the aim of intimidating the white population. Nevertheless, says Carmen, history imposed a silence after the massacre.

Carmen and Mercedes say goodbye to each other in Havana’s Central Park and comment on how most people walking by are in ignorance of what happened there, at the foot of José Martí’s statue. They are left with the task of deciphering the mystery.

Mercedes goes to the two children’s school. She comes back home with them and there follows a series of scenes from daily life. Mercedes has to scold them several times as the two children are restless. Angela, Mercedes’ mother, arrives. She finally brings her daughter a photo of the mysterious couple. The rest of the time between the afternoon and night passes. Angela is sleeping on a sofa and Mercedes wakes her. They begin an extensive mother daughter dialog in which little by little Angela reveals some elements of this history. At the least, something about those she is familiar with: José Julián, Mercedes’ great-grandfather, was a tobacco worker in Tampa, Florida. After the war of independence, he came back to Cuba with his family, but when he understood the political debacle and especially the hard situation blacks were in, he joined the Independents of Color. José Julián maintained an uneven relationship with Maria Victoria, but they loved each other intensely. Angela says that he disappeared in the year 1912. Maria Victoria’s family, who was never happy with the relationship, discovered that she was pregnant and, in accordance with the era’s strict moral code, she had to take refuge at Aunt Cecilia’s house. But the mystery remains of why José Julián disappeared in 1912. Angela suggests to Mercedes that she try and talk with her grandmother as that elder still jealously keeps some very old letters. Angela has never been able to read them as she could not make out the handwriting and they have deteriorated with the passage of time.

It’s very late at night. Mother and daughter say good bye to each other, it’s time to sleep; but before leaving Angela gives Mercedes a chain with a little heart and places a small candleholder and a cigar in front of the photo of Maria Victoria and José Julián.

Mercedes goes to sleep and begins to dream around these photos and papers. Everything swirls around her head. She is very caught up in this story. In going to sleep, she had begun to read an article that very much caught her attention. It is entitled "The banquet for the troops of the army." While she reads, there occurs a magic moment. All her environment in the house and even outside in Nature acquires another color, another texture. The Mother of Dreams appears. She comes to lead Mercedes on to understand the truth through her dreams. This is expressed in a narrated text in the style of the old African legends that seek to explain all that occurs in the world. The Mother of Dreams takes Mercedes to this world where poetry, death, and desolation all exist at the same time. Mercedes dreams. She dreams about a symbol of two heads that represents the old black soldier (the Mambí), this spirit that walks through the woods of Cuba and appears here and there to relate what has happened. Only he can walk with the dead. He repeats constantly: "Appearances are not reality, what you see is a part of what exists, not all of it… things have two faces…" This spirit of the night recounts his own history which sums up that of many others. He was born in the forest, free because his parents were maroons, they had fled the horrors of slavery. He fought alongside white Cubans in the War of Independence but he is an eternal warrior because blacks did not achieve their objectives with the installation of the Republic which was born in the 20th century. Poverty and discrimination continued. These scenes alternate in the dream with those of the great-grandparents. Mercedes dreams about the letters said to be written by José Julián. In this way, Mercedes comes to know the honesty of the sentiments of her great-grandparents. He was a very active supporter of Evaristo Estenoz, leader of the Party in Havana. Faced with the false accusations leveled against the Party and the move to make it illegal, José Julián decided to join the protests of the Independents of Color in May 1912. All this information is given through a letter that Mercedes hears in her sleep, in the voice of her great-grandfather. He, like the old warrior, wants to continue the struggle. José Julián, before leaving for Oriente, the place where the uprising was taking shape, meets with Maria Victoria. In a tender love scene, he gives her the chain with the heart. They make love. But then the Spirit of the Night announces death, saying "No one knows the secrets of fire, just as no one knows the secrets of life, because life is slow in coming but death is immediate." This Spirit then takes Mercedes in her dream along with the viewer to the terrible spectacle of the massacre. Bodies fall riddled with bullets, others hang from the trees. Newspaper headlines appear alongside cartoon caricatures, all blaming blacks for having promoted a race war. This is the other side of this history. The dream becomes a great nightmare. The newspapers announce the death of the main leaders of the Independents of Color: Evaristo Estenoz and Pedro Ivonet. José Julián appears among the dead and these images are combined with the weeping and the desperation of Maria Victoria who knew very well the noble principles her lover was fighting for. She and people from many other families knew that they would never see their loved ones again as the army had carried out a terrible massacre.

Finally, Mercedes manages to leave this nightmare at daybreak when her mother’s voice calls her. It is not easy for her to distance herself from these revelations. She tries to make some serious comments to her mother, but the latter, in a state far from the intensity of these revelations, tells her that her new partner Armando has just arrived and that she now needs to leave her dreams and tend to reality.

Her dialog with Armando comforts her but then he is drawn to the photo of the couple which is in Mercedes’ room. He approaches and inspects it more closely, then says to her: "There is something very special in their gaze, I don’t know what it is." Inevitably, the mystery of that couple envelops them. Armando helps Angela with Mercedes’ children. The family is getting ready to take advantage of the morning to go out for a walk. But before leaving her house, Mercedes asks him: "Do you think it is possible to learn the truth through your dreams?" He answers: "My grandfather used to say that lies could run one year or two, but the truth always comes out."

Mercedes is alone again in her house. In front of her great-grandparents’ photo, she begins to remember the dream, picks up the chain with the heart, and lights the candle. Inevitably, she weeps. She hears a voice, the same voice as the Spirit of the Night, which says: "Try, try to hear your interior voice, listen to what the roots of your heart tell you."

In the last scenes we see the young couple with Mercedes’ two children as they cross Central Park. There is no dialog, only a suggestion that Mercedes is recounting the story and especially what occurred there in that park. Finally we hear, between Mercedes’ voice and another cold and impartial voice, the announcement of the banquet given to the Cuban army troops to celebrate the massacre right there in the park, where thousands of tables were laid out for them. Original photos of the banquet appear. By the image of José Martí, appears a text written by him: "Truth, once awakened, does not go back to sleep." Before the final sequence of credits, there appears a text which summarizes the historical events that occurred in 1912. Around 6,000 AfroCubans died in all this period from the uprising in Oriente to the slaughter of the principal leaders. A very negative atmosphere was created around the image of blacks, the sensacionalist press played their role in shaping public opinion: blacks promoted a racist war, they wanted to repeat the experience of Haiti and do away with the whites. They never talked about the Independents of Color’s program which proclaimed social justice for all Cubans, a justice that had been promised since the War of Independence.


Images of the Caribe, a video group, presents
"Las Raíces de mi Corazón" - "Roots of my Heart"
(video, color, 50 minutes)

Merecedes, a Cuban woman from Havana, begins to decipher her family secrets through the photo of her great-grandparents, María Victoria y José Julián. Between reality and the world of her dreams, she will learn about the ties this couple -- especially her great-grandfather -- had with the Independents of Color, a political party formed in 1908. The struggle of these black men and women to create a space for themselves in Cuban society at the beginning of the 20th century had a tragic outcome: the massacre of 1912. Many families suffered, but history imposed a silence, the same silence that surrounds Mercedes' great-grandparents.

This short feature film is an homage to the Cuban film maker Sara Gómez and her documentary "Crónica de mi familia" ("Chronicle of my Family")


Monse Duane, Sonia Boggiano, Zoraima Segón, Renny Arozarena, Luz María Collazo, Jorge Prieto, Aimeé Despaigne, Manuel Oña, Nora Rodriguez, Francisca Loredo, Ileana Chávez, Simone Balmaseda, Luz Marina Delis

Children: Aloima Rodriguez, y Darwin L. Duane

Special appearance by invitacion: Elvira Cervera

Producer and Director : Gloria Rolando
Executive Producer : Antonio Romero
Sound: Juan Demosthene
Director of Photography: José M. Riera, Raúl Rodriguez
Editing: Gisela Ramos, Melvin Díaz
Script: Gloria Rolando, Georgina Herrrera
Music: Jorge Maletá, Grupo "Vocal Baobab", Junius Williams
Special Effects: Gilberto Martínez

Costumes: Miriam Dueñas

Historians : Aline Heg y Tomás Fernández Robaina

Order on VHS/DVD for $25, 9/06

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