As I headed to the La Castellana Psychopedagogic Medical Center in the Arroyo Naranjo municipality to learn about Tania’s life and work, I thought that I was going to feel uncomfortable among its patients and their disabilities. I imagined I would find sad stories, and tried to prepare myself. However, when I walked through the gate into the center, something magical happened; from the heat and noise of the boulevard outside, I stepped into coolness and laughter. A group of boys and girls were tossing a ball back and forth in the courtyard. A patient examined the color of my socks, his particular way of introducing himself to strangers. Two patients walked by carrying gardening tools. There was no call for pity here; I was surrounded by cheerfulness. Most of these patients have fulfilled their dreams and achieved incredible things. I then felt pity for those of us who had not witnessed this magic.
Tania, 30, was born with Down’s syndrome. She is a soloist with the La Castellana dance group, and at this center she has acquired all of the resources she needs to face and enjoy life. She has mischievous smile and is playful. She likes being photographed, but she is shy about participating in conversation. She loves to laugh and is affectionate. When you meet her, you understand the saying about a good person being a happy person.
Why are you so fond of dancing?
They taught me how to dance and there are many dances. I was born very small, and they taught me how to dance…. There are thousands of songs, so many dances. I dance to the [song] “Mi habana.” I dance to “Gracias a la vida” with five girls. I am the soloist. I dance to the Pablo Milanes song, “Cuando te encontré.”
Do you remember when you came to La Castellana?
Two years. I used to hide behind the plants.
Do you like coming here?
Lots. Because everyone here loves me very much. They are good people. I come in the morning and they say hello to me.
What work do you do?
Here we have gusanos de tela, doll-making; I help to set the table. I know how to sew. I do lots of stuff.
You also practice sports…
Yes, gymnastics, rhythmic gymnastics. And it is really fun.
But you are not just any athlete; you are a good athlete.
Yes, I am a good athlete, and I went traveling.
Where did you go?
To the United States. I went [in] ’95, and I won a bronze medal for Cuba. I went everywhere they took me; to the International Convention Center to see our leader Fidel Castro. I went to Sancti Spíritus and Las Tunas, and to Pinar del Río, to a buffet.
How was the trip to the United States?
Wonderful. You can’t feel the plane. They’re comfortable. There are lots of friends there who give me presents, lots of presents.
Where do you prefer to compete? In Cuba or the United States?
In the United States because it’s big, and there’s lots of space.
You have somebody special right now in the United States: your boyfriend….
He was. I dumped him. I’m free and independent. Alejandro is not here anymore; he’s there with his sister because he doesn’t have a mom anymore. His mom died.
What does love mean to you?
Tenderness, love, affection. Love is good. Everyone loves me. My mother adores me.
What do you enjoy doing most?
Everything is possible in life. My life is music.