Embroidering Loyalty

From 1960 onward, two sisters in Havana took care of "embroidering" in silence the epaulettes for Fidel

By: Luis Hernández Serrano

Email: serrano@juventudrebelde.cu

2017-03-28 | 17:05:38 EST

The humble sisters who were born in Havana Lucía Lucinda and Raquel Betancourt Montenegro learned how to embroider with a sewing machine and a hoop at the age of 13 and 12 respectively, thanks to the efforts of a lady named Josefina, whose surname they no longer remember. They did not realize then that this job would make them protagonists of an exciting task.

In 1960, these sisters unknowingly entered into the history of Cuba, because they began to guarantee the embroidery of the military ranks that Commander in Chief Fidel Castro Ruz, leading Cuba and the Revolution, would carry on his shoulders. Lucía Lucinda embroidered while Rachel supported her and accompanied her to fulfil everything necessary to accomplish this task.

Lucía Lucinda had to keep secret her work as embroiderer of the Head of the Cuban Revolution. So, she became "Dinorah", a pseudonym that she, with healthy proud, continues accepting like an honor.

Before talking about how they undertook the discreet assignment, the two sisters —especially Raquel, who is a sort of historian, psychologist and assistant to her sister— asks us to say that they had been suffered early the loss of three brothers, the mental imbalance of their mother and the death of his father, "because of capitalism."

—Dinorah, what was your first job as an embroiderer?

—I embroidered in Havana from 1950 to 1959 for the owners of the Arará y Granda Company, located at Villegas street. They were sellers of knickers and ties for men. My sister and I worked as embroiderer at that workshop from six in the morning to 11 at night, for only a few cents a day. And, our mother brought and took the embroidery we made.

"After 1959 I began to work doing layette in a workshop for confections of the light industry, located in 23 and 24, in Vedado Municipality."

—How did you begin to embroider the Commander's ranks?

­They went to my work place, and asked for an embroiderer who could do it well and someone gave my name and address. So, they came to my home. In 1960, without anyone knowing it, I embroidered the white star on the red-black rhombus of July 26. And when I retired, at 55 years old, in 1986, I started in my own house to embroider the new ranks of the Commander, still more beautiful, with the two yellow twigs of laurel and olive.

What technique did you use?

A sewing machine, the hoop, three types of stitches, and much accuracy, responsibility, discipline and patience.

Could you not use a sample to do the others?

No, the insignias were doing independent one of each other. Fidel wore two in his jacket, and two others in an olive-green shirt underneath: so, there were four embroidery whenever he needed them.

How often did they ask for these jobs?

Sometimes with a certain urgency, if he had a tour it was logical that I had to embroider with greater pressure and did replacement as well.

Raquel remembers that her sister, even if she had a fever, a cold, or she felt bad, never stopped doing that task, sometimes from one day to the next. She embroidered until dawn.

"But one day Dinorah got sick with conjunctivitis," Rachel noted, "and she was desperate because she could not embroider in that condition. She told me: "Oh, my God, I cannot do the embroidery. What's going to happen now? And I encouraged her: "Nothing is going to happen.  He is not going to realize that nor will he get angry. However, somebody told us later, that the Commander, seeing his shirt and his jacket, which had been embroidered by another person, noticed something different when he was dressing and he said that those ranks had not been embroidered by Dinorah.

Raquel does not forget the day when someone, from Dinorah’s work center, dared to say that her work broke the flow of production at the workshop. So, Dinorah, completely indignant, answered strongly: "Look, I embroider the ranks of the Head of the Revolution while I have health, life and sight.”

—How much time did you normally take for an embroidery? I ask Dinorah.

For doing two, four hours; but I usually did four. So, there were eight hours. And all the embroideries were exactly the same.

—Did you ever have the possibility of talking to Fidel?

Yes, once: Tuesday, December 27, 1994, in the Hall of Receptions of the Palace of the Revolution, when he gave me a diploma signed by him. It was also granted to 49 workers of the Council of State for having more than 30 years of service. Fidel gave me the diploma. I was working at that time in the Special Affairs area of ​​that body.

—What memories accompany you from that meeting?

I remember that I approached him and I told him, “Commander, my sister Raquel and I are going to be faithful until the end of our lives. “ And I asked him a photo. He gave me his right hand first, and holding it like this, he also put his left hand, both hands, over mine, and before he left, he said: "Dinorah, the photo is going to be!" And the photo is a fact.

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