SMC professor's tale of love, revolution

In 1936, Spain was in flames, the country was in a civil war and Professor Miguel Aparicio’s grandmother, Manuela Quintero Avila, known as “Nena,” was there to see it happen. Aparicio, who teaches French at Santa Monica College, has recorded the story of his family in his new book titled “Nena y Gloria,” a story that spans from the foamy shores of Cuba to the turbulence of the Spanish Republic, and back to Cuba in time to experience the 1959 Revolution.

“My grandparents got married in 1915, and they worked a lot,” said Aparicio. “They became very rich in 1923. My grandmother always wanted my father to have a European education, so in 1923, they decided to leave Cuba for Spain, and they bought a house that was two blocks from the Prado museum.”

Just as Aparicio’s grandparents found prosperity in Spain, one of the greatest downturns in history struck the country.

“They lived there seven years, and in 1929 they lost all their money in the crash,” said Aparicio.

Forced to sell their home and restart his grandfather’s business — a sugar-cane plantation — Aparicio’s family returned to Cuba in 1930 when the country was under the dictatorship of Gerardo Machado, Aparicio said.

Amid the dictatorship and hard work, a new chapter began for the family in 1930 when Aparicio’s grandmother won the Cuban lottery worth $30,000. During those years, that amount was an unimaginable fortune.

Desiring an escape from the Machado regime, the family fled to Spain, unaware of the coming Spaniard troubles between 1933 and 1936.

The world was changing and the Spanish country that had lived for centuries under the crux of monarchy and the Catholic Church found itself being swept away from tradition. A vast front of socialists, liberals, communists, anarchists and others ushered in a new era by casting out the centuries-old monarchy.

“They found themselves confronted by those problems that Spain was going through in those years,” said Aparicio about his grandparents’ experiences.

The ordeal of living through the birth of a new republic and the turbulence that would follow became a theme in Aparicio’s home while growing up.

“My grandmother would have stories about this,” Aparicio recalled. “She would tell me things that happened during those years that I had a difficult time believing.”

His grandmother was witness to a society whose fissures were suddenly exposed, and class warfare broke out in public telling of how women would be attacked in the streets, and have their earrings ripped from their ears.

“My grandmother decided not to wear any more jewelry as a consequence,” Aparicio said.

He said that there was a feeling of being either monarchic or Republican, and that Republicans wanted to do away with everything that had preceded in the way of nobility and the power of the church.

In 1936, right-wing forces led by General Francisco Franco, determined to restore tradition and order, carried out a coup against the Republic, and the result was a civil war that pitted fascism against democracy in what historians still consider a dry run for what would be World War II.

“There were so many factions with desires to go one way or the other,” said Aparicio. “It’s a very complicated history.”

His family decided to return to Cuba once again. His grandmother managed to secure a boat to Cuba just before his father was almost drafted into the Spanish army.

In Cuba, Aparicio was later born and became a witness to vast social changes when the Cuban Revolution overthrew the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista in 1959.

Thus the age of Fidel Castro began, and Aparicio immigrated to the United States in 1961 and never returned since. His mother and father would finally join him in 1965.

Despite the heartbreak of revolution, Aparicio is not pessimistic about idealism.

“Being idealistic, it’s wonderful,” he said. “It just takes a long time to take.”

Aparicio has recently finished a second book, a biography, which focuses on his mother and his parents’ experiences settling in the United States. He said it is more personal than “Nena y Gloria,” which was more of a history lesson.

“I encourage everyone and everybody to write, but the writing process itself is something that is beyond you,” he said. “It’s something one cannot rush.”