Kites will soar as Brunswick celebrates its Cuban connection

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BRUNSWICK — Nestor Gil is admittedly conflicted about 1959, Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution.

On the one hand, Gil, an artist doing a two-year fellowship at Bowdoin College, can appreciate Castro, who for 50 years has thumbed his nose at the United States, holding on to power despite assassination plots and coup attempts.

But Gil’s rebellious romanticism changes when he considers his mother and father. Carmen and Nestor Sr. initially supported the revolution, but ultimately joined the diaspora of Cubans who left the island nation as Castro’s despotic ambitions became more apparent.

“To my parents, and others who left, Castro is the devil,” Gil said.

Gil’s ambivalence about the revolution will be reflected on Sunday, April 11, when he and other members of the community gather on the fields at Farley Field House to fly 59 handmade kites made of paper, cloth, wire and wood.

The kites’ design is something of a family heirloom, passed down from Gil’s father and grandfather.  On Sunday, weather and user permitting, each of them will take to sky.

The event for all ages runs from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sunday as part of Brunswick’s Cuba Week. The week of activities is part of the town’s sister-city exchange with Trinidad, Cuba. It begins Friday and runs through April 17.

Although the number of kites is meant to be symbolic, Gil said he isn’t aiming for a particular message.

“It’s about wanting to grab something, a detail, a spark plug in itself,” he said. “The year 1959 is cause for great mourning for people like my parents. For some people it’s the opposite. … I’m not interested in saying ‘yes, the revolution was good,’ or ‘no, it was wrong.’ It’s about this one detail, this one moment, and living in it.”

That moment has particular meaning to Gil and his parents, who were courting in 1963 when they left Cuba. Nestor Sr. went to Mexico, while Carmen, a devout Catholic, was sent to a convent in Spain. 

Although the two communicated while apart, Carmen considered devoting herself to a cloistered life. She changed her mind when, six years later, Nestor Sr., who had joined the U.S. Navy after migrating to Philadelphia, sent her a picture of himself posing alongside a 1957 Chevy.

“I love Carmen” was engraved on the door.

Nestor and Carmen ultimately settled in Jacksonville, Fla., where they had six children.

The couple has never returned to Cuba. Their children have never been there. Although Gil has a desire to visit the island nation, he knows doing so would anger his parents, who believe in America’s strict adherence to a trade and visitation embargo that has existed for nearly 50 years.

“It’s interesting, I was raised believing I belonged in a place I’ve never been,” Gil said. “Yet where I was raised I’m sometimes considered an outsider.”

“Maybe that’s why I make things that aren’t permanent, that go away, ” he added, noting that many of the kites that will fly on Sunday probably won’t take to the air a second or a third time.

Although Gil attaches a larger metaphor to the kite flying – kites fly through resistance and wind, yet must be attached to a “grounded” individual  to remain aloft – he doesn’t want participants to get too burdened by it.

“I just like the idea that I can do this project, and that people will come,” he said. “I want this to be fun, community event, and for people who come to live in that moment. This project doesn’t need for me to say something.”

Steve Mistler can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 123 or [email protected]

Sidebar Elements

Nestor Gil, an artist doing a post-doctorate fellowship at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, tests one of the 59 handmade paper kites he and others will be flying on Sunday, April 11, at Farley Field. Gil, whose parents left Cuba shortly after the 1959 revolution, said he hopes the event called “Papalotes! 59 Kites” will encourage participants to enjoy the moment without getting wrapped up in the metaphor.