Celia Cruz Is
It wasn’t until signed by Ralph Mercado for his former label Ritmo Mundo Musical –or RMM– that our paths finally crossed. The RMM office in Miami was located in Coral Gables at the time and in comes Cruz without make-up, no skyscraper heels, lacking artificial hair and looking very tired. She treated me with such gentleness, cariño and grace that all I could think was: “Check that shit out, she’s treating me as if I were her!” I guess I should not have been surprised as she always had the genuine capacity to make one feel welcomed while on stage. Whether watching her on a presentation, or a dance, you really enjoyed the fact that she was happy to have you there having a blast with her. No wonder amateurish broadcasters from Telemundo and Univision spent so much time with inane and long-winded anecdotic mythologizing on their rare meetings with Cruz during the broadcast of her funerals. Once you met her, you couldn’t avoid liking her even more.
Her death was a worldwide news event. Her funerals, with a public viewing at the Freedom Tower followed by a mass at the nearby GESU Catholic Church in downtown Miami, as well as ceremonies at St. Patrick’s Cathedral and another public viewing in New York, were a true event. The Miami televised Hispanic coverage of those events, however, left a lot to be desired. Even a nobody such as myself knew that Celia’s health was floundering last Fall, why were they so unprepared? The broadcasters of both Telemundo and Univision were quite sloppy and with little in the way of a prepared script. At their hands, Celia’s life was whitewashed while controversial issues such as the Andy Montañez incident –where she allegedly put her foot in her mouth stating publicly that Puerto Ricans didn’t quite understand the plight of exiled Cubans– as well as her condemnation of Montañez’s show of friendship towards composer, singer, poet and Fidel Castro’s premiere artistic pawn Silvio Rodríguez.
At the time, Rodríguez was photographed embracing Montañez before a presentation of his in Puerto Rico and Cruz later accused the latter of fabricating an issue out of it. Here is what she had to say about that incident, taken from an interview by Nestor Louis : “That was gossip which was started by Andy Montañez. Gossip that I would not like to discuss. I would love for this rumor to be resolved in an honest and truthful way. To speak of a man that claims I spoke ill of him and his country, and can't exactly repeat what he claims I said, does not deserve a statement from me. If he tells me ‘Celia, you said this about Puerto Rico,’ or produces the tape where I've said anything negative about him or his country, then he would've earned an apology. But until that happens, I have nothing to say about him, or that issue. I love Puerto Rico and its people. Ok granted there was that incident in Puerto Rico with the Fania All Stars, but the people in Puerto Rico were just reacting to gossiped words and were not aware of the truth. I can't blame them for what happened that day. This is the only blemish in my long career and it shouldn't have happened with a gossip that someone created. I am not about gossip or controversy. I've lived my life and carried my career cleanly; it doesn't make any sense for me to further address that situation. As El Gran Combo de Puerto Rico says, ‘No hay cama pa' tanta gente (There isn’t enough room for so many people).’”
The Fania All Stars incident mentioned in the preceding quote refers to the fact that she was constantly booed while singing in Puerto Rico at the height of said hullabaloo. If any reader, however, can find a reliable source of information that can disprove Cruz’s claim, please send e-mail on it. Montañez, on the other hand, traveled recently to Panama to honor Cruz alongside other Puerto Rican musicians. As we write these lines, Montañez is about to repeat the concert in Puerto Rico. It is also interesting to note that Cruz wasn’t even buried yet and there were already clips on the Telemundo broadcast of Luis “Perico” Ortiz in a Puerto Rican studio recording a Casa de los Tapes production honoring Cruz with Papo Lucca, Tito Allen, Roberto Rohena, Bobby Valentín, Jerry Medina, Wichy Camacho and others. Montañez, it should be mentioned, profited quite well from this issue as he sued the Kiwanis Club in Miami, after they cancelled his scheduled presentation at the Calle Ocho Festival at the time, and won.