Mario Mesamario5.jpg (22223 bytes)

mario2.jpg (24473 bytes)In 1980 thousands left Cuba in what became known as the Mariel Boatlift, a time when those fleeing Castro were joined by thousands of prisoners and mental patients that Castro himself sent away in a fortuitous emptying of the island’s prisons and mental institutions. In 1980, Mario Mesa, a "Marielito," says he was brought to the U. S. by his family, arriving as a political prisoner and leaving behind a hard life in Cuba.

"I was abandoned at birth," he says. "I was poor and couldn’t go to school. I never played the games children play. I was always working"--as an electrician in a shipyard, as a bartender. When he was 21 he got married: "It was a disaster. Lack of experience on my part. The environment I worked in, bars and all, didn’t prepare me for marriage. After that I had a lot of women. I’m a great dancer. I can dance 24 hours a day."mario1.jpg (23249 bytes)

Mesa started painting in the U. S., after being hospitalized for a nervous breakdown. "When I got sick I lived in the streets. I had always been very neat and clean, but everything changed. When I got better I had to help myself. I started to paint the day [Rufino] Tamayo died," in 1991. "I started painting to give something back. Thanks to the painting I got better."

Mesa says he always wanted to be a painter "so I could paint the beauties of mother nature. I’m not a poet but I have a very strong sense of what life and nature are, and that moves me to express myself without words."

But as soon as he says this, he tells a story that seems to contradict: "I don’t know how to paint. It’s the Indian who paints. The Indian lived a long time ago and he prepared his paint and painting on rocks." He also credits the aliens he saw in a flying saucer when he was seven and later met in the hospital when he was treated for problems with his pancremario3.jpg (26335 bytes)as: "I lost a hundred pounds and the aliens came and I had a relation with them and they made me better. Their headquarters is in the Bermuda Triangle. They help me whenever I have a problem. I do what they tell me to."

Nonetheless, Mario Mesa paints. "I’m lonely. My daughter got married and isn’t my daughter anymore--she’s her husband’s wife--and to make a long story short, no one wants a crazy person in the house. All I have for company is my brushes and paints, and I thank God for giving me that."

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Copyright 1999 Jeffrey Knapp and Tamara Hendershot