He bears his uncle’s name, as a commitment to the man who raised him with the affection of a father, told him the most exciting sailor’s stories, and took him by the hand on many occasions to see the white yacht that was his pride and joy. But Norberto’s work is his best tribute.
Few among those around him, who call him Indio, know that his real name is Norberto Collado, exactly like the legendary ship captain, his uncle who took him as a son, at just a few months of age.
“I am the son of the Granma’s helmsman; it is my greatest honor,” he said, emphasizing the sincerity of his pride.
“He and my grandfather were my real fathers, the three of us with the same name. The two of them gave me the affection and knowledge that allowed me to grow up – my love of the sea, of the homeland, of history, and above all, of work. Whatever it may be, always, your work,” he insisted, as he tightly held the steering wheel of the car he was driving, as a chauffeur for the Cuban medical mission in Venezuela.
“If it hadn’t been for my asthma, I would have been a sailor like my uncle. It was one of my dreams, and he encouraged me when I was a child. I grew up hearing his sea stories, of the hard life in Batabanó, his enlistment in the Navy, despite being Black, and the time when, from his radar position, he located and helped sink a terrible Nazi submarine close to Cuba, an act which won him a medal from the U.S. Congress.
“But his most exciting story was always, of course, about the Granma expedition. I heard it several times in his house, and other times aboard his own boat, where he took me on innumerable occasions, until I knew every one of its corners by heart.
“I grew up with him taking me by the hand to the memorial, sometimes with my grandfather, when the boat was anchored in the Almendares and later in Casablanca. He wanted me to do something related to the yacht; he even wanted me to be the driver of the trailer that carried the replica in parades,” Norberto recalls.
A HELMSMAN’S PRIDE
The adoptive son of Norberto Collado proudly works as a driver for the Cuban medical brigade in Venezuela. Photo: Dilbert Reyes Rodríguez
The driver’s face lights up with every recollection he shares, saying, “There are great stories about this man that few people know, about his life, his accomplishments before the Granma, which explain why he was on the expedition.”
“I know them, and that is precisely why I admire him so much. He had a special feeling for me, and I saw it lots of times in the satisfaction he felt when I became a soldier, later a firefighter, and finally when I definitively went to work as a driver.
“I believe that my work is a constant tribute to my Uncle Norberto. In fact, I am a helmsman, too, and if he once piloted the boat which carried Fidel and the expeditionaries who made the Revolution, why shouldn’t I feel the same pride, every day here in Venezuela, as I drive my van loaded with Cuban doctors?
“They are soldiers of these times, internationalist guerrillas, and my duty is to make sure they arrive safe and sound wherever this country needs them.
“This is my mission, and doing it well is the best tribute I can render the great man who was like a father to me, Norberto Collado, the Granma’s helmsman.”
The light in his eyes conveys his deep attachment, accentuated now as he shows me photos in the biography of Collado, a book he always keeps close at hand, along with the plastic and cardboard model his uncle promised to make him, shortly before his death in 2007, explaining, “He smiled with tears in his eyes, and said that the prow was higher, but that the model was OK, and he brought a few decorations to put inside. A little after that, he died.
“Still today, I can’t pass by the memorial without stopping. I stand alone in front of the boat, and I see him there. When I return to Cuba, I am going to build a little yacht, with the prow just like he wanted it to be.
“In the meantime, I’ll continue saying that the best tribute is doing my job at the wheel well, as he would. Definitely, this little van is my boat now, and the memory of my uncle is the best inspiration.