March 8 is considered a holiday and a commemorative day; however, there were historical events that led to that day becoming International Women’s Day. It was at the Second Conference of Socialist Women (Copenhagen, 1910) that it was noted that women were taking a vigorous place in the struggles of the working class, to the point of “becoming a social force that cannot be ignored in the process of the struggle for gender equality, and where this annual day of struggle for the emancipation of women was voted. There, the date of its realization was left to each country. In Cuba, this day has served to honor and remember great women who have marked the history of the nation. But women are never remembered as the bearers of the traditions and social imagery that culturally sustain the Cuban archipelago.
The first of these women is Antoñica Izquierdo, a famous spiritualist who was born in Pinar del Rio in 1899 and who was said to cure with water. According to tradition, when one of her children was very sick and there was no way to cure him because of the precariousness in which he lived, the Virgin Mary appeared to him and taught him how he could cure with water. Antoñica, did the same thing the Virgin told him and miraculously her son was healed. Some time later, the Mother of God told him to do the same with other people and with the phrase: “Cursed dog, go to hell”, he freed the people who sought his charity from the illness they suffered. Her life is reflected in the film “Los días del agua” from 1971 by the director Manuel Octavio Gómez. As she was an apolitical figure, she told her followers to abstain from participating in any political act, that’s why the decision makers of the time interned her in Masorra, alleging that she was crazy and that her practices were nothing more than acts of witchcraft. She died there in 1945. Today, her followers, known as the “Aquatics”, can still be found in one of her mogotes in the vineyards.
Another woman of equal fame and charity was the Havana-born Leocadia Pérez Herrera, born on December 9, 1893 in the town of Güines. As she was a spiritualist who practiced the so-called “Crossed Spiritualism”, when she fell into a trance, a being called Brother José passed by, who, according to her, performed miracles. The investigations contrary to what the oral tradition says, says that Leocadia, only consulted with perfume, flowers and water managed to connect with Brother Joseph that many called Tá José. One of the myths that accompany the oral tradition related to this woman is the portrait of Brother Joseph, it is said that the slave spirit appeared to a blind painter and this guided by the entity captured every trace of his face. This painting preceded the spiritualist consultations. Many were the men and women of fame that Leocadia welcomed in her house where artists and politicians stood out. She was also highly revered by low income people whom she helped without receiving any retribution. Leocadia Pérez Herrera, died on June 3, 1963 and was buried, next to the canvas of Brother José, in a bronze coffin. In the neighborhood of La Víbora a temple was built in her honor at Santa Beatriz Street No. 52. Today Leocadia Perez Herrera and Brother José are venerated by many people, who make offerings to them at her grave in the Colon Cemetery in Havana, while touching the rings, making wishes and placing the bouquets. It is said to be the second most visited grave in the cemetery, after La Milagrosa. Every March 19th, St. Joseph’s Day, the place fills up with people as they go to listen to the violin they are offered, where it is possible to hear songs like The Ave Maria and La Bella Cubana.
The last of these women was Aurelia Crespo (Ochun Miguá), a santera who was born on June 9, 1909, in Corral Falto, a town in Matanzas. Aurelia’s importance lies in the fact that she was the first santera to establish the tradition of the violin for Ochun. According to the history, the Venus Lucumí, appeared to her in a dream and asked for a different music to the drummers that so commonly is listened to in the celebrations to the Orishas (Wemileres). So he gave her the Violin for Ochun, which happened on September 12, 1941 on San Rafael Street, on the corner of San Diego in the Pueblo Nuevo neighborhood of the city of bridges. Aurelia Crespo died on September 29, 1977 and is recognized in the world of Santeria for this fact. Some of the objects that she used for the worship of her Guardian Angel are found in the Castle of San Severiano and San Carlos de Matanzas, where people can learn about the life and work of these women and the traditions of African matrix in that city in the west of the Cuban archipelago. Like Antoñica, Leocadia and Aurelia throughout history there have been different women with these gifts like Titina in Las Tunas, Juana Pérez de Camagüey and La Milagrosa de Contramaestre. That is why these words serve to pay homage to all the women who are bearers of the traditional Cuban popular culture, on the special day of the women.