Pinareña de Corazón, by Juan C. Kuang

History is, to many, the study of linear, isolated incidents which narrate the actions of our distant ancestors. This definition is incomplete however, because it operates on the premise that history has little to no bearing on our daily lives. And while it may be true for some that the past has offered little in terms of life-changing lessons from the annals of yesteryear, others need only reach out to their elders to learn the true meaning of adversity, freedom, and success.

For living proof, one need look no further than a humble boutique in Guayama named Kim’s Modas. Most days, you can find it’s owner, Josefina Reyes, chatting with her customers or delivering some new merchandise.

Josefina, at an awards ceremony for distinguished women. Her charitableness has earned her much recognition from her peers.

Josefina, at an awards ceremony for distinguished women. Her charitableness has earned her much recognition from her peers.

By her cheerful demeanor and eloquent speech, one might not suspect that she lived out a significant portion of her life in pre-and post-revolutionary Cuba.

Josefina was born into poverty in the small town of Pinar del Rio, Cuba. As a young girl, the resources available to her family primarily dictated her life. She belonged to a simpler time, in which communities lived and worked closely knit, and followed a very different lifestyle, with less regard for larger issues such as affairs of state. It was the state, however, who was responsible for creating these harsh and unforgiving circumstances.

“Times under Batista were difficult,” she explained, “Revolutionaries started planting bombs everywhere, and the army would retaliate.” The terrors become all too real as she recounts one such incident she was present for, “I remember being in a theater, where they set fire to the curtains. It was horrible; all those people trying to get through the cramped doorway. I was small, so I managed to climb over the heads in the crowd and escape through a window. My clothes were tattered and I left a shoe behind. I was barefoot for months after.” Traumatic happenings such as these peppered her early life, and were a regular occurrence in the lives of many Cubans.

When asked how she believed the state was able to exercise such power over the population, she replied that, although the government was characterized by blatant dictatorship (Batista and Castro during her era), the majority of her peers were not inclined to any involvement in politics, instead adopting a more resigned outlook that enabled the dictators, as she remarked, to “install and remove themselves at their leisure.”

In spite of all this, Josefina was not discouraged from finding love. At the tender age of 17, she fell in love with Carlos Kuang, a Chinese national who worked in a nearby ice cream shop. He had fled the country during the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong in the early 1940’s. They married, and gave birth to a son. Fearing for her child’s future, however, she soon managed to escape Cuba and reach Puerto Rico.

Kim's Modas has been in business for over three decades, It remains family-owned and operated.

Kim’s Modas has been in business for over three decades, It remains family-owned and operated.

Having no prior contacts on the island, Josefina and her husband sought to carve themselves out a new life in Guayama. After purchasing a storefront downtown, they quickly established a business selling specialty clothing (uniforms, children’s ensembles, etc.). As a result of her years of hard work and dedication, and despite only possessing an eighth-grade education, “Kim’s Modas” flourished and today fulfills the uniform needs of a massive consumer base from Arroyo to Coamo.

Within the community, Josefina is very well regarded. In the middle of a busy day in her store, hearty laughter from the register would assure you she was nearby. This rapport she has built up with her customers has been an integral part of her business plan since the beginning.

“It’s all about state-of-mind,” Josefina remarked. “Staying positive, and passing that onto others, is how I’ve accomplished what I have.” As such she has received several awards for her efforts in the community.

Odalys Kuang, manager of Kim’s Modas, monitors day-to-day operations of the store, and has seen firsthand what “She helps out… in many ways. She donates merchandise to the needy, and has been given many awards for being an exemplary lady. The Lions Club, City of Guayama, the Senate of Puerto Rico and other local institutions and churches.”

Josefina’s story is unique, not because of her extraordinary origins, but because of it’s aftermath. Like so many less-fortunate people before her, she has known and endured great amounts of suffering and adversity. However, she, and all heroes like her, distinguishes herself in the years following this suffering, where she chose to make her life the best it could possibly be, and devoting herself to family and charity. In this way, she has earned her place in history.

Sources:
Fu Jing-hui. An Introduction of Chinese and Foreign History of War. N.p., 2003. Print.

Reyes, Josefina. Personal interview. 8 December 2012

Kuang, Odalys. Personal interview. 12 December 2012

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