Deported to the U.S. from Cuba in 1850 for conspiring against Spanish rule, Emilia joined her husband in New York City where she enthusiastically participated in the liberation movement for her homeland. In exile she sewed the flag which would become an important symbol for the emerging Cuban nation.
Emilia Teurbe Tolón was a pioneer in the struggle for the birth of an independent Cuba and a role model for women's contributions in the fight for independence.
In 1869 rebels carried Emilia’s flag in battle and in 1902, after the Spanish-American War, her flag was embraced by the Cuban Republic, a new nation.
EMILIA, an untold Cuban American story
EMILIA is a personal journey and search for ancestral roots to unravel the story of my ancestor, Emilia Teurbe Tolón, who sewed Cuba’s national flag while living in exile in New York in 1850. It is a first-person experimental narrative based on family memories and the meaning of the flag as a unifying symbol for all Cubans. The film chronicles a little known but very significant episode in US-Cuban history: the creation of Cuba’s national symbols in New York.
Emilia was the first woman deported from Cuba for political insurgency. She was a 19th century woman ahead of her time and a role model for women’s contributions to the struggle for independence. An advocate for social justice, she bequeathed her assets for children’s education. Her husband, Miguel, was a poet, political activist and a Freemason. In exile became a pioneer of Spanish language journalism in the United States where he designed the flag and coat of arms. Their commitment to free Cuba from Spanish colonial oppression gave rise to the birth of the Cuban nation.
Although anchored in history, the story is told in the present as I research and merge official, archival and personal histories to reconstruct Emilia’s life. I join Emilia’s descendants in Cuba and Miami as we struggle to understand our family history, and our own story of immigration, exile, family separation and reunification.
- Luis Pérez Tolón:
The discovery of Emilia’s tomb in Madrid triggered childhood memories. From my grandfather Papapa, I learned that my family was entrenched in Cuban history. Cherishing my precious stamp collection that contained stamps of the flag, Emilia and Miguel from 1950s Cuba, and knowing I shared their name I brought my stamps with me when we left Cuba in 1960. Having learned, through the press, that Emilia’s tomb was found in Madrid and was going to be returned to Cuba for an elaborate burial, I became intrigued and decided to set out on a quest to unravel the mystery of Emilia’s life and the story of my ancestors.
I traveled to Cuba with my cousin Silvia to meet long lost cousins and interview Emilia’s biographer. My journey took me to Spain and to New York City. Back in Miami I struggled to make sense of my family’s history and share it with my Cuban-American relatives. My mother's family, the Teurbe Tolóns, had lived on the island since the 1700s and had strong feelings for their homeland. As I examined period poetry, letters and photographs, I realized it is not only the story of Emilia, her husband, the poet, activist and a father of Spanish-language journalism in the U.S., Miguel Teurbe Tolón, the controversial Narciso López, and the first exiled community in New York during the mid-1800s but also the story of my family in the U.S. and Cuba today. After all, for over two centuries our family has been marked by immigration, exile, return and a passion for Cuba.
Luis Pérez Tolón was Director of Production and Development with Discovery Networks Latin America. His credits include: Paranal: Eye on the Universe, gold medal NY Film Festival; Jorge Luis Borges (France/Argentina/USA), and Manuela Saenz, la pasión de Bolivar (Colombia/USA).
Prior to Discovery, he resided in Europe where he was director of the European Union’s MEDIA Program, produced documentaries in Spain and London, including the series 1898:The Spanish-American War for Canal + Spain, History Channel UK and Discovery Channel Latin America. His award-winning independent documentary Exilio/Exile was broadcast on WNET-Independent Focus and distributed to PBS stations nationwide.
Luis was born in Cuba, holds an MA from the University of Southern California in Film-Broadcasting-Anthropology. Recently he worked as Coordinating Producer in American Comandante for PBS’ American Experience.
Government building in Cärdenas where Emilia's flag was raised for the first time in Cuban soil by general Narciso Lopez on May 19, 1850.