Mercedes Hernández Zayas

Mercedes Hernández Zayas is soon known; a few minutes are enough to notice a determined and resolute woman, full of energy and disposition, a Cuban woman who does not stop in the face of challenges.

Although such adjectives and impressions, at first sight, are not enough to know her fully, they do confirm the lineage of someone who has courage as a sign and practices it in the welding club that she has been leading for more than three decades in the José Martí Provincial Pioneer Palace.

"Many people ask me how a woman can be a welder. And there, well, I explain to them that there is no impossible job for Cuban women, who works in different areas such as in the harvest process, in the coal production, doing mechanic work, driving important vehicles..., our work is everywhere."

To a certain extent, being a transgressor comes from her cradle. "I am the daughter of Mundo Hernández, a well-known farmer in the area near Veguita. So from childhood, I learned to milk a cow, plow the land, drive a tractor, skin a sheep, tie a pig, cook with firewood, make charcoal, mow or sow a field..., I grew up doing all those things."

Welding Club at the José Martí Pioneers PalaceIf we stick to popular wisdom, we would say that Mercedes "has been brave and courteous at the same time;" perhaps because in her wisdom without the academy, she knows that stereotypes are not good and limit the capabilities of her fellow women. "You know that it used to be common for women to weave, sew and embroider; I learned all that from my mother, without detracting from the rest that prepared me for life."

In the annals of her most cherished memories are those baptismal years in which she learned the welding trade, then qualified as a skilled worker at the Metal Structures Company (METUNAS), and finally began teaching at the Pioneers Palace. To this place, she has dedicated longings and works, the concrete materialization of knowledge that prepares new generations for the future.

"I feel a lot of love for my work and here I am until I retire. Welding is a very dangerous specialty and I have never really had any accidents. I am very rigorous with protection and safety measures and the area complies with every technical requirement; I also receive advice and support from the more experienced factory workers. All this has influenced, together with the fact of having the management of very good colleagues, in the fact that I have remained here for 37 years."

The satisfaction of seeing her teaching materialize for the good of her students and the country is one of the great gifts of her profession.

Classroom at the José Martí Pioneers Palace"I had pioneers who are currently studying or developing related professions and whenever I see them they always tell me: 'Professor, how useful what you taught us. You always told us that this was a very important specialty with development all over the world'. Imagine, without welding, there is no progress."

In her teaching and creative space, she has seen the astonished faces of her disciples before the materialized idea and after much explaining, asking, tracing, measuring, bending the plate, assembling, welding and painting.

"Here, I had the visit of a grandmother who came to see what her grandson was doing because she really did not think that the boy could make a macramé base that the child had taken home to hang his backpack. And when she found out that he could, she told me: 'Listen, teacher, it's true that these palaces are important for children'."
Mercedes recalls with joy that occasion when she joined forces with another study club and was able to see, behind the masks and among the welding sparks, the faces of six girls. With that memory, she hopes to repeat the scene in the current school term, when, as it turns out, two young girls will learn this traditionally masculinized trade.

With that pride that speaks of her students and the joy of finding them already grown up and many of them engineers or technicians in professions related to the knowledge she taught them, she also refers to her two sons, whom she trained as good men.

At 60 years of age, Mercedes could be planning to retire, but she says: "For me, there is no difficult job in life. So, I feel qualified to continue doing this work and I am proud to prepare young people with knowledge in the iron and steel industry. I will continue until they need me and I have the strength to work."