Luis Urquiza Jorge Vocational Preuniversity Institute for Exact Sciences

Meeting him in the same corridors, after more than two decades without any contact, reedits in many ways my own "trip to the seed". I get lost again in the C classroom building; I see myself in blue, uniformed, and with my bow so smooth that I don't even recognize myself anymore. Then the murmur of the Physics shift breaks that question: "Why is the sky blue?"

Although I dodge my gaze, I know I'm not going to get away with it... Professor Mercantete very seriously waits for an answer. I try to allude to poetry, to Bécquer, "who cares what color it is..." and I get the first reprimand: "Don't laugh; Physics is a very serious thing." To my embarrassment, my classroom bursts into laughter.

profemercantete reyGustavo Ignacio Mercantete Sánchez has become a privilege of the Luis Urquiza Jorge Senior High School of Exact Sciences (Ipvce, by its acronym in Spanish). More than 36 years in the classrooms legitimize a dedication that, according to him, has never been questioned "and even less now, when physicists are not abundant. I came to the subject by chance, but I can't imagine my life any other way."

He tells me that it was sports that fascinated him in the early years of his life. Some national school baseball games launched his ambitions of becoming a great athlete. But the weight of being 12 years old changed his horizons a bit and later basketball became his goal, but only momentarily because his destiny would be subordinated to science and, above all, to physics.

"It was the 75-76 school year, I was in Manzanillo, in a tenth grade Senior High School, and my Physics teacher, Rodolfo Avila Avila, spoke to me in a very serious way, he convinced me that teachers were needed, that it was necessary to train teachers immediately and he moved my conscience..."

"The truth is that sports were my thing. I had already faced the disappointment that my parents did not want me to go to the Sports Initiation School (EIDE, by its acronym in Spanish) in Holguín. Although I'm considered a tall man now, back then I was small, and they didn't want to let me off the hook."

"Without thinking too much, I said yes. And when he asked me what subject, I said, "Aren't you the one talking to me? I would like to study Physics. The truth is that I wasn't doing badly in that subject, but Mathematics was my thing. Today, with a long career in another subject, I still love Arithmetic, in all honesty."

"And I had a big challenge, to understand Physics and take it to the students, because it depends on many tools, among them, Mathematics, which sometimes becomes the 'bogeyman' of most students... And as a painter needs the brush and a bricklayer the spoon, a physicist needs Mathematics, with that you cannot negotiate."

Prof. Mercantete confesses that an even greater challenge was to teach the subject at a higher education institution. "In the 86-87 academic year, when the IPVCE came into being, a lot of demands were placed on us. We had to study thoroughly. The competition program had never been done before and we had to push it forward. The best thing is that the raw material was excellent, the kids were very intelligent, dedicated, and special, and they forced us to prepare and live up to their expectations..."

"It's no exaggeration, we teachers had to work very hard, and some of us came from schools in the countryside, where the quality had nothing to do with the vocational. I was saved by the fact that I always liked to study, I prepared myself a lot and although I practiced sports I did not neglect the academic part. I can't say that I was excellent, but I was up to the demands."

When I ask him if the academic rigor of the first years is maintained, he is categorical: "Yes, nowadays, even, the programs are deepened and instead of eliminating contents, others are added for the tenth grade, with which I am working right now."

He confesses that the eleventh-grade program is his favorite, electromagnetism (the right-hand rule that many of us remember), and alleges that the reason is that in that content there is nothing that cannot be demonstrated experimentally. "The theoretical is very much glued to the practical and you find the resources in the middle. This is not the case in twelfth grade, there are no resources to do the experiments in nuclear and atomic energy classes."


In school, he has found good friends. He assures that he had the privilege of meeting again with Rodolfo Ávila, the one who caused his path after Physics, and with whom he shares more than three decades of teaching and camaraderie.

"With Rolando García Sánchez I have a lot of affinities, we have been together, in the same classroom, since high school, and in our career, of course. Although we have the same last name, we are not family, but we get along like brothers. I must also mention Vargas, there is no one more human than him in the Senior High School."

"In 36 years at the vocational school, I have never thought of changing jobs, or teaching centers, and I don't think it will occur to me now. I have had unforgettable students in the Physics specialty, I can hardly forget Ana Irma Ramos, president of the Student Federation of Senior High School (FEEM, by its acronym in Spanish) many years ago; also Milén Reyes, they were a dynamic duo. The students respected them more than us, they were very committed and devoted to their studies;
they were an example.

"My motto is to educate with exemplary behavioral patterns, to make an effort in class to excite the students, to be demanding, and not to be easy. And, as a proverb says, being good is easy, what is difficult is to be fair. Knowledge must go hand in hand with values; they cannot be divorced."

"I don't think about retirement, I feel very good, the teaching shifts don't make a dent in me, if I reach the age of 65, then we can continue... There is a very simple formula, if you don't want to stop working, love what you do, and for me it's a pleasure to teach."

Mercantete is proud to say that he has been a neighbor of Buena Vista for 62 years. There he has seen his three sons grow up, "his best pieces". Today he enjoys the fact that one of them, the boy, has followed the path of teaching and his daughters have opted for music and the other for medicine.

He points out that his family, friends, and students are the perfect gear for the best version of himself in front of a classroom, always following the precise trail of Physics.


More than 20 years later, with the microphone in between, Mercantete no longer seems "so scary", but just in case, I prepare myself... I have never again forgotten that the culprit of the blue color of the sky, and his question that day, is the wavelength.