Fan Is Dismissed
By José L. Llanes
January 22, 2003
Julio César Sánchez, an evangelical
minister, now isnt sure how sweet the "sugar" is
in the famous song by Cuban salsa singer Celia Cruz. The Dominican
worker was fired from the Columbia Presbyterian Hospital after complaints
from the Cuban artists relatives about Sánchez
prayers, which they said had become an annoyance.
Sánchez, who is 62 years old and the
father of two children, says he just tried to tell Celia Cruz he
was praying for her recovery.
"I read on the news that Celia was in the
hospital, so after I finished my work I went to find out about how
she was doing," said Sánchez quietly. He was dismissed
last January 17 for "violating the confidentiality" of
the Queen of Salsa. "Ive always been one of Celias
biggest fans," adds Sánchez.
Sánchez is paying a high price for his
fanaticism. He was a janitor at the hospital and earned $600 a week.
When he reached the 9th floor, where the Cuban star was
recovering, a guard blocked his access. "I didnt think
I was doing anything wrong, otherwise I would have hidden my ID
card," said Sánchez.
The chaplain recalls that at that moment, Pedro
Knight, Celias husband, came out of the room. "I told
him I was an employee at the hospital and also a minister and that
I was praying for Celias health. He answered that he appreciated
my prayers for his wife. That was all," he said. "Is it
criminal to ask about somebodys health?"
But after Celia left the hospital, it was clear
that she wasnt happy with the visit. The worker was called
by his supervisors and fired in presence of a union delegate. The
dismissal document says that Sánchez had been warned against
bothering the patient.
Omer Pardillo, Celia Cruzs manager, absolved
the artist from any responsibility in the conflict. "The decision
of the dismissals came from reports made by the hospitals
internal security. The rules indicate that the patients records
and health are confidential. During Celias stay in the hospital,
several cases of employees violating these rules were reported,
and this resulted in layoffs," he said.
But Sanchez affirms that he was shown papers
with complaints from the relatives.
"We cant talk about this problem,
it is part of the internal policy of the institution and its employees,"
said representatives from Columbia, who did not want to be identified.
Sánchez considers that what happened is not enough to take
a job from a father with children, and will fight for his case together
with representatives from the union Local 1199.
Unconfirmed reports suggest that Sánchez
asked Pedro Knight to put his hand on Celias head in order
to pray, but that Knight said no, because the diva had just had
an operation for a brain tumor. "I maintain that it was in
the hallway where I asked about his wifes health," said
The religious man recognized that it wasnt
the first time that his religious impulses had gotten him into trouble
at Columbia. "In June of 2002, two employees from the emergency
department denounced me for talking to patients about religion.
But we think about religion in a different way. The hospital is
full of sick people who need help. And I just tell them that Christ
heals and saves. And thats the end of it," said Sánchez.
That first incident gave him a warning. "I understand that
this incident (the one with Celia) was the second. I deserve to
be suspended, not fired," he said.
But the second time was the last. Upset about his situation, Sánchez
said that other religious rites are allowed in the hospital, from
Jehovah Witnesses, Jews and people who follow African religions.
"And nothing has ever come of it," he said.
It also isnt the first time that the Queen of Salsa has been
involved in a public controversy. In 1997 she was booed in Puerto
Ricos Hiram Bithorn Stadium because fans did not agree with
her recent support for the canceling of a Miami concert. Cruz had
supported those [anti-Castro Cuban-Americans] who decided to cancel
salsa singer Andy Montañes concert because he had welcomed
the [pro-Castro] Cuban troubadour Silvio Rodriguez to Puerto Rico.
Meanwhile, Sánchez has turned to his Bible. "The word
says that we will pass through all of this and that we will be judged,"
said the religious man. "Blessed are you when they revile and persecute
you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.
And I do not lose my hope because I have believed. I only want to
have my job back," he said.
Translated From Spanish by Jonathan Charnay
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