Trapped between traditional society and modernity, Cuba is a country caught in its own history. The common clichés of 1950 automobiles and crumbling architecture have all reinforced a stereotype of Cuba as a vestige of the cold war where ghosts of the past still haunt the present. A lack of knowledge and understanding of the country’s historical narrative have added to a distorted view of Cuba as a tormented purgatory. This perspective ignores the legacies of colonial empire and hegemonic governance whose influence still pertain today.
The struggle for Cuban national identity is a complex and prolonged affair dating back to the 1492 when Cuba was discovered by Columbus. The islands strategic position in the Caribbean made it an ideal stopping off point in the transportation of wealth from the New to the Old World. Until their defeat in 1897 by the United States, Cuba had been a Spanish colony. This victory saw the United States gain control over Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippine islands, which in effect initiated a process of construction of an American empire.
Different ethnic backgrounds have provided the country with a rich cultural mix of European, American and African traditions. Its national identity is a melting pot of all these influences and provides its people with its own sense of belonging. For the most part tourists who visit Cuba only ever get to see their hotel or the beach resorts, they photograph the old American cars and the women with the big cigars who pose for tips on the Malecón, for them this is Cuba. But Cuba can be found in places where tourists never visit, in the backstreets of Havana with all its hustle and bustle and noise of city life or in the countryside on small farms where one will witness the interactions of family life.
For Cubans the family unit is a very important aspect to their lives. One becomes aware that they still retain family values and a richness of life that would appear to be disappearing in the more affluent western societies. Families are tight knit groups as they share rooms or houses in close proximity. Rooms can be quite small and are in contrast on some occasions to the relatively more grandiose old colonial structures. Family units often consist of grandparents, parents, uncles, aunts, teens and children. They support each other in such a way as to create a culture of emotional trust and security. This mutual support is extended into the local community. Despite the external condition of some the buildings, on the whole interiors are very well kept and spotlessly clean. Visiting various homes throughout the country you find that Cubans are very welcoming and you will be treated more like a long lost relative than a complete stranger. The generosity of the people is quite evident and they are willing to share what little they have with you with offers of coffee or something to eat. The strength of any country is in its people and despite over fifty years of sanctions as well the hardships experienced during the Special Period the Cuban people are resilient as well as having a dignity and spirit.
The Cuban people are very proud and take great pride in their independence. The revolution of 1959 was more than dethroning a dictator it was also a rejection of outside influence in Cuban affairs. A young lawyer when asked the question that everyone asks in the west, “what will happen when Fidel Castro dies”? Her reply; “I hope we don’t turn into another Puerto Rico.”
Music: Carlos Varela - El Viejo Sueño Acabo
© David Creedon 2013