L. Althusser makes a good point – while the sense of community in socialism is so much greater, the methods of production alienate the worker from the object being produced. In the United States designers, programmers, artists, inventors, builders take great pride in their products wheter it be the newest example of modern architecture or a personal website. Here in Cuba that sense of pride of accomplishment is reserved for nationalistic patriotism. Or perhaps even more often, a collective disdain towards the consumerism and American Beauty Fuckedupness of the United States.
One reason for Cuba’s strong Afro-Cuban culture is that, unlike slavery in the rest of the Americas, Cuba’s African slaves were kept together in tribal groups and were thus able to retain certain elements of their African cultures. Which is how Santeria materialized from the import of West African Yoruba beliefs with Roman Catholicism of the Inquisition and is now immortalized in a psuedo-reggae-ska-punk-pop song by three white boys from Southern California.
Underdevelopment and the legacy of Catholicism: If the Revolution was inherently anti-capitalist, it was so at first subconcioussly. Trade policies with the United States polarized the Cuban people into a minority of light-skinned Spanish and French (fleeing from Haiti where a revolution had recently occurred) plantation owners who benefitted and a large minority of African and Mulatto laborers who were pushed into exceedintly unbearable levels of poverty. When Latin American liberator Simon Bolivar freed nearly all of Central and South America form the Spanish crown, he was warned to back away from Cuba and Puerto Rico by the U.S. (talk about offers to buy the island as well.)
Most young people in the U.S. still greet each other with the X generation’s "what up" (though I am desperately trying to convert at least California to the infinitely cooler "what is"), which is not a question but a salutation. In Mexico it’s “que onda.” In much of Latin America the greeting is ¿Que tal? In Cuba, it is ¿Que bole? which officially is the greeting between inititates of a Santaria secret society known as Abakua.
1848 – $US 100 million
1854 – $US 130 million
– to buy Cuba from Spain – refused
One such ironic example of American materialism which has drifted into Cuba’s lexicon is the word May-Bay-Yeen, for make up, a Spanish pronunciation of the product Mabelline.
One must be observant both visually and aurally when communicating with a Cuban. The pronunciation of s’s and r’s is deemed superfluous. Subtle hand gestures such as the rubbing of two fingers on the forearm which denotes someone as Black or the stroke of a beard which alludes to Fidel are constantly used to complement stories, descriptions, and conversations.
Conversation in Cuba is much more than a tool or means of communication. It is an art of expression and its most creative practitioners are often lavished with the praise and attention of friends and admirerers.
For an outsider, however, such competitions of conversation and tales told can at times be tiring when a room full of 15 Cubanos are shouting over each other while passing around a bottle of rum. It is also at times intimidating for a "yuma"(cuban slang for foreigner and foreign country) to gather the confidence to fumble through the necessary Spanish to tell his/her own tale.
Chinese legacy in Cuba began in 1865 when the British effectively pressured Spain to stop the importation of slaves and so the Cuban plantation owners turned to Chinese and indigenous Mexican indentured servents as a means to cheap labor.
* Look at Jose Marti’s quote on page 18 of Lonely Planet
1898 – McKinley offered Spain $300 million but again Spain declined.
Herbert L. Matthews of NY Times interviews Fidel – portrayed as romantic hero
* The Cuban Communist Party only supported the rebels once it was clear who would win.
April, 1959 – Castro, Nixon meeting – Nixon accuses Castro of being Communist.
5:30 p.m. Cienfuegos, Cuba
That nasty scribble was me jotting down notes from a lonely planet guidebook which I borrowed from a British couple on the bus ride over here. Now back to the philosophical [book I’m reading] about Che:
In order to build Socialism together with its material basis, the new man must be made … the ultimate revolutionary ambition is to see man free from alienation. This will be materialized in the re-appropriation of his nature by means of free work and the expression of his own human behavior through culture and art.
Che Guevara – "Socialism and Man in Cuba" 3/12/1965
Foucalt – the appearance of Modern Man as object and subject of positive knowledges.
9ish Dinos Pizza Cienfuegos, Cuba
I really have no idea why I feel so miserable right now. Ever since I checked my email (for the first time since Mexico), I’ve felt terrible wihtout any reason. I know it’s happened before and I can’t figure it out. I guess, all of a sudden, I feel lonely. There is something about Cienfuegos; it’s a lonely city compared to Habana.
I don’t really remember what I’ve written and what I’ve left out. Oh yeah, so I woke Priscilla up from her nap and as she invited me in she slowly began to wake up and ask my about my time here in Habana. I asked her about dance and she said her body was sore. She showed me around the apartment and we talked for a while until her friend Poli; a Cuban film student, came over and we smoked a joint while the two girls talked excitedly and I tried to keep up.
Soon we were off to the movie theater where Akira was playing (on a television with a VCR). As soon as we got there the girls started running up to every guy (all handsome artists and hippies) and giving them excited hugs and kisses. I was left on the sidewalk contemplating if visiting Priscilla was really such a good idea. Later, as all three of us walked into the theater for free, I understood better what the girls were doing and held no grudge. Poli left early and Priscilla and I tried to find her at a cafe afterwards but couldn’t. The cafe by the theater, however, turned out to be a good find and we came across a lot of Priscilla’s friends there.
For a good amount of time I was talking over beers with a Spanish environmental biologist who was working on a project here. It was mostly a political conversation and there was little disagreement, but we got along well. There was a nice chemistry between us and as Priscilla and I left, the Spanish woman – I don’t even remember her name – gave me a tender hug and kiss [on the cheek] leaving me wondering if she wanted more than conversation.
Back at the apartment Priscilla and I found Martin and Lily waiting and the four of us stayed up nearly until 4 a.m. talking, laughing, smoking cigarettes and listening to music. Then finally, Martin and Lily announced they’d be leaving, and me, not wanting Priscilla to feel awkward, said I’d go with them. Instead though, she seemed offended. Anyway, the walk back was nice – Lily and I talked the whole way and Martn gave me his number about getting together on Sunday.
That was Friday night. Saturday I spent the whole day by myself, talking to a Spanish couple for a while at a cafe and reading the night away. Then on Sunday, after breakfast, Priscilla called and we decided on where to meet to go to the Rumba. The Rumba was incredible and with the help of some friendly regulars – who kept passing us shots of vodka – we saw it all super close and I was able to videotape most of it.
Afterward we went back to my place to charge my videocamera and then agreed to go get an ice cream, where we had a really nice conversation. Later that night, around 9 p.m., I went over to her house where her Chilean friend was talking to her. I did not like this Chilean friend; a Flamenco dancer, a spoiled little daddy’s girl who claimed to hate all Chileans. She wouldn’t stop talking. At all. I tried to interject maybe twice just to ask her questions about her endless monologues, just to remind her that there were other living bodies in the room. And then, I left, saying I had to wake up early.
Priscilla walked me to the door and we agreed that we would go to the national ballet together on the 26th when I got back from … here I guess. Truth is, I might head back on the 25th.
And then I walked home listening to Nick Drake under the peaceful yellow lamps of Habana’s criss-crossed streets. Saying Buenas Noches to the two cute Black girls with the sweet smiles and helping the woman with the lock, by the time I got home I was in a very good mood. Very peaceful, very relaxed.
This morning, after breakfast, I took a taxi to the bus station and here I am in Cienfuegos, miserable, and without any reason.