FRANCISCO ALMAGRO | Miami | 22 Ene 2016 - 10:55 am.
I am borrowing the title of a song by the great Cuban singer/songwriter
Pedro Luis Ferrer to tell this story. It happened in a shop in Miami,
where families frequently buy fruits, vegetables and meats, all very
fresh, attended to by a couple of recently-arrived young Cubans:
attentive, always cheerful, capable of communicating with their regular
customers in decent English, and their Spanish revealing countryside roots.
Perhaps for all these reasons, the business is really thriving. On that
day she was running the store and for some reason I mentioned to her
that I was Cuban, to which I added, "and proud of it." So agreeable as
she went about her work, the girl's expression suddenly transformed, she
stared at me and shrieked: "Well I'm not proud at all of being Cuban!"
I had heard about it so many times. But I had never had before me a
young person who actually forsook their identity as a Cuban, either in
the United States or in Cuba. From family and friends I know that there
are more and more young people who are actually ashamed of being born on
the "Pearl of the Caribbean." A candid camera segment in Cuba even
featured a group of children who, when asked what they wanted to be when
they grew up, answered: "a foreigner."
Much has been written on this phenomenon, and much more will have to be
written, and even more done, to make young people born in Cuba truly
proud of their land. How have we reached a point where we deny who we
are? And I must state for the record that it is not happening only with
Cubans who have recently migrated to the United States. This abjuration
is also occurring amongst the children of Cubans born in this land,
embarrassed by their last names, accent, culinary tastes, and that
involuntary movement of their feet when they hear the sound of a drum.
It is painful to see parents who, able to teach their children Spanish,
and to make them men and women benefitting from two great cultures,
granting them more professional and social opportunities, speak to them
only in their new tongue.
Self-denial may have begun in revolutionary Cuba as a psychological
mechanism to deal with a schizophrenic situation: nationalistic,
chauvinistic discourse, with the imposition of an feeble
anti-Americanism while, at the same time, in real life, for Cubans
"American" and "foreign" continue to connote a guarantee of quality,
durability and good taste. It was one thing to be anti-imperialist, as
in pre-revolutionary Cuba a segment of the intellectual and liberal wing
always was, and quite another to hate "the Americans," reject their
products, culture, sports and scientific advances.
The shameful differences between the foreign and the Cuban became
evident when the "foreign technicians" - Russians, Bulgarians and
Germans - enjoyed access to exclusive shops and places from which Cubans
were barred. Although with a certain discretion, it was equally
insulting not to be able to enter the Sierra Maestra or Hemingway Marina
shops in those years. But I don't remember any child or young person
ever saying he wanted to be Russian or Czech. I do remember many Cubans
married to Russians, Czechs, Germans or Bulgarians living as
"foreigners" in Cuba.
Castro's crusade against everything "outside," specifically the US, was
unparalleled. In Cuba it was almost a crime to hear jazz played, or
someone saying that a Ford was better than a Lada, or following Major
League Baseball, or preferring Mickey Mouse to Tío Estiopa. But as often
happens with fatuous and historically baseless rhetoric, all that came
crashing down under its own weight. After the debacle of real socialism
in Europe, also a non-sustainable experiment, the enemy's dollars became
indispensable. The same dollars that landed many young Cubans in Cuban
prisons for several years, and ruined their lives forever. Cubans began
to dress, go out and eat thanks to the "enemy's currency."
As the dollar spread it was revealed that the emperor was wearing no
clothes. Jazz fever reconquered nights in Havana, German and Asian cars
surrounded hotels, it became clear that the Big Top was still standing,
though they didn´t let people see it, and Disney characters,
digitalized, returned to children's world. By decree, the foreign
currency and, consequently, everything from "outside" (read that
"capitalist") was welcomed. What had been called "the evils of consumer
society" - like prostitution, gambling and drugs - came roaring back,
but with new names to make them sound like something else: jineteras,
games of chance, and bolá.
The consequence of so many inconsistencies has been a people who,
outside the news and the official press, has learned to live with
inconsistency, because it pities and does not really value itself,
repudiates its history (the real one, the one it does not even know),
denies its culture, which is only that which developed under the shadow
of the Revolution, and is ignorant of its Judeo-Christian religious
roots, and of those countless athletes, writers, artists, economists and
professionals who shone in Cuba, and continued to shine outside of it.
Neither is the past irreproachable. The 1959 Revolution and Fidel Castro
were not historical accidents. We must all be a bit like Castro,
liberal, haughty and devious to have allowed this to last for over half
a century. It is true that that arrogant, ruthless Cuba, lacking a third
dimension, prone to sloppiness and shoddiness in some things, as Jorge
Manach would say, lived and still lives in Havana and Miami, Santiago
and New Jersey. He is the Cuban unworthy of honor or sacrifice.
If we who have lived a little, and, fortunately, are free, bear any
duty, it is to remind the young girl and so many other Cubans, that our
island boasts a great history, whose heroes and martyrs were men of
shadows and light... but mostly light. That Cuba, the greatest of the
Antilles, has lands, beaches, mountains and rich rivers that, if they
were ably exploited, could feed twice the island's population today.
Thanks to our geographical location, we were and could be a cultural and
economic bridge for the Americas. Cubans are hardworking, creative and,
mostly, kind, family-oriented, and friendly We have seen giants in
sports, science, art, politics, religion and philosophy, comparable to
anywhere in the world; true giants, whose shadows stretch beyond
anyone's opinion, or any sociopolitical system's acknowledgment.
And, to avoid falling into similar contradictions, we would tell the
young girl and many other young Cubans that the world is not as large as
it seems, that "foreigners" are not so different from them, and never,
no matter how " foreign" one aspires to be, does one's Cubanness vanish,
no matter where one lives. We are not perfect, or better, and this sad
chapter of our history could spur us to love ourselves a little bit
more, so that our salvation might come from being 100% Cuban ... and
proud of it.
Source: 100% Cuban | Diario de Cuba -