Sunday, May 27, 2012

In Cuba (pt. 2)

    The city of La Havana and the island of Cuba represents something immensely profound to not only the continent of the Americas, but to the world as a whole . I will deal more with the enigma of La Havana later, as if falls more appropriately and chronologically toward the latter part of my Cuban tale. For now, it is enough to say that driving out of the capital city, one immediately finds themselves in the hub and bustle of a developing country. Having just come from living in Paraguay for 8 months, I was much less shocked by the land-and-people-scape then my father and grandfather seemed to be. Still, Cuba hardly fits some sort of mold or diagnosable paradigm; it is a country like none other on earth.
     And while the material calling cards of rural and semi-urban poor appear in large numbers, the uniqueness of one’s surroundings is incredibly tangible, in fact, it will scream at you if you have even half a mind to listen. Cuba defies any attempts to summarize and define it. There is no such thing as the quick and dirty of Cuba; its all too complicated, wrapped like a passionate lover amidst blankets of truth and lies and history and culture. As so many of the local Cubans will tell you, though hushed whispers and barely parted lips, this is the land of contradictions.  
      For those still preoccupied with Fidel Castro, I would like to offer this bit of solace, though it comes perhaps 50 years too late: Cuba is not Fidel’s island. Cuba is growing up and finding itself full of a younger generation that doesn’t remember the Communist revolution of 1959. This generation is getting increasingly tired of the intellectual and social restrictions imposed by the very state that has given them an education that is equaled by few countries in the Americas (Cuba has literacy rates that are the higher than even the United States). Dissent is brewing and it is fueled the very regime that it will one day topple or otherwise transform deeply. Fidel represents the old, tried and variably successful politicos (politicians) of Communist Cuba. Him and his numbers are dying off, soon to be replaced by a future that is equally as unknown to them as everyone else in the world. There is still one potent symbol for this next generation, however, and especially at this time in Cuban history, it seems both extremely appropriate but also quite ironic: Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara.

Posters, murals, slogans, statues and graffiti keep the revolutionary alive and well. Che is the most ideal andpotent symbol of those ideas that the Cuban revolution has come to represent.

    Driving around Cuba, one thing is almost immediately evident--Che is the model and the martyr of the Cuban revolution. He was memorialized ideally, like a delicate flower in amber, at a time when the guerrillas were still young, progressive, and shaking up the modern world. Every available surface on the island--whether the walls of aging, Soviet-era factories, in the streets or on dumpsters, in homes and on all tourist memorabilia--the face of Che immortal appears in all its defiant, resplendent glory. The man whom Jean-Paul Sartre once described as “The most complete human being of our era”, reigns supreme over the island that is sauntering on into an uncertain future. It is curious to think what the revolutionary would think of modern day Cuba, were he alive today. As this young generation flexes their well-educated minds (which, according to Cuban communist philosophy, are actually the property of the state), the old regime trembles. And yet, the world continues to move on.

From Cuba,
little hupo

Friday, May 25, 2012

In Cuba (pt. 1)

    As a preface to the next few blogs, I should explain that I spent the past 10 days driving around the island of Cuba with my father and grandfather. It was a very intense, if also brief, trip that took these 3 generations of my family back through our personal history as well as through the maze that is Cuba’s political, economical, and cultural reality. The following several blogs will represent an honest, though inadequate attempt to put that story and my experience into words.

    The humidity feels like a blanket. At the Jose Martí International airport in Havana, basset hounds make up the K9 unit. The whole situation is like organized chaos; “locura con orden” as my grandfather says. The inside of the terminal looks like a makeshift import-export business with hoards of expatriate Cubans running neon-saran-wrapped bundles of goods passed ambivalent customs agents. In quantity, it would alarm and enrage those remaining stubborn proponents of the US embargo. In principle, it makes all too much sense. Economics are simply running their course.
    The great Cuban experiment, that which has played out on that small island just 90 miles off the coast of the sovereign US soil since the revolution of 1959, is as tangible as ever. The taste may have changed and aged in the past 50 years, but the flavor is undeniably ever-present. Low, sea-swept clouds play games with the tropical sunlight as we drive across rickety roads. In typical developing world fashion, horse-drawn carts and hopeful hitchhikers crown the shoulders, sometimes wandering between the lanes of a sparsely populated and sluggish freeway.
    For those with a mind to history, a certain feeling is quickly, though subtly evident--the smell of saltwater and fumes from ancient automobiles (running on aviation fuel) fill the lungs with it. It is the need to figure it all out. The island seems to echo, enveloping one’s mind with this great imperative to understand the reality of America’s Imperial City before it crumbles under the weight of pressing time and economic inevitability.
    I have family on this island. Great Aunts and Uncles, their children and grand-children, who have waited sixty years for my grandfather to come home. They have heard stories about me, seen my pictures and heard about my life and the life of my family. And though we are connected by blood, we are separated by worlds of politics and culture and economics. Just 90 miles away, but somehow, there are these great things that could not be more different. Where in the world am I?

From Cuba,
little hupo