Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A Naive Trip to Havana

The purpose of this trip was to immerse myself in the Spanish language and to familiarize myself with the black Cuban/Afro-Cuban experience.

When my plane touched ground in Havana, Cuba, my whole body was filled with joy as I had a few things in mind... language, cultural immersion, and salsa dancing. I met a fine woman named Luisa who begged me to bring her back to the US. I told Luisa that I'd rather stay in Cuba and support the revolution. I repeated those exact words to another Cuban family and they chuckled as if to say, dude, if you only knew! Luisa was not chuckling. She was crushed by my naiveté. People like Luisa and her two children, are hungry in an economy where there is simply not enough basic necessities to go around. Everything is rationed. My primary reason for approaching Luisa in the first place was to practice my Spanish and be immersed into the culture by interacting with her family, friends, and members of her community.

In order for decent people to make ends meet, many hustled tourists on the side serving as private guides, as entertainers, or as prostitutes.

I also met Denalys, whom I felt could help me to improve my salsa dancing skills. After having dinner at a nice Italian restaurant, she and I went dancing at El Palacio de la Salsa (The Salsa Palace) in Havana's famous Hotel Riviera. Denalys was someone I would have been proud to bring home to mom and pop. She is highly intelligent and is made of sweet, dark chocolate. I seriously thought about it.

When I came back to Oakland, I just couldn't stop talking about my Cuban experience because I felt so uplifted and refreshed. My Spanish zoomed to a higher level and there was a marked improvement in my salsa dancing skills.

If I wanted to pay for sex, I would have stayed in Oakland and saved myself the airfare.

As I kept talking about my trip, I inadvertently came upon many Cuban refugees in the US who were very upset with me. First of all, they thought that I was supporting a regime that is oppressing their loved ones on the island. They also thought I was going for sexual tourism. Little did I know that Cuba was a sex-haven for tourist. I had blinders on looking to dive into salsa, son-montuno, charanga, danzón, and timba music. Hell if I wanted to pay for sex, I could have stayed in Oakland and saved myself the airfare. I later learned that the economy in Cuba is so bad that in order for many decent people with good hearts to make ends meet, they have to hustle tourists on the side serving as guides, entertainers, or as prostitutes.

One evening, I was invited to a party where there were a large number of folks, like me, who are foreigners. Feeling the music, I asked a young Cuban woman to dance, and she quickly glanced over toward a male on the other side of the room, standing against the wall. She was seeking his approval. He shook head to indicate no, not me. That was her pimp and they were not there to party. To them, I appeared “too Cuban,” i.e., not foreign or wealthy enough to meet their needs. In fact, almost every Cuban stranger I met took it for granted that I too was Cuban until my accent inevitably revealed otherwise. For me to even try to fake a Cuban accent was way over my head.

I had blinders on looking to dive into salsa, son-montuno, charanga, danzón and timba music.

Many of these resentful Cuban refugees simply didn't understood my true motive for going to Cuba. They did not believe I went for language and cultural immersion because they've seen too many North Americans, Europeans, and Australians traveling to their homeland for sexual pleasures.

And Fidel, oh how I admired Fidel Castro because he is the only Latin-American leader who vehemently spoke out and took action against racism in his country. Since he took office there has been a surge of black engineers, black neurosurgeons, and other black professionals. Many Americans think the first black astronaut is Guion Stewart Bluford from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. No. The first black astronaut is Arnaldo Tamayo Méndez of Guantánamo, Cuba who went into space with the Russians three years before Bluford. Castro also developed what is boasted as a 100% literacy rate in Cuba, and free health care for all Cubanos (Cuban citizens).

No wonder people chuckled when I said I wanted to stay support the revolution. 
Today, the racism that Castro tried to stamp out has resurfaced with a vengeance. As we speak, an Afro-Cuban civil rights leader is serving a 25-year sentence for doing the work of Martin Luther King, a violation of Cuba's revolutionary policies. Why isn't sexual tourism, which infiltrated the island, a violation of Cuba's revolutionary policies? No wonder people chuckled when I said I wanted to stay and support the revolution. No wonder Luisa looked at me with sad eyes when I told her that I wanted to stay and support the revolution. A young Marielito, one of the many Cubans who flocked to the U.S. in the 1980s, someone who was fed this revolutionary doctrine since the day he was born, asked me, what revolution? As he grew up he only saw things get progressively worse with nothing to show from this revolution of which the Castro government claims is eternal. Of course, the U.S. trade embargo that has been going on for more than 50 years against Cuba is also hurting innocent people, including children. I saw this with my own eyes.

Yes, I had a fun trip to Havana. I had a culturally rewarding trip to Havana, but it was a naive trip to Havana.