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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Havana City Slickers



I grew up in New York City, so I know a hustler when I see one. I don't care if I'm in Tokyo, Montreal, or Havana; a hustler is a hustler, and they give off the same vibes that is instantly recognizable--usually!. At the time of my Havana visit, I only brought $250 worth of spending money to last me two weeks. This was money for souvenirs, dating, and entertainment. Although, I was successful stretching my money to last a couple of weeks, I only had $10 in my pocket when I arrived at Havana's José Martí International airport heading back to Mexico City, before catching my flight back to Oakland, where I now live. Because Cuba does not recognize American banks, I could not use a credit card or an ATM until I arrived in Mexico.

Many of the Havana hustlers, or jineteros (pronounced Hee-neh-teh-rohs), as they are called in Cuba, are Black like me. However, they viewed me as a rich tourist first and a Black man second. All I could do was play with their minds when they approached me with their little games. I even got to the point where every time a jinetero would approach me, I would say something like, ¿qúe bolá? ¡Quiero ser jinetero como tú, asere! (what's up, I want to be a hustler like you, man).  They would always give me a nice little chuckle and move on.

The most interesting case of my being hustled, and not knowing it was when I hired Ernesto, a Black bicycle-taxi driver with whom I began to establish rapport and get advice on things to do about town. I'd arrange for him to pick me up at certain places at certain times. One day, as he was taking me to my Spanish language intensive class at the University of Havana, he told me that this Wednesday night, there was going to be a birthday party for his little niece. He also told me that he wanted to introduce me to a nice woman. He even introduced me to someone whom he claimed to be his brother, and his brother looked at me as though I were a gold mine; a Black gold mine, thus easier pickings.

Wednesday evening came around, and I forgot all about this little party as I was with Luisa, an attractive woman whom I met the first day I arrived in Havana. As Luisa and I returned from a local restaurant, heading back to her house, we ran into Ernesto who had just stopped by the place where I was staying. He was visibly annoyed. His so-called brother was in the car with a group of other guys driven by one of Ernesto's friends. It certainly looked like a set-up. They wanted to party hearty with plenty of food and liquor at my expense.

When I returned to the place I was staying, which was across the street from Luisa's apartment complex, I was told by several house-hosts that it is very unusual for anyone in Cuba to have a party for a child on a Wednesday night, and they vehemently warned me about fooling around with jineteros, people who hustle foreigners, most of whom have regular jobs, white and blue collar, and moonlight hustling tourists. This is big business in Havana