Lasting Impressions of Cuba


“Anarchy is like custard cooking over a flame; it has to be constantly stirred or it sticks and gets heavy, like government.” ― Tom Robbins, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues

Anarchism as a social movement in Cuba held much promise for the working class during the 19th and 20th centuries. I won’t go into the sordid details, you can read the history here Anarchism in Cuba.

Yet, what I would like to discuss are my lasting impressions of Cuba. First, Che is everywhere. Forty-five years after the death of Ernesto “Che” Guevara — the Argentine doctor who led the 1959 Cuban Revolution alongside Fidel Castro — his portrait is the most reproduced image in Cuba.

His face appears repeatedly on murals, water tanks, billboards, and even plates, t-shirts, coffee mugs, beach towels, and bikinis. While extraordinarily popular as a figure of revolution where children are taught to see him as a hero from a very young age, his image is used to promote commercialism in Cuba. My impression is that he has become a pattern and a design to sell to tourists, and I think they have gone too far and misrepresented Che. Would you buy a bikini with Che’s face on the butt of a bikini bottom?

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Santeria: Cuba’s Worship of the Saints


“All is indeed a Blessing
IF you can just see beyond the veils; for it is ‘all’ an illusion and a test, and one of the greatest Divine Mysteries of this life cycle.”
This IS my constant prayer, my mantra, my affirmation, reverberation, reiteration and my ever-living reality.”
― The Divine Prince Ty Emmecca

 

 
While visiting Sandy’s extended Cuban family, we had the honor of meeting the Madrina. The Madrina, or Godmother, is a term of respect used to refer to the person who initiated someone into the Santeria religion.

The Madrina has been through the initiation process and completed all the required rituals to be a priestess in the Santeria religion. I had no idea what the Madrina was talking about, but I discovered after much research that Santeria is a complicated and fascinating religion.

Santeria has its roots in Western Africa and is a recognized religion in Cuba. Although some think it is witchcraft and sorcery, it is nothing like that at all. Santeria promotes a connection between the divine, the human, and the natural world by teaching us how to live in harmony.

The slave trade brought many Africans to Cuba, where they were forced to convert to Catholicism. However, the ingenious slaves found a way to incorporate Santeria into Catholicism secretly so they could continue to practice their religion. A common misconception is that Afro-Cubans blended the two religions into one, but since the Afro-Cubans saw no contradictions between the two religions, they synchronized them.

The Catholics had their saints. The Santeria had their Orishas. There is one supreme God in both religions, who like the Holy Trinity in the Catholic Church has three representations and three names: Olodumare, Olofi, and Olorun. Olodumare is the Supreme Being, the Father, the Creator of all things. Olorun is represented by the sun. Olofi is the one who communicates most directly with the Orishas, teaching them what humans need to know to lead healthful, moral, respectful lives on Earth. The Orishas act as intermediaries between human beings and God.

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Part II: Renting a Guagua or Waawaa We Go!


Life is similar to a bus ride, or in the case of Sandy’s Cuban family, a guagua ride. (pronounced waa waa)
The journey began when Sandy rented a guagua to take us to Havana for an evening of entertainment. You see, her extended family is so large and no one owns a car, so it was impossible to treat them to an evening of fun in Havana without renting a guagua.

Thirty dollars bought Sandy an evening with a guagua driver and enough room for the entire community to go to Havana to watch the cannon ceremony.

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Cultural Anthropology: Semana Santa in Mexico


“It may be in the cultural particularities of people — in their oddities — that some of the most instructive revelations of what it is to be generically human are to be found.”
― Clifford Geertz

 

The cultural peculiarities of our humanness, especially when studying religions of the world, fascinate me. Mexico has many virgins, and Dolores or Our Lady of Sorrows is particularly intriguing to me.

Although Dolores is an advocation of the Virgin Mary, she represents the sorrows of the mother of Jesus, and is usually depicted with seven daggers piercing her heart, which represent the sorrows all mothers go through when losing a child.

The altars are erected on the streets the Friday before the beginning of Holy Week. Called the Friday of Sorrows, the symbols on the altars help the faithful share her pain and grief, and remind them of the great sacrifice Mary made to become the mother of martyrs.

In Patzcuaro, Mexico, where we are enjoying refreshing highland weather for the month of April, I watched the construction of the shrines, processions, and reenactments of the crucifixion of Jesus, with a healthy dose of skepticism, yet awe for the pageantry.

From the perspective of a cultural anthropologist…as I like to call myself,  I questioned everything, as well as reflected on the religious traditions, how they originated, and their significance to their faithful followers.

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Part I: A Day with a Cuban Family in the Barrio


“An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics.”
― Plutarch

When Sandy took us to meet her large extended family in Marianao, Cuba, I had no idea what to expect. We had only been in Cuba for one day and I had no understanding of life in a communist country. My understanding of communism was that everyone in the Cuban society received equal benefits derived from their labor. I thought that it was a classless society where the government controlled everything and where wealth was redistributed so that all are of the same social and financial status.

NOT. SO. 

We arrived in Marianao surprising Sandy’s family because she had told them that she would visit the following Monday. The matriarch of the family, wrapped in her worn cotton dress, limped to the door and showered hugs and kisses on Sandy. Then, she showered us with hugs and kisses, too!

She is 97 years young and still going strong thanks to socialized medicine in Cuba. She lost a leg many years ago, but she received a plastic leg that enables her to walk. All medical care is free in Cuba…or so we thought. The matriarch’s daughter showed us a plastic bag filled with medicines for her and her mother. She said that she has to pay for them, and that medicine is dispensed on a sliding scale depending on the finances of the family. Since she is a teacher, she has to pay for the medicines.

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Margarita’s Ashes: A Cuban Burial Story


“Death makes angels of us all and gives us wings where we had shoulders smooth as ravens’ claws.” ~ Jim Morrison

Havana’s Colón Cemetery is the second-largest in the world taking up 56 hectares, as well as the final resting place of over two million souls. One of these souls is Margarita, Sandy’s Cuban mother-in-law.

Most tourists visit the cemetery for the historical significance and the funerary monuments, ornate sculptures, and mausoleums. We were privileged to visit the cemetery in search of Margarita’s ashes. Yet, the search led us to an unexpected discovery of how the poor are buried in Cuba.

The varied architectural styles of the graves are a fascinating reflection of the golden age of Cuba. Now, many of the graves are in a state of disrepair because the families fled before the revolution and abandoned the graves of their loved ones.

Those who can afford to decorate the graves of their loved ones embellish the crypts with fresh flowers and small tokens of remembrances. For those who can’t afford the upkeep of the graves, the story is quite different.

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Cuba’s Four-Wheeled Zombies


Driving the dead! Cuba’s car culture fascinated me. They have the most resourceful drivers and mechanics who defy the odds and break all the rules to make sure that the American 50s classics…really never die. The four-wheeled zombies are alive and well in Cuba!

Before visiting Cuba, I thought that only Havana’s streets would be like a 1950s Hollywood movie. However, the old classic cars are everywhere, used for everything from taxis to tourism novelties, and incorporated into daily life in every aspect of Cuba’s culture.

The four-wheeled zombies rose from the dead on February 8, 1962. With a stroke of President John F. Kennedy’s pen, the noose was dramatically tightened on an existing trade embargo that prohibited most Cubans from buying brand new cars after Castro took the reigns in 1959.

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A Sea of Humanity


“You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty”.~ Mahatma Gandhi

Last week I had an opportunity to experience a sea of humanity in Los Angeles, CA. I flew from Nicaragua to march in solidarity for human rights and immigrants throughout the world. It was one of the most meaningful days of my life.

750,000 people of all races, nationalities, genders, and ages marched through the streets of Los Angeles. The reasons we marched were as numerous as the problems we face throughout the world. Yet, it was as if we were floating in an ocean of serenity, swaying and bobbing peacefully… gleefully… shoulder to shoulder…heart to heart.

a-sea-of-humanity

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Feliz Navidad de Isla de Ometepe


“The smells of Christmas are the smells of childhood” ― Richard Paul Evans

My annual tradition has always been to bake dozens of Christmas cookies and pass them out to my neighbors and friends. Although it was meaningful in the states, for me it is more significant in Nicaragua for several reasons.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: My Quest for Cultural Diversity and Immersion


The Weekly Photo Challenge is Quest

“Our ability to reach unity in diversity will be the beauty and the test of our civilization.” ― Mahatma Gandhi

This is a perfect photo challenge for me because my blog focuses on cultural diversity and cultural immersion. My quest for cultural diversity and cultural immersion plopped me smack dab in the middle of an all Spanish-speaking community in the middle of Nicaragua, in the middle of a giant sweet sea, in the middle of Central America.

What have I learned in my quest for cultural immersion in Nicaragua?

I’ve learned that there is significant diversity in religious beliefs and practices. As a result, I am more informed, tolerant, and appreciative of various religions. I feel a deeper and thoroughgoing appreciation of the different religions; their infinite variety becomes a source of fascination and enrichment for me.
img_1291I’ve learned that children are children throughout the world. They all want to belong, to be loved, and to be appreciated for their unique qualities.
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