When Culture is Affordable

By Courtney Brooks

A few weeks ago I went to the International Book Fair in Havana with an American friend. We stood baking in the sun in a line of hundreds of people, waiting for about half an hour before we were let in.

He was in shock at this spectacle, and joked that in order to get this many people in the United States to come to a book fair you would have to be giving the books away, or even paying people to come take them.

In Cuba, however, they line up in the broiling sun to enter the annual book fair, which tens of thousands of people visit every year.

The movie theaters, museums, aquarium, and art shows are all frequented by Cubans. They are accessible to all; the book fair costs 2 regular pesos (10 cents US) to enter and the books published in Cuba are almost always sold at a small fraction of what they would elsewhere. The movies also cost 2 pesos, museums cost from 1-5 pesos and the aquarium costs 4. The prices are of course jacked up for tourists, but for Cubans they are accessible even on the most meager salaries.

Cubans grow up appreciating art, literature, films, music and shows because their parents appreciate them and are able to expose their children to them at an early age. These things have become elitist in the United States because only the wealthy can afford to enjoy them.

In Boston, which is admittedly one of the most expensive cities in the country, to go to a play or concert can cost between $20 and hundreds of dollars. It costs about $10 to see a movie. Museum entrance fees can be up to $20 or $30. Books cost between $10 and $30, typically.

For the many Americans who are just scraping by, prices like this are not possible. And those who have money are often so focused on paying for their children to go to college that they are not in the frame of mind to pay such high fees for things which are not necessities. Cuba’s free education takes this out of the equation.

I would argue that Cuban’s early access to these sorts of culturally-rich activities is what makes them interested in it throughout their lives. In the United States this is a luxury, but in Cuba it is a way of life.

To me, this is one of the greatest triumphs of the Revolution.