One Peso Please

Danae Suarez

El asedio al extranjero llama al recogimiento y la vergüenza a cualquier ciudadano digno.

Ever since I was a little girl I’ve loved to go on walks through the streets of Old Havana, strolling between its porticos and columns, admiring its stained-glass windows and the colonial roofs.

Havana was, despite its shortages, a city of noble and hardworking people, those with ethics and full of values.  To some degree, everyone in those years was helping to build a system that seemed just, despite its limitations and theoretical idealism.

Though it hurts for me to admit it, today Havana is a sad spectacle.  Its principal columns are no longer those of neoclassical architecture, those that Carpentier praised so passionately or those that we could all marvel at with such emotion.  Today Havana appears sustained by curious tourists, who are not only a source of income for the State but also for those residents who take advantage of these visitors’ naiveté.

One peso for a photo.

The siege of foreigners induces self-examination and shame on the part of any descent citizen.  Today Havana is one of young girls who’ll do “anything” at a ridiculous price.  It is the Havana of cigar vendors and corrupt police; the Havana of arranged weddings and fake Rastafaris.

One peso for a photo.

Today I walked for blocks along calle Jose Dolores Pimienta and my soul recoiled in fear.  I’d been taking photos of the picturesque streetscape, unaware that my well educated compatriots know about everything including the “rights to photographic images.”

“One peso for the photo please,” say the curious characters who roam Havana recreating the “colonial period.”  “One peso for a kiss,” say the flower vendors to foreigners, and like this —between claves and drums, between the stilt-walkers and dogs dressed up wearing glasses— this is what’s becoming of my Havana, my heart… and also my day pack, because when I got home I realized I didn’t have it any more.  It had been stolen.

4 thoughts on “One Peso Please

  • The same thing happens in all tourist places in the whole world! Or you don´t think there are smart ones in Italy, USA, England and so on? Tourism is a good deal but has a lot of bad things coming toghether!

  • There are times as a frequent Visitor to Havana that I tire of the constant approach of People trying to sell me or help me or ask me for something.
    This is the primary reason why after 8 trips to Havana I never have and never will stay in Old Havana.

    But there is another side to this that we must see as beneficial and positive, this is a free market Economy at it’s most raw and basic it is the driving force that can shape an Economy towards change by giving people the Power to control their Financial destiny.

    As much as it pains me to say it Money is the great equalizer. The only remaining question is when will the State aid in the desire of the People to increase their buying power.

  • As a tourist, you’re always on the outside, looking in, or on the inside, looking out, as the case may be. Hard to say if you can ever break out of this separateness. At least to begin breaking out of this alienation is to learn at least a little of the language, and get off the tourist track. Still, unless you really live somewhere for a while, you are going to remain separate to a certain extent. Only when you have lived somewhere long enough to begin to understand the hardships, the daily indignities–and also the daily triumphs–of those who were born and bred there can you begin to overcome this alienation.

  • this is education that is needed on both parts, tourists and Cubans. One day, while waiting for a bus in Cuba, a little boy approached me and offered me a flower that had been picked from a tree. Immediately I thought it was kind, then he said “one peso please”, I returned the flower and said no thankyou. Although he did not understand me, I said to him “I am a stranger, you should not be doing this”, but you see this has worked for him before..

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