Cuba’s Rites of Passage?

Dmitri Prieto

Yasmin S. Portales, Mario Castillo and Orlando Luis Pardo.

HAVANA TIMES, March 8 — According to anthropologists, “rites of passage” are those special moments in the lives of human beings when — according to each person’s culture — a man or woman undergoes a change in their social status (religious, legal, institutional…). Examples include circumcision, baptism, graduation, marriage and death itself.

In a recent Critical Observatory Network symposium dedicated to reggaeton, the controversial blogger, writer and photographer Orlando Luis Pardo noted that much of the aesthetic of reggaeton presented in music videos (for me, consumerist, bourgeois and sexist) and featured on CD covers (on which women wear the least clothes possible and assume provocative poses) is similar to the photos of Los quince (girls’ “Sweet 15” birthday festivities in Cuba).

Los quince (also called quinceañeras in other Latin American countries) are celebrated in Cuba today with great aesthetic displays, most of which are recorded as photographs in which the girls — like on the CDs — wear the least clothing in explicit poses.

Like in other Latin American nations, a girl’s 15th birthday is considered her a step into adulthood. However in the photos of the past, less of those girls’ bodies were revealed compared to what has been displayed since the 1990s.

Are Los quince still a rite of passage in Cuba? Many anthropologists would say that without doubt they are.

But I doubt it.

Previously, a girl celebrating herSweet 15th” was considered old enough to start wearing cosmetics and “appearing in society,” as one would say in the “capitalist epoch.” She could then have a boyfriend and begin preparing for marriage.

In Cuba’s “socialist era”, Los quince mysteriously survived despite its obvious link with the “bourgeois lifestyle” of the past.

I remember girls of my generation who on that date were presented with the gift of a “Vuelta a Cuba”: a tourist package allowing them to travel around the island. There were also the famous memento albums, which were of course full of photos.

Today, there are no “Returns to Cuba,” but the albums are still here – of course with a different aesthetic.

There are also the most important aspects of this threshold: permission to wear cosmetics, the possibility of having a boyfriend and even “appearing in society” (at a discotheque with reggaeton playing, for example, when they exist where she lives). In many cases these even occur before a girl reaches 15.

So the passage is toward what and to where? There simply is no passage, no “rite of passage,” since it doesn’t change the status of a girl. It only shows off the public status (economic, social) of the family through the expenditures of cash and the commitments incurred.

The guys

For young men, however, it appears that military service still serves as a true rite of passage, though previously, when it was more difficult, it certainly had more perspectives for serving as such a rite.

I remember that when I was in the high school, lots of girls believed that only those guys who had completed their service (which at that time exempted college students, though today it doesn’t) were “real men.”

That mythological ritual still dominates the mass media.

Theohile Obenga, one of the most notable African philosophers and anthropologists, referred to globalization itself, calling it a rite of passage for the entire planet (and starting with the West).

Global Passage to a status of greater equity and global justice

In Cuba, the left and the right, as well as the intellectuals serving the bureaucracy, assert that they we are in a post-revolutionary period (the interval following the revolutionary triumph of 1959).

Assuming this present time period to be another pre-revolutionary moment would mean there still remains much to do. The revolution is not in the past but instead lies ahead of us; perhaps like the apocalyptical thief in the night (do you recall description of the Masonic initiation in Tolstoy’s War and Peace?).

We Cubans are therefore proceeding through a formidable rite of passage, one to the beat of reggaeton.