“What’s up partner? ” “I’m here, in the struggle.” This is the summarized version of 75 percent of the brief greetings that ordinary Cubans exchange when they pass on the street.
“To struggle” is one of the essential expressions of Cuban political speech of the last 50 years. You struggle against imperialism, against immobilism, against wasting energy, against work delays and absenteeism, against marabu weeds, against the bureaucracy. And you struggle for the Revolution and for socialism.
But “struggling,” “in the struggle” or “you gotta struggle” do not mean exactly that. (I don’t deny that those who use such expressions can be perfectly convinced anti-imperialists or marabu cutters.)
Yet “to struggle”, in daily Cuban language, means to seek out the means to individual and family subsistence. When a woman says “her” man is a “struggler,” she means that he’s the type who takes care of food for the home, that he supports his family.
Yet there are no gender restrictions: women also “struggle.” In certain cases (but only in certain cases, and for both sexes) that term can also include what in other countries is termed “sexual workers.”
It’s important to keep in mind that usually the incomes family members bring in through formal employment from official workplaces (factories, workshops, offices, agricultural cooperatives, commercial establishments…) don’t meet the need for bare subsistence. Clearly money sent to Cuban households from abroad also exists, but those who receive it are in the minority in Cuba – albeit a relatively large minority.
As such, people become engaged in an entire matrix of alternative activities that are generically referred to as “struggles,” which include anything from taking cement from their volunteer construction brigade unit and later selling it, to repairing Chinese fans on the side whose shafts easily break.
But there are also those who have more than one legally sanctioned job at the same time. “Struggles” can be legal, extralegal, or simply illegal activities.
A struggler, therefore, can be either an upstanding “Vanguard of Sugar Production” or what in other circumstances would be called a thief, hustler, prostitute or con artist. The use of the word “struggle” does not imply judgment as to one’s ethical values; rather, it is an institutional- economic reality.
“I’m here, struggling” is almost a greeting, an expression of solidarity between both those who are “strugglers” and those who are not.
The Russian poet Vladimir Mayakovsky noted a similar expression in the United States in the 1920s: “makin’ money” was also used as a kind of a greeting. In Cuba, the struggle can also transcend the mere “struggle for subsistence” and allude to rapid social ascent.
The rhetoric of the last 50 years of revolutionary struggle (or the past 140, if counting from the first Cuban War of Independence in 1868) penetrates daily routine to become a constant testimony of the dialectic between the time over which Cuba has been led by the “historic generation” and the current need for changes in our socialist model.