Elio Delgado Legón
HAVANA TIMES — For many many years, Cuban culture was buried beneath racial discrimination, and the few tourists who visited Cuba came from the United States, where there was even worse discrimination than the one in our own country.
Before 1959, hardly anything was written in Cuba about the roots of Cuban nationality, the traditions and abundance of cultural expressions, except for exemplary exceptions, such as that of Fernando Ortiz.
Culture with African origins was stigmatized, forming part of racial discrimination. Religious rituals were observed with fear and wild rumours flew around about human sacrifice, especially about child sacrifice, which led to an irrational fear of black people on part of ignorant people, most of whom were illiterate, who had no idea about these subjects.
First with literacy campaign and then with its universal and free education for all Cubans, the Revolution began the slow process of learning about Cuba’s real history, the creation of its national identity and the role played by descendants of African slaves throughout this whole process and in the wars fought by Cubans to gain independence from the Spain.
Today, African rituals and traditions have been passed down the generations, forming an integral part in the complicated maze that is Cuban culture, along with Spanish inheritances, in all their variety and richness, and Chinese influences, which have also binded with our culture in many ways.
All of this cultural baggage has been enriched over the years with other purely native traditions, such as tobacco studies, the Fiesta del Fuego (Fire Festival), the Romerías de Mayo (May Pilgrimage), etc. for example.
When the Revolution triumphed in 1959, racial discrimination began to end, which was endorsed in the 1976 Constitution, in Chapter 6, Articles 41, 42 and 43, especially in Article 42, which states the following:
“Discrimination based on race, skin color, sex, national origin, religious beliefs or any other kind offending human dignity, is prohibited and punishable by law.
“The State’s institutions educate everyone, from the earliest age, in the principle of equality for all human beings.”
All of the above, plus the dramatic development of cultural and artistic events, as a result of the country’s education system over 57 years and a great variety of cultural events of the highest quality, are put on for visitors and Cuban people alike.
Here are some statistics which can help illustrate this cultural development in our small country, with just over 11 million inhabitants. Cuba has 123 concert bands, 37 specialized teaching centers, seven philharmonic orchestras, 39 theaters, 354 cultural centers, 16,000 professional musicians and over 25,000 amateurs.
To this we can add two world-renowned classical ballet companies, several reputable Spanish dance companies and many other contemporary dance companies, as well as a strong choir movement which has been praised by many important cultural figures from different countries.
We can also add a significant number of museums, headed by Havana’s Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (National Fine Arts Museum), numerous painters and sculptors, to only mention the more outstanding achievements in cultural development since the Revolution, leaving us a cultural heritage which makes us Cubans stand tall with pride.