Cuban Culture during the Revolution

Elio Delgado Legón

Chucho Valdes
Chucho Valdes, one of the best pianists in the Americas.

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.

In Cuba, there are many contemporary dance companies.
In Cuba, there are many contemporary dance companies.

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.


13 thoughts on “Cuban Culture during the Revolution

  • No discussion of Cuban culture is complete without mentioning the many Cuban writers who have been jailed, banned and exiled.

    Guillermo Infante Cabrera, Heberto Padila, Jose Latour, Jose Lezama Lima, Reinaldo Arenas, Virgilio Pinera, Zoe Valdés, and dozens more. And contemporary writers like Pedro Juan Gutierrez and Wendy Guerra who write novels which are not allowed to be printed and sold in Cuba.

    And you should not mention Chucho Valdés without mentioning his father Bebo Valdés who left Cuba in 1960 and his music was banned for decades.

    The position of artists and writers in Cuba was set by Fidel when he opened a meeting of UNEAC by placing his pistol on the table in front of him and telling the assembled artists, “Inside the Revolution: everything. Outside the Revolution: nothing!” His threat was clear to all present. Art was to be a tool of the Revolution and completely submissive to the totalitarian system Fidel had imposed on Cuba. This submission to raw power was exemplified by the “Padilla Affair”.

  • Elio writes about culture during the Revolution. “During” means continuing today, not ending 1 January 1959. Yet, everyone here picks on which constitution he references, literacy rates, the education system, foreign commerce, even disaster preparedness. If we address his main focus on culture, he is correct. Cuba does have a significant emphasis on culture.

    Cuba is rich in culture. Not just music and ballet but also literature including poetry, theatre, painters, graphic artists, sculptors, and other disciplines.

    Personally I believe Haydee Santamaria, Vilma Espin, and others deserve
    credit for this. Basically Fidel just had the wisdom to listen to them.

    Too many here seem to have a binary mind believing everything about Cuba is universally good or everything is universally bad. Similarly, everything Elio says is deemed universally bad. If Elio said he saw a beautiful sunset yesterday, some would question his eyesight or find fault with him. Or, even if true, pointing out that Fidel Castro has nothing to do with it but is the root of all evil. (Moses, your positive comment was noted. Too bad you did not stop there)

    I was pleased to see him mention Romerías de Mayo as I was one of two US citizens invited as participants this year. Additionally, the opening reception for my photo exhibit (culture of the state of Mississippi and its similarities to Cuba) was a part of the program.

  • Consider this: you are less likely to “interview poorly educated Cuban outside of Cuba than you are a poorly educated Puerto Rican. Cubans who are able to emigrate, either legally or illegally, are more likely better educated than the least educated Cubans. Your anecdotal experiences are skewed to overrepresent Cubans with better reading skills.

  • This Dan, I believe. Cubans of necessity have to be able to absorb and comprehend the content of regulations, restrictions and controls. Failure to do so can result in incarceration.

  • Wrong. I do have a wide variety of Latino clients from Boricuas to Colombians. The Cubans compare favorably in reading and understanding documents that I have to review with them.

  • Nor do you have experience assessing the reading comprehension skills of the Cuban people. We are both dealing with self-reported data. The difference is that my data is double-checked by an independent media. With regards to preventative medicine, Cuban data is misleading if not outright false. Just one example, prenatal home visits by doctors and nurses. At one time this may have been true. But not now. Cuban doctors are more often sent to other countries to make money for the Castros. Yet the propaganda continues.

  • Cuba is not good at preventative medicine ? Better tell the WHO. Literacy only compares favorably to the 3rd World ? You obviously don’t have much experience reviewing documents on a daily basis w/ the American Underclass.

  • The Deputy Director of a Pre-University school in Cuba had never heard of Dr, Zhivago generally recognized in the free world of one of the literary masterpieces of the 20th Century. So whereas it is correct that Cubans have a high level of literacy, it is also correct that due to the censorship applied for fifty seven years by the Castro regime, they have very restricted knowledge of literature.
    The difference in “aid to other countries” is that Cuba charges commercial fees to those countries to which it supplies medical and educational services.

  • I was living in Cuba during Hurricane Gilbert. Disaster Preparedness? Not so great. The fact that more people don’t die is because of the nature of Cuban architecture. Nonetheless, there are homes in Guantanamo near my in-laws that remain unrepaired since Hurricane Sandy. Biotechnology? Good, but not in the same league as the Ballet, the Jazz or even the baseball and the boxing. Preventative medicine? Definitely not. Don’t believe the hype. Literacy? For a Third World country, maybe so. But literacy in Cuba is a hard one to measure accurately. We have to take the Castros word for it. Yea right.

  • It fights in a higher weight class in more than bebop and ballet. How about disaster preparedness ? Biotech ? Preventive medicine ? Literacy ? Aid to other countries ?

  • Elio writes of the Cuban Constitution of 1976. The current Constitution is that of June, 2002. In practice, the citizens are bound by it, but the State is not.

    Chapter V, Article 43:
    The State establishes the right of its citizens to live in any sector, zone or area and stay in any hotel.

    Only a week ago I described in these columns, our being ejected from the Hotel Tropicoco at Santa Maria in 2011 because me wife is a Cuban.

    There has been much praise lauded upon the regime’s educational system, but it is controlled by Chapter 39 (c)
    to promote the education and communist training for the new generation

    The Constitution of Cuba can be ignored by the regime itself, but is rigidly applied to the citizenry. I don’t object to Elio embracing the regime and its Constitution. But that Constitution is applied to all without choice and without any democratic election by the people determining that they wish to be ruled by dictatorship.

    US businesses licking their lips at the thought of extending their activities into Cuba, should note very carefully:
    Article 18:

    The State directs and controls foreign commerce.

  • Yes , what a great government you have. I don’t think so!

  • Cuba “fights above its weight class” in jazz and classical ballet. By that I mean, for a small country with very limited resources, Cuba has produced some of the world’s finest jazz musicians and ballet dancers. Elio would do well to confine his pro-Castro articles to these topics where the mutterings of an unimaginative propaganda department and the real truth coincide. By the way, detractors take note: a positive comment.

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