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.


Elio Delgado Legon

Elio Delgado-Legon: I am a Cuban who has lived for 80 years, therefore I know full well how life was before the revolution, having experienced it directly and indirectly. As a result, it hurts me to read so many aspersions cast upon a government that fights tooth and nail to provide us a better life. If it hasn’t fully been able to do so, this is because of the many obstacles that have been put in its way.

13 thoughts on “Cuban Culture during the Revolution

  • June 9, 2016 at 10:30 am

    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”.

  • May 27, 2016 at 8:58 pm

    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.

  • May 27, 2016 at 5:00 pm

    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.

  • May 27, 2016 at 1:57 pm

    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.

  • May 27, 2016 at 11:40 am

    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.

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