A Tough Guy Undertone

Erasmo Calzadilla

Reggaeton. Photo: www.cultstgo.cult.cu

Cuban society is changing and very quickly. But in what direction?

Until a decade or two ago, we Cubans were an uninhibited and talkative people. Of course we still are, and many of us respect the cultures of others, but I think that these tend to be less so of late.

As I’m rather reserved, quiet and introverted, and excessive trust upsets me (it ends up becoming a folkloric cliché), when several years ago I began to perceive that people were no longer getting into each other’s business, I was happy. However now I’m concerned. Where are we going with this conch-like approach to life?

We had and we still have highly interconnected social networks, and without the need for Twitter. But to me, this has started to unweave – at least in the capital. It would be a crime if that “natural” little jewel disappeared from Cubans. (But, putting on my philosopher’s hat: What can be “natural” without becoming extinct?)

There are plenty of symptoms. I can mention a few that seem trivial when looked at independently, yet I don’t think they are if viewed as a whole. For example, these days you hardly ever hear those short and comical descriptions (stories) that were so common and typical of the Cuban context in a certain epoch. As a little boy I knew dozens of stories, but I haven’t heard any at all in years.

Relatedly, young people practically don’t dance in pairs anymore, and you’ll hardly ever see those “casino wheel” salsa group formations that used to appear even during the most difficult years of the Special Period crisis.

Another example, very specific in this case: In my neighborhood at least, people used to take out their conga drums on the weekends and tremendous rumba fiestas would spontaneously break out under a tree. Today none of that takes place. And to invite professional musicians to a party costs an arm and a leg.

On the other hand, a guaperia (tough guy) atmosphere has appeared, especially among guys from the poorest neighborhoods of the capital (which is to say almost all of them). This behavior is enough to scare anyone (at least it scares me).

Those “minors” roam around looking for fights, alone or in gangs, stealthy and prepared to pull out knives and deliver punches when confronted with the smallest challenge. I can’t say that this is the case among the majority, but it’s now something common and increasing.

This “marginal” atmosphere was always and continues to be an inexhaustible source of new words that are incorporated into speech, but lately the terms and expressions coming out of the ovens of the neighborhoods reek of violence.

One of these new pearls is “cerrarse” (to close).

To be closed is the opposite of being open and talkative, or joking and kidding, or “relájate pa’ que goce” (relax and just enjoy). To “close” is to become blunt, grim, tense; to have a mean look or appear to be on the verge of a fight. It is being ready for a battle from which one doesn’t know what hospital or morgue they’ll end up.

Those “cerraos” (closers) have always existed. I remember those who used to walk around wearing fancy high-polished shoes that no one could step on without getting the crap beat out of them, but now it’s a predominant stereotype.

Reggaeton has had something to do with these changes (or visa versa). But the members of famous reggaeton group Los Confidenciales don’t seem happy when they sing the song “Guapo”:

“Guapo” [tough guy, cocky], what’s happening?
If you came here to fight, it’s better that you go back home.
I paid five pesos to let loose until the end,
Not to put on a movie about some temple and Shaolin.

In Cardenas all the young guys are tough
They’ll give you a punch like they change their shoes.
They fight with their hands, sticks, stones or rebar
but the most screwed up is that they’ll jump you as a gang.

What is the origin of this new wave? We’ve had plenty of economic crises in this country, so we can’t blame everything on that. A combination of factors must have had a bearing, but from my point of view the following are dominant:

– The accumulation of unresolvable economic problems.
– The advance of the process of “socialist” alienation, characterized by disinformation, authoritarianism, the disintegration of community culture (of geographical, religious and other types of communities), and the loss of traditional values.
– The advance of commercial relationships as a mode of exchange between people.

All of these causes must be influencing each other and creating an explosive cultural broth. Let’s hope we don’t end up like Caracas or Mexico City, though actually we’re still far from those, I think.

What can we do? Something can always be done.

Erasmo Calzadilla

Erasmo Calzadilla: I find it difficult to introduce myself in public. I've tried many times but it doesn’t flow. I’m more less how I appear in my posts, add some unpresentable qualities and stir; that should do for a first approach. If you want to dig a little deeper, ask me for an appointment and wait for a reply.

2 thoughts on “A Tough Guy Undertone

  • If these are the results of bad decisions made in Cubas past what explains the advent of these exact same ideas, attitudes and actions in North America in particular but the World in general.

    Society as a whole everywhere is less tolerant less open less communicative (even though we are ever more inter connected) more prone to senseless immediate explosive violence.

    Overall crime rates in major North American Cities have been dropping for years but senseless crimes such as “road rage” vandalism graffiti and stabbings in bars and gang beatings are increasing exponentially.

    This is not to say that Cuba does not face unique and important problems it is only to say that you are not alone you have never been alone.

  • Erasmo
    What is happening in Cuba to society are the consequence of the actions taken in the past. Bad decisions from the past have taken Cuba into this path. This needs to change otherwise it could be worst.

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