Two Weeks Up North

Erasmo Calzadilla

San Diego, California in red.  Ilustration:
San Diego, California in red. Ilustration:

HAVANA TIMES — A university in San Diego – UCSD – invited me to take part in an investigative journalism workshop. This is how I was able to make the dream of many Cubans – myself included – come true, at least for a few days. My body is back in Cuba, but my mind refuses to accept this fact.

The workshop was very interesting, and I will tell you about it on another occasion. Today, I would rather speak of my adventures and “anthropological” reflections in “America’s finest city.”

Thanks to a friend’s friends, I was able to stay a some days after the workshop ended, exploring the city freely (a roof over my head and food on the table having been guaranteed).

And what a beautiful city I discovered! Modern, luxurious, brimming with activity, so distant from all the ills of large urban environments, such as overpopulation, chaotic expansion and violence. San Diego isn’t drowning in its own shit, nor does it resemble an asphalt jungle. I would say it has struck a good balance.

Its peaceful streets are flanked by gardens showcasing exotic flowers, there is an abundance of cozy homes, parks are well-kept and the air remains clean thanks to rigorous county laws.

But what made the deepest impression on me were the people. In Cuba, they are constantly hammering us with the claim that the United States is the motherlode of individualism, merciless competition and xenophobia, among other vices inherent to the capitalism one reads about in manuals. That, however, was not what I saw.

In San Diego, one breathes a relaxed social atmosphere. In fact, I had a very hard time finding a single person in a bad mood (a common sight down here). Its inhabitants are kind, cordial, helpful and respectful (towards others, private and public properties and the environment).

This is a stark contrast to what one experiences on this Caribbean isle, where we are always so stressed and mistreat one another so much. In Cuba, one has the constant feeling that social property and the environment are there to be used for carnivals all the time.

One is assimilated by such a cozy town without even noticing. I almost had no money, there was the language barrier and the dry, cold air made me a bit ill, but, as far as the human dimension is concerned, I felt at home. In Havana, I’m like a foreigner that doesn’t fit in. I have a truck-full of positive anecdotes. Here are three:

1. One day, I went to a movie theater and left a small video camera behind. I thought I’d never see it again. Two days later, they called me for me to go pick it up.

2. On a cold night, I got lost down the narrow streets of a derelict and relatively dark neighborhood. Under a streetlamp, I unfolded mu map and tried to get my bearings, to no avail. Suddenly, from behind, I heard the voice of a young woman: “Hello, sir. Are you lost? May I help you?”

What would be the chances of something like that happening in Havana? Not many, it seems to me, because of our male chauvinist mentality and the real danger that women are exposed to here.

3. I spent some time walking down the streets where homeless people set up camp. On several occasions, I witnessed the moment when charity groups came and gave these people clothing and food. Homeless people calmly approached the place where these things were being distributed, took what they gave them, thanked the people there and went back. I saw no roguery, humiliation or violence, no “everyone to himself” or “get out of the way” attitude.

Can you imagine how this would have looked with Havana’s homeless, and even among Havana’s “normal” citizens? There are some who say chronic shortages have eroded the dignity of Cubans. I believe shortage do not fully explain what has occurred in Cuba.

One need only land at the Jose Marti International Airport and run into customs officials to realize something very wrong is going on down here, that the State has no respect for people. From this state of things to seeing people lose respect for one another is but a small step.

This is the end of my story about the beautiful things that made me fall in love with San Diego. The ugly things that put me off will be the subject of my next post.

I dedicate this post to those people in San Diego who, without knowing me, offered me a place to stay, food and care. I am thinking of Victoria Gonzalez and Oscar, Roberto Hernanez, Maria Butler, Simone, Oliva (the Cuban) and Cristina and Jose. I grew very fond of all of them in a very short time.

18 thoughts on “Two Weeks Up North

  • My Dear Friend, Everyone knows that the American dream is an impossible dream to dream because it is a dream which is controlled. It isn’t everyone who will be allowed to get through the net and to sit beside those oligarchs who control everything in the land.

  • larrybudwiser makes a good point. While Cubans can more easily leave Cuba, they do face the laws and policies of other governments and can end up stranded on their way to the US.

  • As a 27 years old cuban who left Cuba a year ago I am offended by your complete cayman-shit of propagandist labia. We cubans don’t need you, no one does, stop repeating the dictatorship’s propaganda. Thank you, non-cuban.

  • I feel that way about living in Obama’s America.

  • What about those people I Costa Rica???

  • You are wrong about me Kennedy. You are making a fundamental attribution error in attempting to determine my thoughts and feelings. the same goes for the Castro’s.

    By the way, you seem to know more about Erasmos trip than Erasmo himself. I mean chauffeur service…really? Do you have their name? I’d like to use it next time I’m in town.

  • Wow, Finally a post I agree with! Some people flee Cuba thinking it a Hell, others, such as Erasmo, return to Cuba thinking, as JP Sartre once observed, “Hell is for other people”

  • I can’t believe it! You came back, even though you had TWO “dry feet” on the tierra firma of the “Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave!” Guess you really do want to change things in Cuba, rather than just escaping to the First World. Good luck! Just be careful for what you wish, for, as the cliche goes, you might just get what you wish! Of course your assessment of San Diego I chalk up to inexperience in the First World, and not having lived there beyond a “honeymoon” period. Both the U.S.A. and Cuba are somewhere between heaven and hell, and I don’t think either is closer to hell, or to paradise, than the other. Most folks in both places would treat you with the consideration you received in San Diego. (I have had the same experiences in Cuba, and well off the beaten tourist track, too.) Most people are good…at least that has been my experience…though I might suffer from the same delusions as Candide. When you first arrive in a place, unless perhaps it is, for example Syria, Iraq, Burundi, The Central African Republic, etc., it seems like Paradise. The more you live there, however, the more you see its blemishes. Sort of like falling in love. At first, the object of your affections seems to be a saint. Then you begin to notice little irritations. Then MAJOR irritations. Finally, you see what J.P. Sartre is talking about when he sez: “Hell is other people!” I’m sure the opposite is true as well, that in any relationship the other views me in the same way! Anyway, welcome back to “The Inviting Isle Next Door!”

  • My friend Informed,Erasmo did not see both sides of America! If you listened to the tripe he wrote on his return you would clearly see from his utterances that he is anti- Socialism, he is anti-Castro, anti- Cuba and, Investigative Journalist that he is, he did no investigation whatsoever and returned home to glorify a country where he was chauffeur driven and shown the good parts. It is because of his anti- Cuba stance why he was invited to attend the course. They were not going to invite me because they Know that I will ask to be shown the two sides of America.? It must be borne in mind that Cuba is a developing country which was colonized by Spain for many years. It fought for its liberation from the American gangsters in 1959 to rid itself of the sordid name of “The whore house or Brothel of the world. America has been Independent from Britain since 1776 and slums exist abundantly (239) years after, It has the highest crime rate in the world. It has the highest prison population in the world. Less than 5% of its population of the three hundred million people own all the wealth of the land. People vote but that is all they can do when they have voted their representatives in power. Wars are declared and they have to fight those wars they had no clue about, because they can only vote, but they then become voiceless after that. Erasmo is anti the Revolution and that is why he was selected for the training. He is singing for his supper for having been invited. There is nothing which is called a “FREE LUNCH.” Erasmo is now paying for his trip with the tripe that he is peddling. Did he not ask to shown the homeless, the ghettos where all hope is gone and the despair on the faces of the people who live on the streets, homeless, shelterless and devoid of proper medical attention? How come he did not observe these things? Rewrite your song Erasmo, Your tune is not catchy!!

  • Rae, let me tell you a personal story about living where the cost of living is too high. In 1972 I moved to Oahu, a few bucks I saved in my pocket but no job and when I landed in Honolulu I knew this was home. The constant mantra was it’s too costly to live there AND i was a minority, caucasian so jobs weren’t posted for mainlanders. Well I got a minimum wage job and than at night I cleaned golf shoes. Some nights I made more than the golf pro but working 15 hours a day six days a week I lived quite well in Hawaii. Things stabilized for me but that one day off a week in paradise was heavenly. That’s how it works and if you want to live in SanDiego be prepared to work and work long hours but it can be done. I have been reading Erasmo’s posts for a few years now and never fail to check anything he updates and the latest was uplifting but a slight tear that he is back in Cuba where life is black and white. Hang in there Erasmo, you bring a lot to the table and don’t ever give up. Cuba is a better place and will be even better because of you. May not agree all the time with you but you’re first class!

  • Clarke: Are you American? You certainly are a conspiracy theorist for sure. One can love one’s country of birth and culture without cheerfully swallowing the current ideology of the moment. Politics and power grabs are transient; the dreams of average people are what endures.

  • That is, for the most part, true. But for a many decades the Cuban people were held in vertual bondage. Having property confiscated and professional educational degrees annulled.

  • In an earlier posting Griffin said,”The Cuban government routinely prevents most Cubans wishing to leave from doing so.”
    But we have here yet another example of a Cuban allowed to travel abroad. Since the immigration reform of three years ago, Cubans travel much more freely. They can see with their own eyes the positives and negatives of life outside Cuba.

  • San Diego is a great city. Her politics are a little too conservative for my San Francisco tastes but your observations are spot on.

  • Wow. You really are full of hate, hate for the luck and opportunities afforded others. Universities in the U.S. offer these opportunities to many international students. And according to his Story Erasmo was free to walk around on his own to see and do as he pleased. He saw the true America and indeed will be writing so to tell us about what he didn’t like. You know Kenedy, just before he left, Erasmo wondered if this was a CIA plot to recruite him (lol). I guess he’s realized that no one cares.

    Who are you to tell Erasmo he does not live his country? You know Kennedy, love of ones country does not mean you have to unconditionally support your government. Indeed unconditional suport of anything is fanaticism. In fact I belive a true Cuban patriot must stand up to the Castro regime!

  • You are not factual in your report. The mere idea that you were invited to a workshop of that nature raises eyebrows? Were you the only Cuban invited? Why not all the rest journalists? Were you invited because of your anti- the Cuban Revolution stance? Is it to continue to spew out your anti-Castro, anti- Cuba propaganda? Why you of all people were selected? Tell the whole world why you were honoured with the distinction of being selected? Why didn’t you take advantage of the dry foot wet foot policy, you would have been given a heroes welcome? Loyalty to ones country is of paramount importance to someone who loves their country UN-conditionally. You seem to bear no love at all for your country. Everything about Cuba is bad. I am really surprised that, having experienced that feeling in paradise that you would have opted to return home?.. Why did you return?.Were you assigned a special mission to be undertaken? Did you by chance met with Luis Posado the bomber of the 1976 Cubana Airline just off the coast of Barbados? What did he say to you? Tell me truthfully, were you chauffeur driven? Are you so naive that you do nor know that they would show you the best parts of America? You soaked it all up gullibly without asking to be shown the slum areas where people live in the streets without medical attention. What kind of investigative journalist are you?

  • I am happy that you got the chance to visit San Diego, to visit the city and experience the people. Please note, however, that the cost of living is very high there, and probably most US citizens would not be able to afford to live there.

  • Your observations bring to mind that the ultimate dog eat dog world is Cuba. Where with few exceptions daily survival requires you to cheat and steal your fellow Cuban in order to survive, or as Cubans euphemistically refer to it, “resolviendo”. Something our resident armchair Bolshoviks have absolutely no understanding of.

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