Cuban? Yuck!

Francisco Castro

Obispo St. in Old Havana

I am an atypical Cuban.

I was born in Santiago de Cuba and I lived there half my life. Nevertheless, I don’t speak with the intonation and volume that characterizes “Santiagueros,” and I make few gestures with my hands when I speak. I don’t like making jokes about myself and nor do I laugh at my misfortunes.

I don’t drink a lot of coffee, I don’t smoke, I don’t drink rum or beer (sometimes not even on special occasions), and I prefer natural juices and with just a little sugar.

In terms of meat, I prefer fish over pork, and I generally like food with a lot of garlic and only a little salt.

My skin is white, although my hair notes something of my African heritage.

I don’t know how to play dominos, I don’t like baseball and nor do I participate in sports.

Most of the time I like to wear shorts, bright colored T-shirts and flip-flops, encouraged by the country’s tropical climate.

I’m fairly introverted and my eyes don’t follow behind stunning Cuban women.

In short, I’m an atypical Cuban.

But I’m not the only one.

Of all these characteristics, the physical ones are those that almost everybody sees in the street, and these are the ones that cause small exchanges with certain people; especially when I walk through Old Havana, Centro Havana or the Vedado neighborhood, in the Plaza municipality.

At the beginning it made me laugh when people — thinking I was a tourist — would come up to me offering all kinds of goods and services.

Havana's Prado Esplande. Foto: Caridad

I had just come to the Capital, in 2004, and I would walk through Old Havana with a little handy-cam camera filming with a classmate – a mulata – who was carrying out the functions of a producer. We would use the shots for a university course on documentary making. I gave off the image of a typical foreign tourist.

Very cautiously, a man came up to us — speaking Spanish from Spain — and he proposed to me the company of other mulatas, and even black women, ones with better figures than the one I was with, he said, in addition to their limitless imaginations.

The man was quite disappointed when I proudly told him what my nationality was.

Starting from that day a kind of curse was put on me. People have offered unimaginable things.

However this isn’t what prompts my story. Rather, it’s to talk about such exchanges with the providers of “alternative tourism.” Like one that happened to me today.

It was sitting on one of the benches along the Paseo de Prado esplanade, in front of the Andalusian Center just a few steps from the corner of Prado and Neptuno. I was waiting for a friend, so I would periodically turn my head from side to side.

A man came up, greeted me with a big smile, and asked:

“Spain?”

“Cuba,” I responded.

Immediately his smile dropped. He then looked me up and down, as if I were to blame for something terrible having happened:

“What kinda shit is this!” he simmered.

At this stage in my experience in Havana, it no longer makes me laugh. Rather, I’m frightened by those faces of disgust that look at me after asking my nationality. However, now when I respond, it’s no longer with pride that I’m Cuban, but with sadness.

Francisco Castro

Francisco Castro:Everything becomes simpler when one crosses the line of thirty. That does not make it easier, but rather the opposite. There I am on the other side of the line, trying to figure out, what little I know about art, politics, economy ... life, how to move without breaking oaths that seemed essential, how not to give up, how to make the years spent into a beacon to the future.


4 thoughts on “Cuban? Yuck!

  • April 18, 2011 at 12:39 pm
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    I was saddened when I read the end of your story. Naturally you should hold your head high and be proud of who you are no matter what nationality or color your skin may be. We are all created equally regardless of what country we are from. It is sheer ignorance for others to think otherwise. We did not have the ability to choose what nation we came from. I love Cuba and have had the good fortune of being able to visit many times this past year from Canada. I believe that the Cuban people haven been gifted with traits that many of us foreigners know very little about, I also believe that we as a society can learn from each other, but a person needs to be open to that. No matter what others may think you are beautiful!

  • April 18, 2011 at 11:31 am
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    Having visited Cuba from Canada many times, I can’t think why one would not be proud to be a Cuban!

  • April 18, 2011 at 9:41 am
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    Never let the Bigotry and Ignorance of others cause you to stop believing in who you are. There is nothing wrong with Pride in fact it is essential to high self esteem, as long as you temper it with modesty and good humor.
    Be proud that you are Cuban for you stand on the shoulders of Giants.

  • April 17, 2011 at 9:08 pm
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    Francisco, hope you can read this, do not be sad for being Cuban.

    While pride is not necessarily a good thing. It is good to harbor some feelings of pride towards one’s own land. To the achievements of those before and to what future Cubans will do when they have freedom.
    You can be a part of that bright future and maybe you could also be the inspirations to the many that will follow.
    Those that devalued Cubans and who themselves are also Cubans are abominations. But they themselves do not share all the blame. The Cuban society as it is, with all the prohibitions against Cubans compare to the freedoms a foreigner enjoys in our own country makes them think that their own compatriots have no value. But they are mistaken.
    I can tell you that value is not measure by money or by one’s national origin.
    It is measure by honesty, truthfulness, justice, and love for humanity.

    Never for a second think that someone of a different land is superior to Cubans.
    They are equal to us.
    Best to you.

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