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.
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:
“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.