What’s Your Image of Cubans?

Maria Matienzo Puerto

This year's International Book Fair.

HAVANA TIMES, Feb 15 — I’m about to conduct a poll. Actually it’s going to be something like a competition, because I plan to come up with a prize for the winner.

I came up with the idea while working at the Havana International Book Fair, where I’ve had to work with several foreigners who — driven by either their curiosity or government enduced expectations — has wanted to learn more about Cuban literature.

My initial question would therefore be: How do foreigners imagine Cubans?

In addition, the poll would have one basic requirement: the people surveyed have either never visited the island or — if polled while here in Cuba — would have to be here for their first visit.

If an exception arises, this special case would be analyzed by the organizing committee, which I myself would later organize.

Without even asking, I’ve already found some of the answers – all of them different, all having a dose of logic included, and each somehow having caused me to laugh.

There are some cases that I would like to share, even at the risk of undermining the prestige of my competition.

Yesterday, for example, I spoke with a Puerto Rican man who imagined that we all dressed in the fashions of the seventies. He told me — and I’m quoting him — “I didn’t think you guys would be so…modern.”

What impressed him most were the cars, which he assumed would be full of almendrones (“big almonds,” those huge American cars from the 1940’s and ‘50s).

In addition he was expecting to see the camellos (“camels,” which used to be those double-humped buses converted from 18-wheeler trucks instituted during our economic meltdown of the 1990s).

At that point I stopped him to ask how it was that in Puerto Rico people knew about Havana’s camellos? But then I remembered all the media campaigns in which these have been featured, so I continued with the conversation.

He was also surprised to see all people with cellphones on the streets here, which confirmed his notion of finding people “breathing an air of change” here.

As soon as he said that, I started seriously worrying about my nose, because I didn’t smell anything. But maybe it’s just that I’m used to it and I can’t see the incremental changes because of being so close to the day-to-day struggle.

Then I remembered a documentary made by a German artist in which some people in that country imagined the phone booths in Cuba as having a degree of privacy they had never experienced.

I also remember a Spanish woman who said she imagined being able to drive motorcycles on the beaches here.

From the comments to posts that sometimes appear in Havana Times, it seems that some people imagine us with hair all over ours bodies and having long ears and tails – standing, of course, on all fours.

Others imagine us the way we’re described on the news programs on Cuban television. Excuse me, but those are the folks with the least bit of imagination.

That was when a little something piqued my curiosity.

That’s when I wanted to know how you imagine us, those out you out there.

So who’s going to respond first?

I won’t think any more about it. The call is open even without the prize having been identified yet, but I think it might be a tour of Cuba from the inside, without the explanations of go-betweens.


Maria Matienzo

Maria Matienzo Puerto: I dreamed once that I was a butterfly who had come from Africa and discovered that I had been alive for thirty years. From that time on, I constructed my world while I was sleeping: I was born in a magic city like Havana; I dedicated myself to journalism; I wrote and edited books for children; I met to discuss art with wonderful people; I fell in love with a woman. Of course, there are certain points of coincidence with the reality of my waking life and it’s that I prefer the silence of reading and the pleasure of a good movie.

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8 thoughts on “What’s Your Image of Cubans?

  • Every single person I’ve met who visited Cuba says the (almost) exact same thing: ‘very kind, gentle, smart people. Their lightness of being remember people from Bahia.’

  • I am a Canadian from New Brunswick in the Maritime provinces on the north Atlantic. I have been to Cuba 7 times within the past 5 years, having made 3 trips in 2011 alone. Ever since my first trip I have been enthralled by this beautiful subtropical island. I have been constantly surprised by the kindness and generosity of the people. I enjoy seeing coworkers share a hug and kiss upon greeting each other, a show of intimacy and communal spirit not often seen in our individualistic northern countries. And above all, I feel a sense of safety and security wherever I go, owing again to that communal spirit that welcomes and embraces others as an extension of oneself. Being wealthy by comparison, I have enjoyed hospitality from those with very little to give. This is a beautiful country with a beautiful people that while limited in material resources have much to offer the rest of the world.

  • I fell in love with all things Cuban in Ebore City-USA-First I took my wife Donna out for diner. After giving our waiter a good tip, we enjoyed our dinner and then enjoyed Flamenco Dancing. Next we enjoyed Coffee that was so strong the meniscus was orange.

    Next we enjoyed listening to Cuban Jazz. next we my wife and I enjoyed learning that Cuba had its own Medical School, and a Ballet that was good enough to tour in Europe.

    As soon as it is legal I would like to take a bus and tour of Cuba. Meanwhile I am reading a book about Cuba.
    Robert Cowdery

  • Maria Matienzo Puerto poses a simple, yet complicated, question, trying to discern what the rest of the world thinks of her Cuba. We all have regional/national pride of place, with the flavors of cooking and clothing and art all stewed together in our own social matrix. Here, in Vermont – in the New England corner of the United States – we are often portrayed as living in log cabins, tending cows and wearing tie-dyed shirts with ‘Ben and Jerry’s’ logos on the front and back. Visitors from more civilized states nearby are oft amazed that we have developed the fork, after all these years without them.
    Cuba to me represents a rich culture with energetic people, unique foods, the world’s best-trained doctors, and a government which hasn’t changed much since the revolution. I see lost opportunities because of the ill-aimed embargo which my country – big but ignorant, much like the tough guys in movies – imposed half a century ago. This interrupted the natural flow of people, money and ideas which would normally have flowed between our countries and caused grave damage far beyond it’s purpose. It hardened Cuban leaders and Cuban exiles and generations of people on both sides grew up in mistrust of the other: “The folks next door are dangerous, somehow, and should be avoided.” Wrong, wrong, wrong. We have much to offer each other to mutual benefit, and dropping both the embargo and travel/communication restrictions surely would benefit all. Cubans are a wonderful people with gifts the world ought to know more about. One of those is her writers.

  • I don’t know much about the culture or the people to be honest and I know ya can’t really generalise, but I’ll have a go anyway 🙂 Everyone’s really laid back, stylish and original, the lads are macho yet respectful and the women are feisty, never giving them an inch if they step out of line. And y’all DEFINITELY know how to have a great time with the stunning weather, gorgeous beaches, rum and salsa dancing! 🙂 Sorry for the overly romantic and massive cliche lol…

  • If you want the tourist view put this question on the Tripadvisor Cuba Forum with a link to this page. The T.A. has thousands of readers.

  • Dear Friend : I have visited Cuba 73 times on research since 1993. I choose to raise my two Cuban – Canadian children in Cuba for various reasons. The Cuban people are industrious when given the opportunity to produce wealth.
    Gordon Cubaking Robinson
    Port Alberni B.C. Canada
    [email protected]

  • I have followed the Cuban Revolution with great interest and admiration for the people’s resilience in coping with their hostile neighbour, the USA, and the imposed sanctions. I am in my 80th year, a retired Maritime Worker, a confirmed Socialist, member of the Communist Party of Australia from 1959 to 1990 when the CPA disbanded to support a ‘new Left Party’ which failed I believe the Cuban Society will implement change over time whilst continuing along a Socialist path. I rejoice in the development of solidarity with other South American Governments for mutual benefits.
    I particularly support Cuba’s policies of training Doctors from developing Countries, specially with East Timor.
    I visited East Timor in 1975 on invitation to celebrate the 1st anniversary of the founding of Fretilin and became an activist in support of the struggle for Independence throughout the 24 years of the Indonesian occupation.
    I also attended the first congress of Fretilin in 2000and remain a supporter of Fretilin and the future of the Maubere People. I congratulate Cuba for your leadership in the development of a just sustainable Society

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