Our Greatest Achievement as Cubans

By Paula Henriquez

A walk along the malecon seawall. Photo: Constantin Eremichev

HAVANA TIMES — If there is an accomplishment that we can talk about as Cubans, it’s the one that we can call “the non-solidarity Cubans have for their fellow Cubans.” Yep… this is the greatest of all, because all of the others have weakened over time. I thought about this on the weekend as I walked through my neighborhood’s streets.

I told myself: this isn’t anything new, you’re already used to seeing full garbage containers that are spilling onto the street, yes, because they are already overflowing. You are already used to going somewhere and being mistreated, as if you weren’t even a person. You try to get used to going to the doctors and not finding anyone who is competent enough for you to leave satisfied with your visit. Or going to the pharmacy and not finding the medicine we all need so much.

You try to not “lose your spirits” and carry on, in other words, exist, let’s say a little less optimistic, wanting to cover the sun with your finger, however you want to call it… and then you go to the root vegetable stand where produce is more and more expensive every day. You blame the seller who has to buy them at an exorbitant price and sell them for even more money just to make a little profit.

Or in another instance, you find yourself with a seller who wants to take kilos and money off of everyone who comes by his way, as if you were to blame for just how bad everything is. Because it’s just as bad for everyone, all of us who live like common, ordinary Cubans anyway.

You go to the hard-currency store and the same thing happens and you ask yourself every day when the day will come when things aren’t so painfully expensive and you can be one of those people who live a “normal” life, who have a thousand times what you have. Yes, these same people from the movies.

To top this all off, if by chance you want to buy something, you also try to be polite so that the person serving you doesn’t treat you badly as if you were somebody asking for a handout, as if the product wasn’t already expensive enough and you weren’t making the greatest sacrifice.

You walk along the street, or better yet the sidewalk, if there is one where you are at that moment, and you have to stop walking because somebody has taken out their armchair so they can cool down a little and has therefore decided to block everyone’s way. “If you don’t like it, walk in the street,” I was told once. “The pavement is public,” I responded.

You have to wait as if you were waiting at a traffic light because somebody is washing down their house with buckets of water and all of the dirty water is coming out onto the pavement. You have to get off the curb because somebody is having a conversation and that is more important than anything else.

Yep, this is our greatest accomplishment. Cubans, the majority of Cubans don’t care about the Cuban standing next to them. They don’t care about their neighbors. We live in a kind of “save yourself if you can”, a jungle, where the weakest lose and the strongest win. Yes, I know that’s the law of life, but the difference here is that we are all weak, we’re all on the same side and we all want the same thing: to live a little bit better.

So why don’t we look at each other, why don’t we recognize ourselves in others and try to reduce our sadness. Why don’t we show solidarity, camaraderie, unity, politeness towards each other… If at the end of the day, we all live in Cuba, we are all Cubans.

Paula Henriquez

Paula Henriquez: Since childhood I have been told I should be careful what I say in public. "Think before you speak, especially in front of others," my mother would say, and it was more of a plea than a scolding. Even today I hear her and I obey her, just that I do not speak, I write. Letters and words are my escape, my exit and daily catharsis, which printed on paper, revive me. And this picture is my refuge.



5 thoughts on “Our Greatest Achievement as Cubans

  • Juxtapose this post to those written by first-time or infrequent visitors to Cuba who wax on about how happy Cubans are. How they are always smiling and willing to give you the shirt off their back. What you realize is that Cubans are great if not Oscar-winning actors. They give tourists and gullible foreigners one face and give each other another. Life is hard in Cuba. To pretend that the life created by the Castro dictatorship is anything else is lying.

    Reply
    • Perhaps Cubans give yumas one face, and give each other another, because whenever they’re in the company of foreigners they’re sincerely expressing their happiness for their good fortune, whether they attempt to exploit that relationship or not. I have many good friends in Cuba who are indeed truly happy to be with me, and they never ask me for a thing. Yet they would (and have) given me the shirt off their backs many times over.

      Moses, I find it amusing how you always want to spin anything that’s of a negative nature back on the Castro government. Your vague attempts are really quite transparent and humorous. But juxtaposed to your rather biased suggestion, let me ask you this… how happy are New Yorker’s or LaLa land residents with each other? Should we also blame your government for their lack of enthusiasm with courteously exchanging pleasantries with each other on the street? If you’re honest with yourself, it’s likely a very rare thing for anyone to even speak with their immediate neighbors. Likewise, cultural social graces in Cuba are not all as a direct result of the Castros.

      Reply
      • Accepting the human condition as a baseline, you will find unhappy people everywhere. What makes Cuba unique, true or not, is that Cubans DO blame the Castro dictatorship or the US or BOTH for the majority of their problems. And do so for good reason in most cases. In most western countries, most people have some measure of an opportunity to better themselves. Cubans have no such opportunity and therefore are justified in their complaints. Finally, you make my point. Your statement that Cubans have two faces is largely true. But you are in error if you believe that the face you see is the real one and the false face Cubans show is reserved for family and fellow Cubans. That simply does not make sense.

        Reply
        • Good response. I agree with you, make no mistake. Cubans do indeed blame their government for a myriad of their problems, and rightfully so. But so does everyone else in the world no matter where they live. In Cuba, things are not perfect… far from it, so one could argue they have much more right to complain. I realize that must be done privately for the most part. Interestingly, my Cuban wife has absolutely no desire to talk politics with me… the subject bores her to tears. I think it’s fair to say that for most Cubans, after all is said and done, they simply accept their situation as the devil they know. Regarding false faces, I truly feel the love, respect, and adulation that my Cuban family shows to me as being entirely genuine, and of course, ours is a reciprocal relationship. Respect is huge. But like anywhere as well, I know that they all talk behind each other’s backs too, including mine. It’s a bit of a sport for them with the radio bemba and too much time on their hands. So false faces as well, you betcha.

          Reply
  • “Be the change you want to see”

    Reply

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