Clothes for Looking Good

Regina Cano

Photo: Caridad

Ever since the beginning of my adventure in demanding construction materials for the repair of the “gingerbread houses” in my neighborhood, I haven’t stopped asking myself a certain question.

I don’t know how crazy it might sound to anyone else on this island, that there exists a predilection among the great majority of people in the capital to look and smell good, to dress in the latest fashions, to own lots of clothes and shoes, as well as to own electronic systems for listening to music and watching movies, and to possess the most recent cell phone.

You see these people daily trying to display their appearances, showing off or attempting to deck themselves out even in clothes that are completely inappropriate for our tropical heat.

However, you’d have to be able to see inside the lives of some of them to discover that their homes don’t have regular water service, or that rainwater leaks from their ceilings or into their walls, and that their apartment balconies are crumbling.

If you walk through neighborhoods like Old Havana or Centro Havana, and even through parts of the more physically privileged Havana neighborhoods, you’ll notice the bombed-out-like conditions of many houses.

A few days ago, my friend Irina and I were talking about this very issue.  And folks, the truth is that —surprisingly— we don’t understand it, despite being native Havana residents!

How is it possible that people have money to spend on those items and yet the improvement of the places where they live day in and day out are not the objects of their attention?

It’s common to hear people say, “Here one lives worried about wearing fashionable clothes,” on how you look, on your appearances.”

The problem is that Cubans cannot really imagine their longed-for prosperity or to live life with long-lasting shoes and clothes.  It’s difficult to counteract the symptoms that shortages impose: the phenomena of “you dress or you eat, one of the two” or “la cosa no da pa’ más” (you can’t do both).

To all this is added the fact that anything related to one’s housing is deferred, it’s the same for repairing your home or obtaining one.

Not owning one’s own home and having to live in the house of a relative or one’s parents —where on occasion there coexist three or even four generations— to a large degree discourages any motivation to improve the one’s living conditions there.

And still on top of is added the belief that “things won’t change.”

As a result we find the behavior of Cubans focused on their own bodies, that house or temple that transports them to where they want to go, and that always responds to them as their mind is inclined.  They themselves are their sole property, the only object over which they have control (or un-control), but what is exclusively theirs in the end.

Even so, there’s no justification that I find convincing.  The solidness of a house remains as the heritage of the generations that follow, in addition to meeting the need for a physical, spiritual and psychological balance that guarantees us being able to carry out our future plans – and not the certitude that one day the roof is going to fall on our head.