Tough Guys and Wimps in Cuba

Regina Cano

HAVANA TIMES, Jan 12 — Some time ago, a man died in Alamar who was the last member of one of the most famous families around here, at least of those that I’ve known since the late ‘70s.

A couple of women on a corner in my neighborhood commented: “They killed the last male member of the M… family.” Asked what had happened, the first woman replied, “The day before he went up to this young guy and ripped his watch off of him, but he didn’t do anything. The next day the guy waited for him at the “Hanoi” (a bar), where he always hung out. The guy had come with a gun. Some shots were fired, and he left him there. Dead as a door nail.”

Stories about the differences between guapos (“tough guys”) and wimps are recurrent in Cuba. In the past, these differences were more vicious than today. Now these are more evident on the outskirts of Havana than in the center of the city.

Here, they say that the tough guy is brave as long as the wimp allows it.

Guapo, mokongo, barbaro (barbarian), mete pie (kick ass), vikingo (viking) are words used to describe “tough guys.” Alternately, pendejo (idiot), penco (yes-man), amarillao (yellow), flojita (sissy), rata (rat), mujercita (little girl) are used to refer to “wimps.”

The truth is that when the M… family came to Alamar — then they were just kids — it was in that epoch when the social life of teenagers was divided between guapos and pepillos (young boys), and back then one couldn’t go without mentioning their last name as a reference to guapos.

The shopping center in Zone 6 (Alamar is divided into groups of buildings that constitute “zones,”) became the theater of operations, headquarters and point zero for fights – brawls between individuals as well as groups. It was a focus of constant problems, a place where youth break the store windows and where people avoided going after dark.

They say that the guys from the M… family were in and out of prison, as are the girls in the family, all trapped in the same environment. Likewise, they spend years committing acts of violence and building up resentments. They go through life dying little by little until their end, yet never changing their “modus vivendis.”

One always finds the limit that takes you away from or draws you closer to these individuals or this type of behavior. It’s possible that never in life will you find out that events like these occur or that people like these exist. Choosing how you deal with this is your choice.

Like they say here, a tough guy is brave as long as the wimp allows it, which is a shame in both cases.

I didn’t hear any more about the M… family again, until a few years ago, when I moved to this part of Alamar.

Regina Cano

Regina Cano: I have lived my entire life in Havana, Cuba – the island from which I’ve still never left, and which I love. I was born on September 9, and my parents chose my name out of superstition, but my mother raised me outside the religion professed by her family. I studied accounting and finance at the University of Havana, a profession that I’m not engaged in for the time being, and that I substituted for doing crafts, some ceramics, and studying a little English and about painting. Ah! – concerning my picture: I identify with Rastafarian principles, but I am not one of them. I wear this cap from time to time, but I assure you I just didn't have a better picture.

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One thought on “Tough Guys and Wimps in Cuba

  • A great little vignette, Regina! I’d love to read a whole novel about such folks. Reminds me a little of some of characters of Pedro Juan Gutierrez’s “Trilogia sucia de La Habana.” Hope you’re keeping a notebook, so that you can flesh out and develop such characters. I know you are keeping your ears and eyes open, and the overheard snatches of these conversations will provide this material, and the catalysts for imagining such characters. Stories about their desperate lives deserve to be told as much as do those higher up on the socio-economic scale.

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