How Do Tourists See Cubans?

Veronica Vega

Photo: Ariel Airas

HAVANA TIMES — It’s understandable that tourists who visit us (if they don’t just want the postcard that Cuba sells them)  want to meet some native Cubans, talk in a pleasant space and listen to opinions firsthand, as it’s impossible to get to know the country in just a few days.

There was a time when the opportunity to meet foreigners was the equivalent of traveling. Cultural differences, sometimes language and ethnicity too, combined with the peculiar mystery that is every individual human being, used to make up for the repetitive experience of telling them how you live, and trying to explain so many contradictions in one or two hours.

All of this plus the fact that they are always the ones to pay from a lunch to a soda, and even though it’s a simple act, this detail alone puts us in an uncomfortable situation. On the other hand, I never know if the prices on the menu are too much for them because there is no way of comparing our incomes, and I could never cover the bill of these places out of my own pocket. However, the most annoying thing, which builds up, is the feeling of being an object of a geopolitical context.

When I visited France in 2011, I felt like this on many occasions. Even though I had been invited by a literary festival, I was rarely asked about my own work.

The festival paid for our travel, accommodations and transport to different cities, but the fellow writers I shared this experience with, from Chile, Mexico, Argentina, were able to buy themselves a souveneir, a bar of chocolate, invite a friend to a coffee, something which was unthinkable for me. The Spanish language teachers who guided me had received instructions prior to my visit to pay for everything I might need.

That our people’s misery is a well-known fact internationally, that we have ended up accepting it as inevitable and that it is practically a stamp of being Cuban, doesn’t make it any less degrading.

When the exchange between people from other countries, in or outside Cuba, is founded on the sincere wish to get to know the other person (on both sides), all of these differences are diluted.

There are times when the visitor is willing to enter an ordinary Cuban’s life, then you can reciprocate the gesture with a homemade meal at your own home, a 10 peso pizza, going to the cinema, to the theater, talking in a park where we feel equal (like we are in essence). The result of these meetings is always gratifying, even if it doesn’t blossom into a long-distance friendship.

However, I’m talking about these programmed meetings where the foreigner pays for a lunch or snack and the Cuban person is just part of the exotic landscape which surrounds them.

There is always a sense of emptiness, the feeling that you have fitted into the tourist’s busy schedule by giving up your own work, putting off the solution to many of your everyday struggles. Just to talk for one or two hours which isn’t enough to make our complex reality understood, where we are the living element, and also the most vulnerable.

Veronica Vega

Veronica Vega: I believe that truth has power and the word can and should be an extension of the truth. I think that is also the role of Art and the media. I consider myself an artist, but above all, a seeker and defender of the Truth as an essential element of what sustains human existence and consciousness. I believe that Cuba can and must change and that websites like Havana Times contribute to that necessary change.

Veronica Vega has 178 posts and counting. See all posts by Veronica Vega

7 thoughts on “How Do Tourists See Cubans?

  • Having experienced living in Cuba, I prefer the many faults of the American system. Life in Cuba is much harder.

  • What I see is a society in transition. A small market sector has emerged that functions in a similar fashion to commerce the world over. In some respects under regulated (not under taxed) as the Government prefers to not ocknowledge it’s excistance. The state sector is mostly a decoration with many zombie firms. Much else is based on a secret barter system that substitutes for money. Being connected is worth more than peso wages of average person. The regime is still selling communism but the people have mostly moved on knowing that the state is much more about control than provider.

  • I visited Cuba last year and stayed for a month – and would agree that tourists visiting for a short time get a real convoluted idea about Cuba and Cubans in general. I speak some Spanish and didn’t stay in a hotel, ate meals with my Casa family and slowly was taken under their wing to local gatherings and events. I have a problem with tourists just going to gawk at the cars, stay in posh hotels and not really engaging with the people of Cuba. The Cuban people and their rich culture are the real treasure. I wrote about several of my experiences in a book, Cuba for Mama (on Amazon if anyone’s interested). I do keep in touch with my Cuban friends but it is very difficult because the mail is totally unreliable and email is difficult for them. I look forward to the days when I can have them visit me in America.

  • When I returned to Cuba as a tourist in 2013, I realized that very little had changed and that poverty and the standard of living is low for most of the population, but somehow most people have gotten used to doing things with less and stay relatively happy about it. As the saying goes, “jodido pero contento.”

  • Tourists visiting Cuba, especially for the first time, see Cubans exactly how they want to see them. That is to say, if you are a left-leaning, Che Guevara t-shirt wearing Castro sympathizer, you are likely going to see Cubans as happy, educated, and beneficiaries of the “free” education and health care that Castro-style socialism provides. If your political azimuth is more central, you probably see Cubans as conflicted, stretched between emotional loyalty to Fidel and aspirations for a better life. The Castro sycophants see charming Spanish colonial architecture in disrepair. Political moderates see crumbling old buildings. Armchair Bolcheviks come away seeing Cubans as industrious. People who love democracy understand why jineteros are a pain in the arse. Cubans are exactly what you want them to be.

  • I will tell you how the tourists see Cubans. I heard constantly from Europeans and Canadians, I love Cubans but the Cubans in Cuba, they are friendly ( hustle) they seen happier (hustling) they give you the little they have ( I know you eventually would give something back or would buy something for them) Then they say. I don’t like the Cubans in Miami. They are arrogant (they are not hustlers) and not friendly. I’m seventy years old lived in Havana until 1980 and before the Castro’s a tourist was ignored no one follows tourists, or smile the Cubans were to theirs every day business like any other cosmopolitan city in the world like Havana was before becoming the Jurassic park for nostalgic old folks looking for mulatos and mojitos. In the seventies when I live in Cuba it was illegal for Cubans to hangout with tourists.

  • I appreciate your frankness.I have been to Cuba and am somewhat aware of conditions.however,having said that,it became apparent that Cubans are getting the message that everthing in Canada or USA is honey and roses.Wrong.It is not by chance that we save our hard earned dollars to reach Cuba.We plan and save to get to a warm friendly place.You should perhaps take it upon your self to let your children know that Cuba is a gold mine to be kept by your people.

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