A Sincere and Beautiful Salute from the Mexicans

Yenisel Pérez Rodríguez

The “bonds that unite Cubans and Mexicans” are no secret to anyone here. Though the term may seem somewhat exaggerated (as is another one that paints Cubans and Puerto Ricans as “two wings of the same bird”) there are contexts in which it would seem both countries attempt to validate those affinities that we hear revered in so many songs, anecdotes and platitudes.

Whether for historical, social, political, commercial or religious reasons — or all of these at the same time — different peoples build bridges of affection between each other, ones which each cross in their own ways in each era.

Here in Cuba we’re currently being overwhelmed by the 16th Pan American Games. Almost unexpectedly, it has been like a real and contemporary setting where the historical empathy that the Mexicans feel for us Cubans has been reintroduced with new life.

Much has been commented on by the press in Guadalajara (the host the games) concerning the effusive round of applause given to the Cuban athletes at the inauguration of the games.

Over the first few days of competition, the Mexican press commentary has become irrefutable; there has been no sporting event in Guadalajara in which those in attendance have not feverishly hailed the Cuban competitors, even when the opponent was one of their own fellow nationals.

To us Cubans, we too are always surprised by this fact, especially because we’re used to thinking of those slogans of “Latin American unity” as ultimately pure political propaganda.

There’s also that xenophobia expressed daily in our streets towards latinoamericanos (Latin Americans), an attitude that has been reinforced by our enforced isolation from the rest of Latin America since 1959 – an ethnocentricity that has seeped deeply into Cuban popular culture.

Notwithstanding, these Pan American Games serve as a legitimate indicator that sincere ethnic affinities exist, those that go far beyond government propaganda and geopolitical alliances.

Today we see how a certain pride emerges when Mexicans show their tenacious support for our athletes.

“How beautiful and alluring it is to see Mexicans dancing the mambo, swiveling their hips and shoulders just like Cubans!” many say. We can only sit back and listen to them sing the verses of the “King of Rhythm,” Benny Moré, an icon of Cuban popular music.

What remains then for us Cubans is to match this show of affection from our own barrios. It is upon us to honor the latinoamericanos who share our daily lives by returning their applause of acceptance before their forms and ways of dancing the mambo in their own styles.