Call Me a Palestinian* Now!

Yenisel Rodriguez

Guantanameros. Photo: Caridad

With this sarcastic phrase, the Guantanamo public taunted the baseball players on the team from the western Cuban province of Pinar del Rio; which had just suffered a crushing series defeat at the hands of “The Guaso Indians” – the team of the inflamed Guantanameros.

The Guaso Indians were able to improve considerably in the last Cuban baseball season.  Despite their ups and downs, they have remained this season among the baseball elite in the eastern region of the country – a situation that has residents of Guantanamo Province thankful.  With their passion for sports, they dignify and give media exposure to one of the country’s most impoverished provinces.

When I found out about the planned broadcast of games between the Guantanamo team and western teams, two expectations came to me.  The first was that I would be able to verify the degree of poverty suffered by the Guantanameros; I’d be able to observe the way people in the stands dressed, for example

My second expectation consisted of being able to confirm the sociopolitical contradictions between the east and the west of the island during the unfolding of these encounters.  I wondered whether the Guantanameros would use the national television broadcast to send a message to the rest of the nation, specifically to the west.

My second expectation was fulfilled earlier than I had anticipated.  When the Guantanamo players began to hit homeruns, hysteria broke out among the eastern fans.

Guantanamo has always been proud of its sports potential.  Between 1959 and 2011, they have given Cuba many of the victories that the country has accumulated in international sporting events.

But this sports tradition is also a testimony to the role that the Cuban government assigns to Guantanamo society.  Perhaps because “high-performance sports” have been a source of prestige for the nation, this is why the government has dedicated resources to the most marginalized and excluded members of our society.  Many of our sports talents come from impoverished and excluded communities and neighborhoods.  It’s as if Guantanamo had satellite offices in the rest of the country’s provinces.

Motivated by my first expectation (to be able to observe the poverty of Guantanamo), I took advantage of the camera shots of the crowd.  However, the first thing I noticed was the beauty of Guantanamo women, thanks to that generous sensitivity of our sports cameramen in focusing on the females who attend the stadiums.

Now, more centered on my principal objective, I looked for evidence of poverty.  In fact I looked…and I kept looking, but I was never able to reconcile my observations with my prejudices.  I was in marshy terrain.

After failing in the attempt several times, I decided to simply sit back and enjoy the sports spectacle.

I realized that it was better to know Guantanamo without seeing its poverty as a lighthouse for entering its reality.  Life in this province is not restricted to its conditions of life.  It would be better to visit there, to go with more varied interests, and to then let the experiences give us the answer we wish to find.

That’s why I resigned myself and accepted the sarcastic chant of the Guantanameros, which is why I decided to write these lines.

(*) A pejorative title given to residents of eastern Cuba, particularly those who migrate to Havana  looking for work, presumably without a place of residence or a home, therefore people who are “landless – like Palestinians.”

Yenisel Rodriguez

Yenisel Rodriguez Perez: I have lived in Cuba my entire life, except for several months in 2013 when I was in Miami with my father. Despite the 90 miles that separate Havana and Miami, I find profound reasons in both for political and community activism. My encounter with socio-cultural anthropology eight years ago prepared me for a commitment of love for cultural diversity.