Cuban Barrio Life: Men, Friends and Males

Yenisel Rodriguez Perez

To be a man on this earth is a difficult and rarely achieved career, many times you die being only a male.

HAVANA TIMES, Feb 16 — Neighborhood life demands being a man and a friend. Being a man means confronting — face to face and with courage — the conflicts that persist in Cuban neighborhoods. It also consists of not revealing illegal business networks to government authorities.

To be a friend you need to build a reputation of trust in the community and to actively participate in neighborhood solidarity. A friend is someone who doesn’t harm their neighbors; rather, it is someone who offers love and devotion.

Those who manage to be men can be kissed on the cheek. This is a way of showing a deep heterosexual identity. Being a man also allows one to ascend to positions of leadership in religious or fraternal associations in the community.

As a friend you can drink with other men, visit their homes and meet their spouses.

A man and a friend are therefore identities that summarize much of what is experienced in the daily life of our country – much of what is human and inhuman.

Consequently, it becomes crucial to achieve this dual identity to fit harmoniously into everyday life.

However there exist “suicidal” individuals who ignore this identity in its most orthodox version.

Some refuse to be men and friends, unable to achieve recognition in the neighborhood. Others, fewer still, consciously avoid these roles since they consider them authoritarian or homogenizing.

The latter are called “varones” (males), in the best cases, by the men and friends in the neighborhood.

A male is an incomplete man and a dubious friend in the eyes of other neighborhood residents.

These males, however, often succeed at demonstrating their social dignity beyond clichés and stereotypes.

Man, friend and male are identities that let one see how much domination and authoritarianism lie within us, the Cuban people.

Faced with this situation, there’s plenty to discuss to consensually arrive at a neighborhood ethic that is truly liberating.

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.

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3 thoughts on “Cuban Barrio Life: Men, Friends and Males

  • Yes, Yenisel
    There are many things that i respect and love about the Cuban people and this “culture of understanding” is one that allows for a male to be a male. I don’t mean the domineering, self-centered, self-gratifying egotistical authoritarian, that some may make us all out to be. I mean the kind father, the loving brother, the ïf you need a hand I’ll be there, and most of all, the loving and passionate husband. All these attributes may not apply to every man, in Cuba or elsewhere but it is great to see friends who are men embracing each other, who laugh and tease, not out of disrespect, but indeed, respect. I have been to Cuba quite a few times, and I see this everywhere. Truthfully, I would like to have neighbours and friends like this. I have lived and worked in Canada all my life (Ontario) and although I am now 52 I am in my third year of Social, Cultural and Global studies at Queen’s University. I believe that we in the “industrial, developed world”, have much to learn from other countries who have less material wealth but an abundance of kindness, compassion for their fellow humans and are able to live and thrive in repressive economic circumstances. Thank you for sharing your thoughts Yenisel. Maybe next time I am in Cuba, I will look for you…

    Paul O’Marra,

  • Very interesting, Yenisel. I am curious about what it means in Cuba to be women, friends and females. But, perhaps one of your colleagues would be better suited to respond! Since International Women’s Day will be coming up soon, maybe several HT writers would like to share their thoughts on this topic.
    Curious in Canada,

  • I have always seen Cubans with bright eyes. I would like all the people would be like them. I praise them!

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