Marginalization Isn’t Criminal

Yenisel Rodriguez

“Ambientoso” (braggart) is a word used in Cuba to describe the social behavior of many people who live in highly marginalized and impoverished neighborhoods on the island.

Historically, marginalization and poverty have been associated with crime. Therefore, from that perspective it’s easy to establish a second relationship, this time between ambientoso and criminality.

Although being ambientoso is not the monopoly of people marginalized in poverty, it does indeed play an important factor in an identity possessed by many of these people.

Speaking very loudly, the excessive use of gestures, immoderate joking, explicit competitiveness and macho stereotypes are attributes that generally characterize being ambientoso.

Thus the ambientoso is often associated with criminality. However a criminal is someone who breaks and violates the law.  Therefore a direct relationship doesn’t exist between such behavior and the act of violating norms.

Likewise, those who speak softly, evidence delicate and refined manners and advocate reserved and graceful humor in the struggle for social prestige are also presented with circumstances that lead to the commission of crime.

Nevertheless, the criminalization of the ambientoso is something strongly established in Cuban society.  Not even the ambientosos themselves escape this stereotype.  It’s therefore easy to realize the complexity of the problem.

Thus, these are issues of mental colonialism and self-colonization.

But this complexity doesn’t justify overlooking daily acts of discrimination in this sense. This is practiced when ambientosos are judged beyond the facts.  One’s environment influences many people to engage in the abuse and discrimination of other citizens, something that should be attacked at every turn.

What is not just is transcending the act at the moment of accusing the aggressor, alluding to the supposed criminal instinct of the ambientoso aggressor.  This becomes even more serious when the supposition itself becomes sufficient to judge innocent people. Here is where injustice resides.

“Many youths are locked up all night in the police station for the simple fact of dressing up and walk around like tough guys,” said a clerk from the police station on Infanta Avenue.

“They’re recorded in the database and — despite not having criminal records — they’re held until the morning, especially on Saturdays and holidays.  It’s believed that many of them would end up getting into fights at parties. I’ve also seen minors arrested for wearing t-shirts with stretched necks and ambling down the street with bravado in front of police checkpoints.  The fact was that they had only gotten separated from their friends while on their way to a free concert in front of the Malecon seawall,” the clerk added.

I have plenty of commentaries, but no indignation.

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.