Yenisel Rodriguez Perez
Supposedly for purposes of promoting tourism, the official image of Cuban provinces is perpetuated, in great measure, through the old mansions and productive infrastructure of the former wealthy classes that inhabited and managed them.
This image, like a Chinese lantern, offers us a journey through space and time to where veritable overlords settled and enriched themselves. It is a historical journey that reveals how the politico-economic and intellectual patrimony of the provincial aristocracy was instituted. Valued as local treasures, provincial patrimonial authorities administer these properties with great tenacity and pride.
Provincial museums are the cultural institutions that spearhead the imposition and socialization of this image. From them are promoted and marketed a form of tourism that I will call “of the upper class.” From the biographies of those gentlemen, their families and friends we must manage to reconstruct the social history of the province in its entirety, particularly that of its people. The theatricalism of this tourism “of the upper class” is projected as a historical sequence comprising three epochs.
First we have the arrival of nascent peninsular capitalism, which includes the government houses, the Plazas de Armas and the military fortresses. With such an arrival germinated the spirit of Cuban capitalist, opening the way to a second moment. Here I’m speaking of Creole capitalism and patriotism, a flourishing branch that snapped off from the cherry tree of the Spanish forefathers.
Here the Creole plantation owners and intellectuals appear, with their studies in France, their noble romances and their odysseys as fighters for independence. These are stories that intoxicate us thanks to that affable atmosphere that the museum guides persist in recreating after reworking the structures of the beautiful homes of our heroes of independence, seeking to conceal those perennial marks that their bloodstained slaveocracy incrusted in the foundations of those house/altars, though today these are anointed with the love of the people.
Then a third stage, that of the republican bourgeoisie estates. Here we have of all the stories: bourgeois exploiters of wage-labor workers, bourgeois humanitarians, the geniuses of scientific humanism, a great and revolutionary bourgeoisie, etc.
Immersing ourselves in this official historical story implies assimilating a great deal of luxuriousness and refined culture, and I’m speaking of more than material prosperity. For a moment it seems we’re visiting a historical-industrial center in Manchester or Boston.
Later, finally tired from trudging through those gigantic houses and industrial sites, we rejoin the numb and fatigued hustle and bustle of the street. Seated on the curb of the nearest park, we watch the resumption of the present face of daily provincial life. Its penetrating presence shrouds the provincial museums and their historical discourse in the same way the sea enshrouds imperial shipwrecks.
It shrouds them and their contradictory stories, with the eloquence of simplicity and poverty, of the common citizens and their affections; with the warmth given off by the blood from the living.
In that single instant another type of tourism begins, neither better nor worse than the tourism of progress and capital cities, but much more real and authentic.