Shoeshiners in Cuba

Photo Feature by Caridad

Shoeshining in Cuba

HAVANA TIMES, Oct. 22 — When I was a little girl, people used to tell me amazing stories about Cuba prior to the 1959 revolution. I found the work of “shoeshine boys” to be almost the most terrible thing they described.

It wasn’t because I look at the work itself this way, but because it was perhaps the lowest on the scale of all the jobs they told me about; plus, maybe because it was horribly paid, or perhaps for that senseless habit that we humans have of believing that to touch, wash or clean the feet of another person is something so degrading.

This is why I had a big surprise one day while walking through Centro Havana to run upon a man shining another person’s shoes. This was similar only to my great childhood surprise: a Cuban bohio (a thatched roof hut). I had thought that those primitive rural dwellings had disappeared with the victory of the Revolution. However, neither shoeshine boys nor bohios had been eliminated – just like many other things my parents my told me about that exemplified “social backwardness.”

Shoeshining in Cuba

When fashion turned toward cloth shoes (gym shoes, running shoes, sandals, etc.), there was obviously less of a need for shoe polishing. But fortunately for those people who usually work in that occupation, shoes that require a shine are now back in style (though in some Cuban provinces they never went out).

Because of this, I was surprised again a couple years ago when I stumbled on a shoeshine parlor in an eastern province of the island. It had a pleasant atmosphere; it was well ventilated and had a television for the customers to pass the time.

The work was done by men who I first thought had surely had spent many years doing that work, but perhaps they hadn’t; maybe they only started after retiring in order to add to small pensions that didn’t stretch.
But at least the workers in those provinces have good working conditions; they don’t have to sit out in the sun waiting for some customer to come by.

Still, I don’t know if among the “new” employment opportunities opening up in Cuba this occupation will be chosen by people who find themselves without jobs.

Despite the latest fashions, I don’t believe there are that many people here interested in having their shoes polished seated on a sidewalk or under a portico. Plus, I haven’t seen any place in the capital where bootblacks meet to work with decent conditions.

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One thought on “Shoeshiners in Cuba

  • Mi Hija Caridad:

    When i was a child during and after the rev..This was a good paying skill for those who because of El Lindo Mulatto coud do nothing else?..The Mafia and those who turned our beloved Pais into a whorehouse wore leather and top names as well.The mafia et/al always had a shined shoe as those who were in thier entirage as well.
    Caridad the work was easy and they did not sit in the hot sun.The men including my unces were in the hotes doing this work..Ask someone over 65
    Now as for today, .True more must be done however keep this in mind.
    When a man is able and knows his trade.. is hungry, has a famiy and needs to work..he will make a bohio! and or work anywhere he can..
    Milagros Garcia Villamil

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