Havana Is Not Your Hipster Playground

By Chris Vazquez*

Havana 1950’s vs. Havana 2019 (Credit: Jenn G)

HAVANA TIMES – I’m beginning to understand that there is a fundamental difference in the paradigm by which Cuban Americans & non-Cuban US citizens view Cuba.

I was recently approached by a friend to lead a trip to Cuba for her company. She isn’t Cuban, so the group would consist mainly of non-Cuban US citizens between the ages of 28 and 35. The travelers on her trips tend to be in the midst of life transitions, and they embark on the trips to experience nature & gain new perspectives.

For some reason, I was not very enthused. I LOVE Cuba. My heritage is my passion, and I practically breathe Cuban culture. As it turns out, this is exactly why I wasn’t very motivated to lead the group. You see, I always thought that if I took people to Cuba it would be primarily Cuban Americans, and the trips would be centered around my favorite buzzword cubanidad—the essence of being Cuban. The idea of exploring your roots while discovering and understanding the Cuba of 2019 and all the while connecting with the Cubans of the island would be central to the experience.

In common with my fellow travelers would be that we all fall somewhere on the timeline of the Cuban diaspora, all members of the exile community by association. We would have all grown up on the stories and on the conflicting notions—that Cuba was the greatest land God ever created, but at the same time it was now the desolate aftermath of a failed Revolution, and if you went there it was only to give money to the regime and dishonor the sacrifices of your family. To a young kid growing up in Hialeah, where everyone in your first-grade class shares a similar origin story, that’s like dangling candy in front of your face and slapping you when you reach for it (or at the very least calling you fat).

My point is that we all feel that we know Cuba through the cuentos (stories) of our loved ones, who proclaim that they lived in paradise before 1959 and had to leave it all behind when they were forced to come to the United States—a move they widely viewed as temporary—because, well, why would you want to be anywhere else?

For the community of young Cuban Americans of which I am a part, going to Havana and seeing the contradictions for ourselves is shocking. It pains us to see the gorgeous architecture now filthy and reduced to rubble. The spirit & “cuban-nes” of the people livens our souls, but it breaks our hearts to see them living the way they have to.

The identity crisis is almost indescribable. We did not pretend to know Cuba, though we have identified as Cuban our whole lives. But because of this association, we have always felt Cuban—especially as we moved further and further from our Cuban (or should I say Cuban American) bastion—Miami… until we arrive in Havana, that is. We see the Cuba of today and its residents, and we feel like outsiders in our own ancestral land. What we implicitly thought we knew because of those damn stories goes right out the window, and it’s nothing like what any of us thought.

But it’s nothing like what they warned us about either…. Amidst the rubble, the long lines, and the classic cacharros, there are people hustling, living, helping one another, creating opportunity for themselves, luchandoresolviendo, y sobreviviendo (struggling, hustling, surviving).

It takes getting over the initial shock, but once you do, it’s there—clear as day: These are our people. These are the people that fought for independence—independence from the Spanish, independence from the United States, independence from themselves. These are the people that sent their children off alone on planes to give them better lives; these are the people that crossed 90 miles on makeshift rafts; these are the people that BUILT Miami and established a powerful community in the most powerful country in the world.

We, the young Cuban Americans, because of the cubandidad that binds us, understand what they are capable of, understand what Cuba is capable of. We understand their limitless potential because it is our history?—?It is in our blood; it is what we built in Cuba and what we persevered to build abroad. The strength of the 11.2 million Cubans on the island and the 1.5 million abroad is one; it is theirs, it is ours—Cuban & Cuban American.

We implicitly understand how beautiful Havana once was, how we made it that way, and how we then started over and made Miami that way. We understand the ingenuity, passion, and creativity; the love, spirit, and warm-heartedness; and the work ethic, the commitment to family, and the willingness to sacrifice living within every cubano.

That is why when young Cuban Americans travel to Havana it breaks our hearts. We see through the façade that traps other US citizens who are not of Cuban descent, and it torments us. You see, I have come to realize by developing relationships with many people of non-Cuban descent who have traveled to the island and are obsessed with Cuba that what they see is largely novelty. To them, it is the equivalent of going to a forbidden island lost to time.

The reactions are something to the tune of, “Oh wow, no internet, it’s so primitive.” “Oh my gosh, I want a picture in my flowy sundress outside these ruins (someone’s residence).” “The people have nothing, but they’re so amazing and welcoming! It’s like a fairytale land; I love being able to come here and just disconnect—I hope it never changes.”

Basura! (Garbage) A fairytale is exactly what that narrative is…. To them, Havana is a hipster’s playground?—?a place where Instagram models, travel-diary nomads, and all these other 2019 BS buzzwords can frolic around for a few days or weeks before returning home. Their paradise—my hell. Don’t get it twisted: Cuba is a beautiful place filled with amazingly incredible people, my people. But these people deserve so much more.

Cuba was the pearl of the Antilles, the preferred island for the Spanish, and the envy of Latin America. Havana was beautiful the way San Francisco or Barcelona are today, not the way ancient Aztec temples or Egyptian pyramids are. But what was once the vibrant home of my abuelos (grandparents) and their contemporaries is now a pretty, boho-chic relic for US visitors.

Because of my paradigm, though, I could never see that. I could never put into words that I did not comprehend how non-Cuban Americans viewed Cuba and the Cuban people with the same curious fascination I would view an isolated tribe of indigenous people in the middle of the Amazon rainforest.

To know through the stories and through my upbringing what Cuba was and to know what it is today breaks my heart. Yet, I am filled with so much hope. I now understand what they mean when they say, “I hope it never changes.” They are enamored by the beauty they see in Cuba and its people, and they fear it would be lost through modernization. But still I say, to hell with that. Cuba is no foreigner’s playground. Cuba is the land of the most talented immigrant group to ever grace the shores of the United States. A land of tradition, beauty, history, and life.

No, Havana should not be the preferred getaway for a week-long technology detox. But I want to set the record straight that regardless of their views, non-Cuban US citizens traveling to the island already do wonders for the Cuban people by contributing to a broader policy of engagement as opposed to the United States’ historical policy of isolation – But the key to ethical travel to Cuba is being intentional in that engagement.

The most popular category exemption for US citizens traveling to Cuba is “Support for the Cuban People,” which requires travelers to patronize the private sector and promote civil society by staying at casas particulares (homestays) eating at paladares (private restaurants) and supporting cuentapropistas (the self-employed).

The beauty of this type of travel is that it fosters the people-to-people interactions that create the mutual understanding that ultimately changes perspectives. And the best part is: You don’t have to be Cuban American or of Cuban descent to embrace it.  All you have to do is start an honest dialogue and exchange ideas respectfully.  These are the seeds that lead to meaningful change, and change is a good thing.

I want Cuba to change. I want it to change in whatever way my people living there today want it to change. I want internet in homes and cafés, structurally sound apartments, and this year’s model vehicles on the road. It may ruin your little getaway, but it will dramatically improve their standard of living. And if they want a Starbucks and a McDonalds on every corner then so be it. It sure beats ration cards, long lines, and empty shelves in state stores.

However, I personally hope that it won’t be Starbucks & McDonalds. I hope it’ll be “Cortaditos” and “Fulano’s Fritas,” or something authentically Cuban. I want the Cuba of 2019 and beyond to be a country built by Cubans, for Cubans—not for visitors to sip mojitos & take pictures next to the dilapidated homes of the locals for their latest Facebook post. And trust me, meaningful development will not diminish the beauty of the island, denigrate the culture of the country, and it most certainly will not change the warm-hearted spirit of the Cuban people.

This is the best I could ever explain the ever-so-subtle feeling I felt in my stomach when I was asked to lead a trip of well-intentioned, adventure-seeking US citizens to Cuba—and why I am just now realizing that I must decline. I want to lead my people, the Cuban American people, to the righteous land of our ancestors.

I want to eat dinners with friends we meet on the island, talk as equals on par with one another, explore development opportunities, discuss politics and philosophy, have coffee with families, and reconcile past & present. My dream is to convert the diaspora into one giant Cuban family.

And I want to do it by harnessing the power of cubanidad to create an almost instant familiarity & trust among Cubans no matter their age, views, birthplace, or what side of the Florida Straights they live on.

Writing this has been a surreal experience. I’m going to go call my friend!

*A Havana Times guest writer who will be contributing more articles in the future.

32 thoughts on “Havana Is Not Your Hipster Playground

  • Well, I just got back to Vancouver from Cuba. I was in Havana. And its a SHITHOLE. You have “renovated” building in a city square, so the city looks nice, but behind them – a dirty, shithole, where nobody gives a shit about anything. They literally live like Eastern European gypsies there.

    Beaches – beautiful “never ending” beaches with soft sand – full of PLASTIC GARBAGE! Cubans still haven’t realized, that RUBBISH BINS along the beach, help to keep them CLEAN!

    Tips – This was the most pissing me off thing I have experienced in Cuba. Cubans DEMAND tips. They think, that they MUST get them! Its not a “you have to earn – deserve that tip”. No. Its a “you must give me tip”, because you are a walking ATM – a.k.a a tourist, and you have to take care of me! Tips for any possible thing you can imagine! There are some women in the street in vividly coloured dresses who “kiss” your cheeks, so you feel welcome. Right after you give them 5 pesos for that “kiss”! Screw that! Just unbelievable.
    I had a guide in Havana and I asked him, if 1 CUC (currency for tourists. Dont ask me why they have two currencies) tip makes difference for Cubans. He said not really. Now. I pay 1500 CAD dollars rent. I am sure, Cubans don’t. When I buy a lunch for lets say $20 CAD, I give tip 10-15% = $2-3 CAD. That tip MEANS SOMETHING in Vancouver. He said, that reasonable tip would be 5+! CUC!!! That is around $7 CAD! Absolutely unbelievable!

    So, after 10 days I spent in Cuba, I left with these feelings / opinions on Cubans. They live in communism. That means, that the government owns almost everything. This leads to ONE thing. Nobody gives a shit about anything!!! Buildings are falling apart? Not my problem. It belongs to the government. Trash on the beaches? Not my problem. It belongs to the government. Nothing in the stores? Not my problem. It belongs to the government. Completely fucked up public transport – Not my problem. Government should fix it. They keep bitching about embargo and that the embargo brought Cuba where it is now. Hell no. Its Cuban’s government which brought Cubans where they are now! They just don’t wanna see it. They blame everybody else for their shitty situation, but them self. Cubans know about all the problems. They just don’t care about fixing them. I have heard, that everybody in Cuba, must have an educations. That only the best people study for engineers, doctors etc. So where are they? Where is that educated intelligence? Cubans still make electricity by burning crude oil! I haven’t seen a SINGLE SOLAR PANEL!!!

    I think if Cubans dance less and work more, than they would have better lives. But first they have to get rid of communist regime. Not to rely on tourists, because they say tourists must support them and only tourism can save Cuba etc. These are real things I have heard from Cubans! Nothing here was made up. Most of Cubans are like scammers who will try to milk every single CUC out of you. I was born in communist country and lived in communist country. So I knew what I should expect. Yet, I left Cuba with VERY bitter taste in my mouth.

  • Travel to Cuba from The US by non Cubans , and Cubans travelling to the Island other than to visit relatives is now banned by The Trump Administration. The aim is to cut off hard currency flows to The Cuban Gov’t.

  • Want to see violence? Start an anti-revolutionary blog in Cuba … oops sorry can’t, march with the Ladies-In-White to protest violence against dissidents and get beaten up for peacefully marching after they attend Sunday Mass. Easy to start violence in Cuba, just ask for liberties.

  • I would like my Cuban brethren to have … I don’t know, maybe freedom of assembly, freedom of press, FULL access of the internet, ability to join political parties that aren’t socialist / communist, self-actualization, choices that are basic in a free market economy and many, many things that don’t exist in a standard totalitarian state in which they have lived for nearly 60 years. That’s a start.

  • Thank you for the meaningful comment

  • I believe that Cuba is one of the most stirring and authentic places I’ve ever been so far. The impression I have always got from most of the Cubans I have known for over twenty years is that they don’t want what the U.S. has to offer. Most Cubans are quite unimpressed by the American tourists that have visited their country in the past. I think Cuba will be much better off the longer they can keep the greedy US companies from stealing their land and identity.

  • Your article was so meaningful to me. It actually brought me to tears. It really explained so clearly why, as a Cuban-American who left Cuba at 7 in 1961, I find Americans going to Cuba in such bad taste!

    Thank you so much for posting this.

  • I can’t imagine anyone seeing Cuba and not wanting it to change. I for one (an American) am heartsick for my Cuban friends who don’t have enough food, clothes, shelter, money or even a sense of security in their own country. Whispering their opinions to avoid spies and persecution.
    I hate watching mothers wrap their babies in rags and an old bag because their are no diapers, an try to keep their little bellies full with watered down powdered milk.
    I sat for hours with an old man in Ojo de Agua a few weeks ago when I was there. He was wearing old torn ill fitting clothes and two different sandals (one men’s one women’s) that I’m sure he scavenged out of the beach sand. He was crippled from his years serving in the cuban military and told me about his service with tears in his eyes. He swallowed his pride and tried to sell me an old coconut for one cuc. I told him i would like to buy him lunch instead.
    I have a great friend from Santa Clara who was swallowed up by the tourist hustling trade in an attempt to survive. A beautiful person who constantly paints on a smile and compromises his morals to survive and help support his grandmother.
    Humans have a desire to travel and experience other cultures, including Cuba. And most Cubans dream of visiting Italy and the United States. Maybe even immigrating to Miami . The stereotypes Cubans have about the United States are equal to the stereotypes Americans have about Cuba. The best way to break down these barriers is to travel, meet and embrace each other. Nobody leaves Cuba without being amazed by it’s beauty and spirit. Nobody leaves Cuba without being broken by the way people live and survive there.
    And most go back. They educate their friends and family about the reality of life there. They return and bring clothes and shoes and diapers and tampons and some treats and things never available in Cuba. They visit old friends and share in the joy and sadness of life there and hope for a better, freer future for the cuban people.
    I get some of the things you state in your article, but it seemed bigoted and shallow. Sometimes anger comes out in weird ways. But an article like this sticks in people’s minds and causes friction and misunderstanding.
    I kept wishing the end of the article was…. that you took the blanquitos to Cuba. Introduced them to the people there. Showed them the complexities in the cities, the country, the poorest in the mountains and helped them learn about true Cuban culture. But it was not so… sadly.
    I’m glad most Cubans and Americans have a more rounded and open and loving view of each other.

  • Gracias mi hermano, you hit the nail on the head.

  • Gia, none of what I expressed in the article was political discourse but rather personal feelings surrounding the state of Cuba today and my thoughts on travelers who visit Cuba without context. I have researched Cuba extensively for years and have written about the embargo on several occasions. I didn’t ignore it here, it just simply wasn’t about that. It wasn’t an article on policy or politics, but one man’s feelings about the land of his ancestors. I want to acknowledge that the embargo is a completely failed policy and it, along with the travel ban, should be lifted as soon as possible. I believe myself to be a logical person, and I form my own opinions – I do not fall blindly into narratives. While I am adamantly against the embargo and sanctions on Cuba, I guarantee you that the embargo is not the reason Cuba’s economy has failed and it certainly has nothing to do with Cuba’s repression of its own people. Cuba was not the best country in the world before 1959 (by a long shot), and I never made that case. My family was middle class in Cuba, schoolteachers and bodega owners. They lived a wonderful life and remember those times with great fondness, as do many other Cubans and Cuban Americans who were forced to flee their country after 1959. My grandmother’s house was confiscated and given to someone who was homeless – I’m not sure that’s the most pragmatic solution to address poverty.

  • Gustavo thanks very much for your comment and your perspective. I agree wholeheartedly. When you take away human incentive by providing a small safety net (with many, many holes) and impose an insurmountable ceiling, you effectively crush the human spirit. Because of this, many Cubans have fled and I wish nothing more for them than the opportunities for them to achieve their fullest potential in their homeland. Perhaps what’s alluring about Cuba is that the spirit of the people has never broken. It’s captivating and heartbreaking, contributing more so to the narrative of Cuba being one great contradiction. My base case is that advancement will not change what people love about Cuba, which is rooted in the culture not the poverty. I’m not opposed to free healthcare or free education – but you have to make them work for the people. What’s the point of having the best literacy rates if they don’t translate to living wages and the lowest infant mortality rates if their is no quality of life. I agree that the Revolution bore fruits, but those fruits are now rotten. I have more on this at my Medium & LinkedIn pages.

  • Mayte, I’m not saying the Cuba of the 50’s is the answer at all. Of course it had its issues, just like every place in every point in time. But I can introduce you to a million (yes there’s over a million) Cubans and Cuban Americans in Miami who left because the barbudos broke their promises. The revolution was amazing and much needed, but its promises ended very soon after 1959. More so than anecdotally, though, just look at the immigration data – numbers never lie. Everyone will tell you que se vivia bien in the Cuba of old, or else history wouldn’t have shaken out the way it has. Inequality was at a high, but is it really better to keep everyone at 0? Of course not.

  • Not corny at all! I think that hits the nail right on the head. They can surely teach us to take pride in our work and live with gratitude.

  • Chris, first of all, thank you for your words. I fully agree with the majority of what you expressed which, I may add, are not often included in this publication. I was motivated to share my perspective on this most personal part of our lives, our identity. At age 8 I left Cuba to live in NYC. 56 years later I returned as a VIP having dinners with government ministers, researching the possibility of foreign investments. Nearly a year later I found myself having dinner at one of the most famous paladares in Cuba with 6 Hispanic leaders, i.e., presidents, general managers, directors, all of a very well known global company, along with one US born college professor who studies Cuba. All of the business men were stationed through out Latin America. One of the directors said that when he heard that they were coming to Havana for the meeting, he was sure that he would find Havana to be a dump…. but that he found Havana to be on the contrary, most beautiful and cosmopolitan! Much more so than any of the other Latin American capitals! I visibly reacted to his statement and he asked me for an explanation. I told those at the table that at age 8 before leaving Cuba, my family enjoyed a home, a car, I watched Mickey Mouse, Perry Mason, and the Gillette Friday Night Fights on TV. I lived the quality of life of let’s say of any kid in Chicago. Never mind Miami, which was basically a swamp at the time. “And after 57 years, when I look outside this beautiful paladar, all I see is a tragedy!”
    As a counterpoint , the professor reminded them of the free education and medicine. I told them about the other side of the equation, of the lost opportunities for a people to fulfill their potentials in this life, which is all that we are truly given. That is the tragedy, the loss of potential for three generations of our fellow Cubans. The broken down facades, the lines for food, the lack of services, these are definitely heartbreaking, and frustrating, but these can be remedied in time, the lost potential is forever.
    I have since traveled 4 times, bringing my friends and family. They have experienced the decaying beauty, the simplicity of life, the struggle to survive of the everyday people with whom we interact. Without exception, everyone I have taken has said that the thing that always stays with them after every visit, is the heart of the Cuban people, the “cubanidad”. Let us hope that this generation’s potential is not squandered also.

  • “Cuba was the best country in the world before 1959” is a common trope of US citizens with Cuban ancestry which is unfortunately reproduced here despite its lack of empirical validity. Despite the visble wealth accumulated in Havana before 1959, millions of Cubans were in dire poverty. Not poverty like you see in Cuba today, where people at the very least have rice and beans to eat and an old house to take shelter, but real poverty where they died of starvation or police abuse.
    This article also follows Miami discourse in that it fails to mention the massive impact of the US imposed trade embargo against Cuba in maintaining the island’s economy and exterior trade in a very disadvantageous position.
    Perhaps the author of this article would be better served (and would help his country more effectively) if he did some research and stopped reproducing really damaging political discourses created by the Cuban diaspora in Miami, which were incidently part of the elite which kept most Cubans in rags before the revolution.

  • It’s refreshing to see that U S Regimes have eased the restrictions on the freedom of movement of it’s citizens.
    The US restrictions have now been loosened to the extent that US citizens can manage to get to Cuba and formulate their own opinions rather than having their opinions dictated to them in the old Cold War propaganda tradition.
    Here in Europe we never had this problem or those ideology-based restrictions.
    I was therefore able to spend a good length of time living in Cuba and know the place very well.
    It’s great to see that the folks of the USA are gaining the same freedoms that we have always taken for granted. Bravo.

  • I remember going to the refugee camp in Pennsylvania as a little girl in the late 70s to pick up my aunties uncles and cousins and looking back. Amazed on how we all lived together in a 4 bedroom house with only 2 bathrooms. But we did. Two years ago my children we to Cuba for the first time and were able to see the Cuba many tourists don’t see. The one thing that struck me was my daughter stayed she finally understood a lot about me and my aunts and that it was cool to be in a country with people that looked like her. My children enjoyed the opportunity of seeing their ancestral home. Cubans are strong intelligent creative and resilient. It’s sad to see the it become more of a desolate country . It’s heart breaking.

  • Hi Chris,
    Right, I was thinking more about your article today (that is the power of good writing!) and I know there are so many fundamental differences btwn Cuba and the US–so comparing tourism’s effect in the two places is tricky. Of course we New Yorkers find the Naked cowboy ridiculous, and a false and empty image of nothing, but yes, the backdrop is not as terrifying as some of the circumstances and conditions in Havana. I think the compounding effect of the poverty and the lack of freedom is the key. Here, we have poverty, and many social classes would say they don’t really have the freedom or representation they should–which is true–but that part is at least a little different. Nevertheless, I still love visiting Cuba and try to make myself a lone ambassador of sharing ideas, warmth, empathy and love from the US as best I can being one person. I think it’s important for Cuban people there to know that US citizens love something about them and their place that may not be clear to anyone yet. It is what makes travel a source of peace. The hipster playground angle is pretty foreign to me. What I see more of, that turns my stomach, is the caricature angle. Tourists who want to see what they are ‘supposed to’ see,, and don’t consider that there is life outside of that. This usually seems to come from either that language barrier, which makes them uneasy about leaving the dead center of the tourism zones, or it comes from a generalized travel style where they visit other countries, hit the top 5 spots in the travel guide, complain about the food being slow or not perfect, gossip about who tried to rip them off for $5 in a taxi ride, etc. Socially conscious travel is a good term for the opposite of this! Quick story to share with you: last time I went to Cuba, a month ago, I brought 10 or 15 seed packets from an organic seed company here in the US. I own a nursery and landscape company in upstate NY. Wandering in Havana I found a small corner startup nursery that the ‘owner’ explained began as his vision to clean up a corner dump site (Luz and Compostela), and give the lot and the neighborhood, and some of the cast-off furniture a second chance. It was done as a community effort. Now 6 months in, he grows herbs and medicinal plants from cuttings and root divisions, mostly in recycled water bottles and Bucanero cans. All the fixtures and benches and the few seats he has there are built from re-purposed everything. Of course, as you can imagine. He sells coconuts to eat and drink and he sells plants. The beautiful thing was that when I offered him the seeds I had brought, he almost came to tears and said it was a treasure, pretty much impossible to find. I’ll bring some more seed for him next time, but the key thing was how two people who do the same work in life–albeit under pretty different circumstances–can find something to share and appreciate together. And those are the true people to people moments that make me keep going, and that override all the other stuff. I hope that doesn’t sound too corny…

  • I loved this thoughtful and heartfelt essay. Thank you, Chris. I take small groups of non-Cuban Americans to Havana and Viñales de vez en cuando, and the one thing that practically (not all, but) all of them wanted was to “see Cuba before it changes!” They’d say this like they wanted to be the lucky ones to make it into the human zoo, a jurassic park for humans, before it was inevitably overrun by . . . Starbucks. For some reason, that was always the benchmark. ‘I want to get here before there’s a Starbucks on every corner.’ And they just have no clue that what they’re also saying is, ‘you people are SO photogenic in your abject poverty!’ They don’t know what a shortage of bread or eggs or milk or cooking oil or ibuprofen or whathefuckever feels like. They don’t know that getting piped water in the capital happens only every other day and a million Habaneros are bathing with water they’ve stored in tanks, with buckets of water that they heat on the stove. They don’t know la libreta and they certainly haven’t a clue about CDR or tramites or multas or or or or. Esa es la pincha mia, la del guia. Chris, te apoyo en la misión tuya de unir la comunidad cubana, dentro y fuera de la isla. Sigo yo en el aprendizaje de los yumas. Suerte.

  • It always amazes me when people talk about the Cuba of the 50s like some kind of paradise. Why do you think the revolution happened and so many people supported the barbudos? Cuba was the playground of the US mafia. The ruthless dictator Batista was torturing people right and left with no end in sight. He came to power in a coup d’etat in 1952 and wasn’t planning any elections. Racism was rampant along with poverty and prostitution. Not to mention that no decision in the country was made without the approval of the US ambassador and the US loved our dictator. I’m not saying things are fine now. I’m saying the Cuba of the 50s isn’t the answer.

  • Yas! Thanks Rachel (:

  • Thanks for the comment, I love your perspective. I just don’t think it’s mine or anyone else’s right to forbid McDonald’s or anything else from Cuba. If they want it, they should be able to have access to it – just as they shouldn’t be forced to eat it if they don’t want it. They should be given as much choice as we have here in the states, and for me to say anything else would be selfish. I personally haven’t had McDonald’s in maybe 7 years, but I like knowing I can visit the golden arches and grab a milkshake if I wanted to. I love the aspect of family you describe and can definitely attest to it, everyone seems to “be” for his fellow man

  • I know many Cubans that love their country and never wish to leave – I am elated by this fact. I want Cubans to want to stay in their country, but it’s a travesty that they cannot prosper and achieve their dreams in their homeland. Cubans (including Cuban Americans) are some of the proudest people on the planet and I love that about my culture. The idea of affordable healthcare is wonderful, but please don’t deny that Cuba exports their doctors (keeping 70% of their wages), doctors in Cuba steal from their practices, hospitals lack beds and modern-day technology. When doctors drive cabs, something is broken.

  • It’s not about materialism or ideology. It’s about food on the table and the ability to earn a living in your own country. I don’t “want Cuba to be” anything except what the people want it to be, which is not the dump it is currently. We have to open our eyes to these realities. There’s no milk, no eggs. You should not be impressed by Cuba finally allowing internet in 2019, which by the way is not cheap for the average Cuban.

  • Hey Dan I really appreciate the comment and actually don’t think we disagree very much. I write in the article that I am hopeful and glad because I understand that visitors of non-Cuban descent want Cuba to remain unchanged because they want to preserve the beauty they experience there, and that is wonderful. I am writing from a very personal place and describing my own feelings when I say that it is wrong to impose any philosophy on Cuba: forced change or forced continuity. But an understanding of the needs and wants of the people makes it very obvious they desire so much change. And so that’s what it’s about for me, I want them to have all the access and all the opportunities in the world, just as we enjoy anywhere else. To your point, tourists will be tourists wherever they go, but the United States has the largest economy in the world and is more than fine. If you want to take a picture with the naked cowboy in Times Square then power to you! but it’s impossible to act the same way in Cuba without being entirely negligent to the harsh realities. That’s why I advocate socially conscious travel. And again, my opinions are all very personal and influenced by my upbringing. I’m happy you enjoyed the article and I appreciate your comment – language is definitely a huge barrier in Cuba as well.

  • Thanks so much!! You can follow along on Instagram @cubanochris_

  • I’m not sure it’s entirely fair to criticize American, or non-Cuban, visitors to Cuba for being fascinated by the place. There is no getting around the fact that it has been stopped in time, to some degree. There is such a wide range of reactions to this–sometimes people gawk, sometimes people fetishize the time-capsule nature of Cuba, sometimes people are just enamored with the beauty of the place, and yes, with the amazing warmth of people who endure such poverty. Yes, today’s Cuba has a very sad side, of course–with institutional poverty and the ongoing, long-term, deranged defense of a failed system. But Cuba still has one thing that few countries have–a chance to decide how it will eventually develop. I agree that McD’s and Starbucks would be disappointing–I hope Cuba will be able to develop its own brands of creature comforts rather than to import, or be forced to import, our brands of comfort…I think a big part of the experience depends on one’s depth of engagement–same as with any travel experience. Would we want to criticize all non-Americans for coming to the US and wanting to take a selfie with some kind of tourist-centered backdrop? Or for wanting to eat or drink at famous NYC or LA bars and restaurants? Yes it seems a little silly if you know the US and if you realize that the guy dressed up as Elmo in Times Square does not really represent the US…but that is tourism in a nut shell. To me, the key is why you go and what your goal is from a visit to Cuba–what lies beyond the initial moment of astonishment. And a lot of that depends on whether you speak some Spanish and can actually try to have conversations, discuss things, ask questions, understand answers, offer answers to questions that Cuban people ask of US travelers, etc. There are lots of chances to have really interesting conversations as a US traveler in Cuba–it is the ultimate people to people, and it is real. I feel bad for US and other travelers whose visits to Cuba are limited by language, so their conversations remain extremely superficial. But anyway, your article was very moving and I agree with all the other sentiments.

  • For the longest time I couldn’t understand why I felt some sort of way whenever I see non-Cubans going to Cuba. This hits the nail right on the head. Awesome article! Thank you!

  • I’m Cuban who live in NYC and never would live in Cuba again.
    I was ten years old when Castro took the power promising everything especially free elections and going back to the 1940 constitution, when Havana looks like Paris when it was stores for the whealties and poorest, a Havana of Luxury and poverty.. with a the biggest middle class in L A and bigger standard of living that Brussels in 1958. (UNdata) when you compare with the Havana of Today. This Havana of today is Vulgar, dirty, poorest, less European in its way of life, less mysterious and more “friendly” (only for tourists) this Havana is misery for those who live in it and exotic for tourists looking for mojitos, stereotype of Cubans, images, cheap sex with Mulatos, and a general aspect of poverty. YIKES!

  • Interesting article, I am not Cuban, but I feel a much deeper connection to my own roots there than I do in the U.S. due to the African diaspora- the Motherland is permeable in the air as soon as you land on Cuban soil. I’ve traveled to Cuba a few times now, but I have friends that have been traveling there for over forty years. I have never participated in a Cuban-American tour group so I cannot comment whether pro or con. I have encouraged by Cuban friends to go back and make that connection and not to believe the negativity spewed towards Cuba by the U.S. Cubans seem to welcome their family from the U.S. with open arms and speak of lost relatives with love, pride and yes sadness as Cubans value family more than anything.
    My friends who have made the journey say that the trip home was the best experience of their lives and will continue to maintain the connection and encourage their parents to return to Cuba. One friend that recently returned stated that her family in Cuba told the entire town of her anticipated visit. They cleared a bedroom for her; one neighbor made new curtains for the bedroom windows; another neighbor provided bed linen; everyone pitched in and made repairs and spruced up the home all in anticipation of her visit. Everyone should travel to Cuba and take your children too. I could go on and on because I love the Cuban people and I was so thankful that it has not become Miami or NYC or … Who needs Starbucks when the best coffee is Cuban brewed. McDonald’s kills people with its fast fried foods causing obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, inflammation so why introduce that garbage to Cubans or any other group of people?

  • I met Cubans in Santiago who lived im Germany, but moved back to Cuba. I asked her why she did not stay in Germany. She said, with fire in her eyes “I am Cuban”. I met Cubans in Havana who lived in Italy, but who moved back to Cuba. I met Cubans in Havana who lived in Miami but who moved back to Havana “to be with family and get away from the violence”. I met Miami Cubans lined up at immigration to get their Cuban citizenship back “because I need the medical care and I can’t afford it in Miami.”

    I like the first answer best. Why don’t you live in Germany ? “Because I am Cuban.”

  • Just like West Germany saved East Germany. I have met former East German professors who moved to Cuba because it reminded them of their childhood – a happy time. One of them teaches a course in startup entrepreneurship at the University of Havana. Perhaps your glasses are no less rose colored than those you decry – you see Cuba through the rose glasses of an American materialist. A generation is 30 years, and two have passed by since 1959. I’d be interested to hear just what you want Cuba to be. As of this month Cubans have cellular internet wherever they like, and it’s really cheap if you don’t watch video, as it’s charged only by data usage. What else do you want for Cuba ?

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