CUBA – The Most Surprising Thing?
May 4, 2015 3 Comments
When people first greet me after my return from Cuba and they ask “What was the most surprising or exciting thing?” I have been sort of dumbstruck.
I found myself struggling with wanting to say something profoundly important, while finding that the following responses came to mind:
- I saw the Tocororo national bird! (like the Cuban flag, it’s “azul, rojo y blanco”)
- Havana was so much more comfortable to visit than I thought it would be.
- The temperature was 95 to 100 degrees every day. (April 2015 was the hottest month in recorded history in Cuba.)
- I was surprised by the variety of alcohol I found myself drinking!
OK, you know, these things actually are significant in many ways, and especially useful when you’re having a 2-minute “small talk” conversation. Upon reflection, however, I realize that I do have a profoundly important answer to the question of “most surprising or exciting thing.”
The surprising thing is that although I had heard his name, I did not realize that José Martí is the national hero of Cuba. Martí played a key role when Cuba’s struggle for independence began in 1868, and our tour guide pointed out that many people clock the Cuban Revolution as beginning in 1868 and ending in 1959. Most if not all town centers in Cuba have a statue of him. In Havana the famed Plaza de la Revolución has a statue and huge monument in his honor, right across from the enormous drawings of Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos on buildings facing the plaza. Also, the airport is named José Martí-La Habana.
The most exciting thing relates to the question of the hour in so many of our minds: What will happen next in Cuba after normalization of relations with the United States?
José Martí, in addition to being a revolutionary who lost his life in battle, was also a poet, journalist, political theorist, professor, and the author of a book that apparently every Cuban child is familiar with, La Edad de Oro, which translates to The Golden Age, meaning childhood.
My most treasured mementos (treasured even more than the Cuban cigars purchased from a farmer in his tobacco drying barn) are those two books, one in Spanish and the other in English. Since the book was intended for youth, he wrote it “en español simple y puro.” With my getting-more-fluent Spanish, I can read almost every word! Plus I have the English translation to help with words I don’t know.
What excites me, and it’s related to these foundational writings, is that Cuba is not … hmmm.
I can’t quite figure out how to put everything I want to say! I can’t wait until I can:
- read more writings by José Martí
- read a book published in 2015 called Cuban Revelations: Behind the Scenes in Havana, by journalist Marc Frank, who has lived in Cuba for 20 years
- learn more about the concept of “formation” that I keep hearing related to Latin American educational systems
- understand more about the complex foundations of the resurgence in Latin America related to education, healthcare, and participatory democracy
- understand more about how in the world can we bring it home to California and to the United States? By “it” I mean a revolution in the way we make decisions and choices about how to create a better life for ourselves, our parents, and our children.
Meanwhile I will say that Cuba is not empty and waiting for the United States to fill it up. Cuba has been developing in its own way, and the people have a strong sense of being Cuban. Cuba is not at all an undeveloped country waiting for the United States to develop it. There are benefits to be had from normalizing relations with the United States, and dangers. Thank goodness Cuba has strategies and strengths and a history of surviving against great odds. Also, Latin America as a whole is much stronger today than it was 20 years ago, let alone 50+ years ago at the time of the Cuban revolution. After all, in recent years Latin America twice turned down the FTAA, a free trade agreement for all of the Americas. In the U.S. we’re struggling to stop Obama and Washington from fast-tracking the TPP, described as “NAFTA on steroids.”
As I said in my “Introduction” to this renewed blog (posted on April 19 just before my Cuba trip), I’m going to WRITE it, shape it up adequately, and POST it. It is not perfect, and for sure this topic is TO BE CONTINUED.
Comments are welcome! You may be able to help me in my understanding and my phrasing. I think it would be easier for me to get the comments via the blog at laurawells.org rather than via facebook or twitter. Thank you!