The Caged Bird Sings in Cuba

By Alex Gunn, Public Health in Cuba, Summer 2011

This past weekend, our group traveled to the western region of Cuba. Throughout the trip, one image kept appearing…a caged bird. This made me think back to a poem by Maya Angelou (that I’m pretty sure everyone had to read in high school) and these paintings that are up in Casa de las Americas (where we take some of our classes).

Here’s the poem:

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings

The free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wings
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with fearful trill
of the things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

The free bird thinks of another breeze
and the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn
and he names the sky his own.

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom.

Maya Angelou

This is a bird hanging in front of a person's house in Vinales

A pet bird in Havana

Artwork up in Casa de las Americas

Artwork that is up in Casa de las Americas

Artwork in Casa de las Americas

For me, the image of the caged bird is powerful because birds can fly and are normally free to go whereever they please. However, when caged, the bird has to stay in its place. The artwork up in Casa de las Americas is actually about the freedom of other Latin American countries, not Cuba. The caged bird sings in Cuba.

In other news, I was reading this New York Times article (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/19/health/nutrition/19swim.html?_r=1&src=me&ref=general) about someone who is going to swim from Cuba to Key West. This sounds amazing and reminded me that I would write about running in Cuba. So far, it has been amazing. I have been exploring the city from the Plaza de la revolucion (where Fidel Castro would announce his plans after the revolution) or El Capitolio (the capital building that is grand and magnificent) or the Necropolis de Cristobal Colon (a huge cemetery that holds some of the most beautiful funerary architecture that I have ever seen).