This may or may not have happened 2 weeks ago but whatever, I’ve been busy, and I thought it was too interesting and hilarious not to share. Miriam, Clare and I were on our way back from a long evening of studying and writing a paper due for our first public health class at one of the nice hotels nearby. The moment we turned down the street that we live on, we saw masses and masses of young people walking up and down and crowding the little parks across the street. We asked a lady on the street what was going on and she said “la fiesta”. “La fiesta de que” we inquired. “la fiesta de verano”. The huge crowds were a result of the annual party in Havana to celebrate the start of summer (why it started on July 15th in Cuba idk). Apparently there was a concert nearby that many of the people were going to, but there were plenty of groups content just to hang out up and down probably a 10 block stretch of the parks. We went up to put our backpacks away and Clare and I decided to join the throng and see if we couldn’t make any new friends.
[An aerial view of the little parks that the people were gathered]
Not 15 minutes in we ran into Alen, AKA “Ale”, AKA the absolute plug. Quick word about Ale. He was one of the friends we had made maybe 2 or 3 weeks into the program. The most recognizable feature about this guy is his tattoos. This guy is covered head to toe from the “GOOD LIFE” written on his knuckles to the tattoo of his own face on his back. He studies ballet at the National School of the Arts (ISA) and also moonlights as a break-dancer. Up until this point, he was mostly friends with other students in the program and Clare and I hadn’t had that much interaction with him, but he knew who we were and the group that we were a part of.
Ale excitedly greeted us and quickly told us that he would show us around and be our guide for the night. He went on and on saying that everyone was out there tonight. All the crazies were out enjoying themselves (He kept on saying “locos, todos los locos” so I assume that’s what he meant). When I say there were a lot of people I mean a LOT of people. Everybody and their mom were out there. Literally. No lie, Ale’s mom was the first person we ran into. After that he quickly came up with a system. We were young and foreigners so he said that he would be responsible for us as our tour guide/professor. He would go find a group of people that were out tonight, present them to us and then allow us 4 minutes to ask them questions about their way of life and experience in Havana. As we were interrogating the group, he would leave to find another group to present to us and the process would repeat. It was literally like something out of a movie. A very “Mean Girls-esque” introduction to Havana’s young social circles and their place in the social scene. I’m sure our Cuban Culture and Society professor, also an ethnographic researcher, would have been happy about our serendipitous chance at performing some ethnographical field work.
First on Ale’s list were the Punks. When we approached we saw a group of about 6 or 7 decked out in tight graphic t-shirts with even tighter dark jeans, some ripped, almost all with heavy-looking chains hanging on one side. Some sported your typical punk haircuts: the Mohawk, hair dyed red or blue or green. Clare and I were a little awkward in the first interaction having not totally believed Ale that he was going to follow through with the curriculum he had set up. Nevertheless, we ended up asking them if the punk scene in Havana was popular (which was met with an immediate and firm “no”) and if it was growing (met with a less instantaneous “no” and one guy who said maybe). We listened to parts of a couple of their songs (2 of the guys there were singers in a band together with other friends) and one of the brother of one of them and talked about how Punk was a very small but close community. We asked other questions and were in the middle of a song when Ale came strolling back whistling to signify that our time with the Punks was over. He honestly might be the most punctual professor I have ever had. On to the next.
After punks were junkies. Upon introduction (Ale had left again to find the next group) we weren’t sure if junkies meant the same thing as we had known them to be in the U.S. so we asked them what that meant exactly. They said they bought, sold, and used various drugs in a matter-of-fact sort of tone. It was comforting to know that some things remain relatively universal no matter where you go. We talked to two different junkies separately. The first man was well-dressed, seemed completely sober and was walking around with a women’s hand bag (*looks around and whispers* I think that’s where the drugs were!) The other guy seemed trashed. When we first said hello, it didn’t seem like he knew what was happening, eventually he came around a little bit and was pretty chatty, looking around for government agents when we said we were American even though he was wearing an American flag shirt right then and there. Ale came just as promptly as before, yelled “SE ACABO!” (time’s up!) mid-conversation and we continued on.
Next were the break-dancers/musicos. The guy we talked to the most (Joel, AKA “Supra”) was part of a break-dancing group with 5 or 6 of his friends who would do performances in the streets all over Havana. They told us of a favorite bit where two of them would greet each other in a busy area (with a handshake, fist bump or something) and then turn that into a movement that they could dance out of. Then other members of the group would subtly start dancing in the crowd and then join the others more explicitly in classic flash mob style. Supra also happened to be a DJ, typically doing mixes with hip hop, rap, electronic, and reguetón. Like the break-dancing, Supra didn’t have his own place that he could regularly perform in so he would usually just find a public location to set up his stuff after adequate promotion for one of his shows.
The last group was the Freakies. We met a couple, a man and a woman, who were pretty average looking, besides their facial piercings. To this day I am really not entirely sure what that means to be a Freaky. We tried asking them, but whether it was my deficiencies in the Spanish language or what I really couldn’t get a clear picture of what it meant. I then asked the man what he did and he said he had his own business that seemed completely unrelated. In the end I grasped that it was more of a lifestyle than anything else (?).
Then there were the ones who I will classify as the Randos. They were those we ran into in between the specified groups that Ale brought us to. There was one girl named Sheila who might very well be one of the coolest girls I’ve ever met. She spoke a little English and told me about getting her hair done (in braids mind you) for $6! We saw Tito, one of the friends that we had made before, and his friend Raul at least 4 different times during the night and Tito would be just as excited every time. And then there was a guy called Tupac (He’s alive y’all!). He seemed pretty cool. He had a dope haircut.
After determining that there was no way we could possibly do better than Tupac, we thanked and said goodnight to Ale and then went back home. Even though by then it was close to 2 in the morning, I made sure I journaled everything while it was still fresh before going to bed. What I thought was really interesting was that all these very different groups were able to congregate and make the public space of the parks theirs for the night because truthfully, not many of them had any sort of private spaces to call their own. It wasn’t like LA or something where there are designated spaces for people who love smelling grass, or watching paint dry, or are self-declared Bronies (As I assume there are several). Additionally, this lack of private space that made for several groups occupying the same public space made for some fascinating interactions that might not have otherwise occurred. For example, how is it that Ale came to know all of these groups that he was able to introduce us to? I can’t be sure, but I would guess that it came from the countless hours he spent navigating these open spaces and discovering these little subcultures for himself.
Next class is TBD.
[parks in opposite direction]