Viva Cuba Para Siempre

It’s been a few months since Cuba. I remember stepping off the plane into Miami International Airport and everything feeling too much. There were ads, there were restaurants, too much convenience, too much stuff. I also felt a sense of relief. I was going to finally see my family again I missed them so much. And I was going to get my hands on a Big Mac because if there is anything quintessentially American it’s McDonald’s. I told my uncle who drove us back to Sebring, Florida where he and his wife live about the vintage cars in Cuba and how at high velocities they couldn’t break until they got their speeds down. I told my mom about the restaurants and how much I disliked the food they served. I have never been a fan of pork and salads were a rare occurrence in Cuba. I told her about Layda, my host mom who treated me like her own daughter and cooked things she knew I would like. Staying at my aunt and uncle’s place with their giant televisions, pool, large backyard, and fully stocked kitchen felt strange. In New York City, my mom and I live very modestly our kitchen isn’t always fully loaded but, we have just enough food. That’s one thing I guess I didn’t realize I’d miss the convenience of being able to get your hands on whatever you want whenever you want. On the other hand, Cuba taught me that people are not only meant to be consumers, we forget that we can produce. Cubans are innovative in how they utilize, re-use, and re-purpose items and fashion new things out of those old things. If Cuba taught me anything it’s that I can live as less of a consumer and more of producer of things. Coming back to the States’ and being hit with a barrage of commercials and media feeding into my insecurities and telling me I need this or that to truly be fulfilled was frustrating. I relished the quietness of Havana in that sense (Havana is still a city so it gets rowdy), but there were no commercials, no ads constantly seeking my attention. Instead there were people practicing trumpets, and singing opera, and playing guitar during the day, during the night. Cuba is an imperfect place. It’s history is long and complicated and its relationship to the United States even more complicated, but its people are resilient and innovative. I met a lot of different kind of people in Cuba: teachers, architects, photographers, painters, clothing designers, lawyers, chemists, engineers, club promoters, restaurant workers, saxophone players, trumpet players, opera singers, ballet dancers… you name it. Young people in Cuba are like young people everywhere else: they like having fun. We bonded over our similar tastes in music, books, television and movies. I listened to them talk about the Special Period and the harsh reality of life then, and I listen to them talk about the ways Cuba is changing and their eagerness to participate in those changes and to grasp new opportunities. They are optimistic about their futures. That taught me a lot. I hold onto anxieties about my future directions, my career, how do I make money while feeling fulfilled? Am I making the right decisions? I have too many decisions to make! But I’m lucky I even have these choices, and now I’m not as afraid of uncertainty in regards to the future as I was. My preoccupation with going on the “right” path seemed silly after my time in Cuba. People everywhere have hopes, dreams, and plans, but circumstances aren’t always aligned with letting those plans come to fruition. As cliché as this whole “revelation” is, it is true. It’s what I got the most out of Cuba, and for that I’m grateful. I wrote this in my journal a few weeks after getting back to the States: What I learned in Cuba––plans are just plans, a job is just a job, humans are always capable of being free. Regardless of what Americans think about Cuba and the state of its citizens–––its people have always and will always remain free.

“Nunca pierdas tu imaginación.”
Graffiti in Old Havana, Anartsy 2017