Understanding My Friend’s Cuba

February 21, 2009 | Print Print |
Courtney Brooks

Courtney Brooks

During my first year at Northeastern University I had a Cuban-American roommate, my first experience with any sort of Cuban culture. Her parents had left Cuba when they were two years old, and she and her sisters had grown up in Miami. Her father owned a very successful chain of Cuban restaurants in Florida.

My friend talked about Cuba often. She said her grandmother would cry and tell her how much she missed her homeland, and how sad she was that she would never be able to go back. One of her grandfathers had been in a Cuban prison for decades (she never told me why), and once he got out and moved to Miami he cut off contact with the family. All of her friends were Cuban-American and considered themselves Cuban, although as far as I know none of them had ever been here.

She hated when people wore shirts with pictures of Che on them and said that they had no idea who he was or what he had done, but were simply buying into a trend.

I became interested in Cuba through her, both because she had such strong feelings about the country and because I knew that the experiences and opinions of actual Cubans would be so different from hers. I thought that because of the embargo I would never be able to come here.

Although it is technically illegal for Americans to spend money in Cuba, my university secured visas for 12 students to study here for three months. We are the first students from my school to come to Cuba, and are the only Americans currently studying at Casa de las Americas.

In the six weeks I have spent in Cuba so far I have been faced with many contradictions. This is a country of people united both by the revolution which improved their lives, and by the poverty which they cannot escape.

This is a country of bodegas, where Cubans are given inadequate rations of food, and hotels, where tourists pay a Cuban’s monthly wage for lunch. This is a country which has survived despite the trade embargo, but probably wouldn’t survive without remittances from Cuban-Americans.

This is a country which claims to be equal, but where classes and racism still exist 50 years after a socialist revolution.

I do not know if I will understand Cuba by the time I leave, and I know that as a foreigner I will never be able to comprehend how Cubans live. But I hope to learn a little more about this fascinating and beautiful country each day.

  • http://None Robert Cowdery

    Courtney Brooks; Thanks for your excellent article on Cuba.
    I get a great deal of personal satisfaction in knowing that I have been able to interest others in reading the
    Havana Times. Now I know that my Spanish Teacher reads the The Havana Times several times a day just like I do. I love Cuban Jazz, and recently sent three of my best CD’s to one of my grandsons, because I want him and his family to enjoy Cuban Jazz as much as I do.

  • http://groups.yahoo.com/group/CubaNews Walter Lippmann

    A US student visiting the island of Cuba for the first time puts some of her opinionated ignorance on display after a mere six weeks in the country.

    Here we can see the effects of a lifetime of US diseducation on a single young victim. It is NOT illegal for people from the US to spend money here in Cuba IF they meet the legal qualifications.

    And so in the case of this student, she meets the licensing requirements, so she is permitted to spend money here on the island during the time she is here. Presumably, since she is writing under her own name, she is here legally, since her school got visas for its students.

    Remittances, while they are an important source of hard currency income for those Cubans who receive it, are also a source of exacerbating the very social and racial cleavages which she complains about. Obama has said he would eliminate the limits on remittances for Cuban-Americans in order to reduce what he called the Cuban people’s dependence on their government.

    In other words, to promote destabilization here on the island. Obama’s goal isn’t to help heal family divisions, but to promote deepening splits in Cuban society.

    • http://www.bing.com/ Wiseman

      Wait, I cannot fathom it being so starightforrwad.

  • yosvany

    I´m just a regular Cuban (economically speaking :-) I find warm CB´s interest in understanding our reality :-) I guess that we Cubans try to choose the lesser of two evils: so it is great that American students come and see that there is no torture in Cuba, despite they see our poverty :-) Obama´s ideas regarding Cuba are “great ” despite his hidden agenda ;-) We´ll work the way out to redistribute the destabilizing wealth he wants to send us :-)
    I´d love that we´d have many blogs (even censored) where regular Cubans could play the game of predicting their social future (including our baseball team´s results :-) Maybe the American approach of solving big problems using think-tanks sounds too cold for our Latin minds but maybe that´s all we need: to add a couple of thousand people to our rusty think-tank :-)