More than just “a communist country”; real people striving in the real Cuba


Its only human nature to be skeptical of things we dont completely understand, or things that are perceived as “bad” or “wrong”. When growing up in a country holding an outdated embargo for reasons in history that are only briefly covered in the public school system, this skepticism is a popular attitude toward Cuba in the US.  However, Cuba’s history, and the history of US affairs in Cuba dating back to the Spanish-American war is highly misunderstood and misconstrued. Gaining a new perspective and understanding of Cuba’s past, and present, and the US-Cuba relations is long over due for us here in the US. But because this is no simple subject, the easiest place to start to try and give the public an idea, at least of the real Cuba today, is with a look at the people and their reality in Cuba. Its easy to disregard Cuba as nothing more than a communist country and thus some kind of threat to the US, and not comprehend the reality behind the country; the reality that theirs real people living their trying to strive with limited access to necessities thanks to our embargo. And not just “real people”, but some pretty amazing people who are genuinely, and maybe unnecessarily, nice to any visitors to their country, including those from the US.

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La Marca tattoo parlor, considered to be Havanas first tattoo parlor, doubles as a mini art gallery and actively promotes local artists. Dedicated of course to art and beautiful tattoos, but far more importantly to safety, sanitation, and health. Because tattooing as a business is technically illegal in Cuba, there are no regulations for tattoo parlors, and many get shut down. Since La Marca is some how still in business with little fuss from officials, they strive to keep up a good reputation and go to lengths far beyond those of parlors in the US to ensure their work space and materials are clean and sanitary for their customers. Keeping the reception, sketch space, and parlor itself completely separate, they completely re wrap the chairs in saran wrap not only between every customer, but even between the tattooing process and the cleaning and wrapping process for each individual customer. They get most of their ink from Canada due to the trade embargo with the US, and yes, they pull the fresh needle out of its sealed package right in front of you. The artists at La Marca were more than happy to book last minute appointments for myself and one other  student on the study abroad trip for the day before we were scheduled to head home.

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Clandestina is Cuba’s very first “design store”. Coining the phrase “99% diseno Cubano”, you can find “99% cuban design” screen printed by hand on t-shirts, and bags, and even buy stickers and key chains with the stores phrase. The group of local artists and entrepreneurs are set on providing, not only the tourists, but locals with hand made Cuban designs, art, and clothes. They were more than willing to take time to let us interview them, and even showed us the art gallery housed above the store.

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Marta Rojas, the only reporter to take notes during Fidel Castros 1953 Moncada Garrison court case. One of Castro’s early attempts to overthrow the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista was his attack on Cuba’s second most important military base, the Moncada Garrison. This being only the beginning of what would alter be Fidels revolution, he gave his historic defense during the case, “la historia me absolvera”, “History will absolve me”, and Marta Rojas was the only reporter to document Fidel’s strong words throughout the case. However, she would hold have to hold onto her notes for 6 years before they would be published, and would later turn the notes from the court case into a book. While interviewing her in her apartment, she shared a heart warming thought with the study abroad group, “Theres two things you can learn a lot from;  people and books”. She was nice enough to invite us into her apartment, show us personal photos and documents from her days as a journalist, and even offered some palatines prior to us leaving her.

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Jose Fuster, an artist outside of Havana, is one of the many artists striving to help improve some of the more impoverished neighborhoods in Cuba. As a guide told the story upon our visit, Fuster began transforming his house with tiles, and eventually his neighbors wanted in on the fun. Fuster slowly began transforming his neighbors houses, and eventually other areas of the neighborhood. Now his corner of the neighborhood houses what has become known as “Fusterlandia”, an all out tourist attraction and art museum in Fuster’s own home and throughout the neighborhood. He, like Mrs. Rojas, was also nice enough to invite us inside his home and let us interview him in his studio, which is closed off to visitors.

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While horseback riding in Vinales, we stopped to talk to a tobacco farmer who explained the part the government plays in farming. The government actually takes 90% of all crops and harvests, leaving only 10% for farmers to sell for their own income. This particular man was selling bundles of 10 cigars for only 10 CUCs (Cuban Convertible Pesos), so one CUC each which currently is equal to one US dollar. Even with this information in mind, a different tobacco farmer we met near the private homes we were staying in, also in Vinales, was more than willing to give us a few cigars free of charge after showing us his barn.




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