What “Viva Cuba” Means to Me

What I got from my study abroad experience in Cuba

Though Viva Cuba technically translates to “long live Cuba”,  the frequent tone in which we exclaimed “Viva Cuba!” prior to doing something out of our comfort zone while in Cuba was that of, “Live Cuba”; live like Cuba, do something new, that you wouldn’t or cant do back home in the states, take advantage of what very well could be a  once in a lifetime opportunity.  The study abroad trip was my first time traveling out of the country and was the definition of eye opening and humbling.

Having come form a close nit family, we had a tendency to share similar views on the world, though I always saw myself leaning further and further from the norm house hold opinions with each year. However none of my family had really traveled out of the country prior to my study abroad trip, at least not in the same way; my brother being a submariner in the navy has spent every deployment of the past four years only shortly docking in the same few countries and not getting to really experience those other cultures in the same way, and my father having been confined to either the on site housing or an ocean side resort for weekend day trips while working in the Dominican Republic doing environmental work, also had little time to truly explore.  Though I like to think of myself as an understanding and empathetic person to other peoples situations, I think everyone does as well. But little did I know the difference that comes with simply hearing about, seeing on TV, or reading about situations in other countries, vs getting to be their while staying in private homes and interacting with really only locals and very few other tourists. “You never really know until you go” has become a kind of “motto” Ive adopted from, and that sums up, my experience on this trip.

To me this trip meant making real connections, far beyond those you make with people in your own neighborhood or town or country or school or work place; real, life changing and view altering connections. It meant realizing that it is possible for me to do the things I want to do, or even things I never dreamed of doing, being that my decision to go on this study abroad trip to Cuba was something that never even crossed my mind prior to running into a friend who said they were on their way to a meeting for the trip and invited me along. It made me realize that I dont have to wait till im established in a well paying job to be able to travel and see the world. But most importantly, it made events outside of my own life much more real and important to me. Now when I watch the news and hear of struggles and events abroad, I effects me a little more, its a little more real and easier to grasp for me now; easier to grasp that theirs real people living what ever im reading in the new or seeing on TV.

To me “Viva Cuba” truly means so much more for than just “Live Cuba”, it means the world of opportunity I realized I have, regardless of any circumstances thrown my way. But it also means theirs a world and people far beyond my own that I want to experience and meet. Its an experience you dont get without truly spending time encompassing yourself in another culture, and though our trip only lasted 12 days, it made an impression that will last a life time on me.



“Imagine, OF all the people”? Fidel Castro’s, and the “real story”, behind John Lennon park

Beatlemania having swept over the world in the sixties is far from an over exaggeration, as we all know. But to find out that in 1964 Fidel Castro declared a nationwide ban of the Beatles’ music really puts into perspective the influence and reach music can have.

Castro saw the”fab four” as a symbol of the “vulgar consumerism” he resented and thought of the British band as “a tool of capitalist America”. Regardless of the ban, their music still made its way to Cuba’s youth underground, and two years late in 1966, the ban was lifted, although it still took some time for Cuba to allow all its people to embrace the rock and roll craze. In 1971 the Beatles show was aired for the first time over Cuban airwaves, but tension still remained towards the new culture of the 60s and 70s.

However, on December 8th of 2000, the 20 year anniversary of John Lennon’s assassination, a statue was unveiled on a park bench at 17th and 6th street in Havana park, also known as “John Lennon Park”. Somewhere in those 30+ years, John Lennon grew on even communist rebel Fidel Castro. Whether this actually stands as symbol of musical freedom in the new era of the Fidel rule is still up to debate among Cuban musicians, for Havana park didn’t get its British nickname along with the unveiling of the statue. This story actually begins months prior with a group of Cuban musicians.

john lennon park

Jorge Dalton recalls his participation in the original tribute to the icon in an article of the Havana Times. A group of Cuban musicians and other artists had the idea to pay tribute to the band and “right the injustice that the banning of the Liverpool Four in Cuba during the 60s and 70s had meant”. With the support of the National Committee of the Young Communists League, Cuban Radio and Television Institute, and various other members of the community, the group of artists planned to pay tribute on the roof top of the  Habana Libre Hotel at the same time as a film festival as an ode to the Beatles rooftop concert in England in 1969.

Everything was planned out and seemed to have the green light, until the actual day came. The National Committee of the Young Communists League withdrew their support and deemed the concert “inappropriate” and the Communist Party Leadership, relayed through the National Committee of the Young Communists League, said the concert was not to be authorized.

Although the group of artists attempting the concert greatly dwindled in size and lost the support of the  Cuban Radio and Television Institute, who were going to supply broadcast and audio equipment, the few remaining musicians persevered and decided to try Havana Park next.

News spread about the reattempt at the concert and the park was packed with people before they even started setting up. Rushed, unrehearsed, and improvised, the band began the tribute. Jorge recalls “pulling electricity  directly from streetlamps and people’s houses”, and even nearby police couldn’t help but join in, “The park was also surrounded by a long cordon of police officers, who ended up singing Yesterday, A Hard Day’s Night, Come Together and Let It Be along with us”. The tribute ended with Hey Jude after one musician, Carlos Varela, “took the microphone and proposed baptizing the park with the name of John Lennon”.

When Fidel presented the statue of Lennon at the park only months later, party leaders and members of the Cuban Radio and Television Institute who had tried to stop the concert prior were even present at the unveiling.

cuba concert