Monday, April 14, 2014

Dear Cuba...

Dear Cuba:

I love you!  After my third trip to visit, I am even more in love than the first time I set foot on your shores.  I love your passion for standing tall against the US and the "normal" unbalanced relationship most Caribbean islands have with it.  I still love the ideals you have tried to maintain since the Revolution.  I do wish you could be a bit more open and give your citizens more freedom to make their way.  I have witnessed the energy and drive of your people and believe given the permission and a little help they would be able to help you with your economic woes.  I wish my country wasn't so threatened by you and could just let you be.  I wish the Cuban-Americans could just get over their anger and let policy normalize and see what happens.

But more than all those political and economic issues, I love your strength.  Your people are solid and strong.  I love your music.  There is a beat to every footstep in your streets and the music playing everywhere adds energy to everything. And I love that the music has so many ethnic roots. I love your vibrant rainbow of skin colors from white to black, with 36 gradations  recognized along the way.  I love that a group of boys hanging on the Malecon might have a very pale blond boy, a very black one and few of other shades.  I learned that its not that simple and of course, you, like all lands with slave holding history, still haven't quite figured out how to erase race, but still a walk down any street in Havana had so many diverse faces,which is a delight for a portrait photographer like me.  Surely with some more of the new dialogue on race and work to show more positive images of Afro-Cubans, you will be able to rise to be an almost racially neutral country.

I love your arts.  Creativity abounds.  I love the colors, creations and that this time I got to go where your creative class goes. I loved meeting the hip hop duo Obsesion and hearing how they are trying to bring the issues of race out in the open with songs fighting the negativity associated with being back.  For example, the idea that Afro-Cuban hair is "bad hair" and instead  of just hair in their video "Los Pelos".  I love that at their weekly open mic sessions they give a chance to young people to think out loud and build their voices.

I love your architecture that shows your history.  So many different styles are standing together around your country and I love that you have spent resources to protect old buildings and your history.  I could walk for days in your back streets and never get enough of the balconies, columns, ornate gates...  Oh and the color, I love the color.

I love love love your cars!  I cannot get enough of your cars.  I miss your cars even before I leave when I think about leaving them.  The colors, the grand curves, ahh, I wish America could make cars like them again.

I also love that you are safe and don't have much crime.  I love being able to just walk anywhere and not feel scared. I hear the Cuban-Americans say that tourists only get access to the people the government wants them to talk to, but the safe feeling actually means one can walk anywhere and start random conversations with anyone.  Yes, maybe everyone isn't free to say everything, but in my experience there is plenty they will share.

And lastly, this time I was able to see many examples of how the values of the Revolution are in your blood.  People want to share their economic rewards.  Farmers want to work with their neighbors to boost production. Business
owners run classes to help the marginalized in their communities find ways to get on the economic ladder.  I know this isn't perfect, but its definitely more deeply instilled than where I live, NY, where individual profit is the name of the game often at the expense of the community around you.

I know many people will come to your shores and see poverty.  They are not wrong.  But I give you credit for attempting to have a social safety net.  I give you credit for your excellent education and health care system.  And once again, I hope you will give more economic freedoms.   I hope you will find ways for your wonderful, well-educated citizens to make a living besides moving to my country.  I don't want you to open yourself up too widely to the international market and thus get crushed by "free trade" with USA, but hope you will find ways to give opportunities to your people so they can figure out their own best financial direction letting them have small businesses and government support to help them grow.

Its exciting to see you change and I will be back to visit again.  I already miss you.

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