Some Thoughts About My Cuba


Some Thoughts About My Cuba

This is a stream-of-consciousness outpouring of my thoughts and memories and learning of Cuba, without any additional research, or “fact checking,” because I am sure whatever details I may have “wrong” are inconsequential to the truth of my testimony. And besides, I’m in my “don’t give a fuck what you think of me” senior years. Let the picayune, pedantic and nit-pickers do their own fact-checking (it’s easy enough today). But, to those with poetic and musical and socialist souls: welcome!

My family lost everything in the Cuban Revolution (from 1959): family business, property, grandparents’ health (early death); 1961-1967 were hell for us that way. Because of the rabid U.S. assaults on the Cuban Revolution, Fidel followed Raul’s lead and looked to the Communist Party — i.e., Russia — for help (I saw a Russian freighter in Havana harbor in 1960), and in reaction to those assaults, Castro banned rock music and the Beatles (in ~1965-1967; yet Juan Formell, famously, penned the seminal Cuban Rock-and-Roll classic, “Llegué, Llegué / Guararey de Pastorita,” and founded Los Van Van in 1969,

BUT, my father forever refused to ever play golf (the signal Republican/Conservative/Imperialist/Reactionary/Fascist “sport”; I had offered to buy him golf clubs as a retirement present), and refused to ever visit Miami, where his old Upper West Side NYC buddies from the 1940s-1950s had gone in their senior years, because he did not want to go where “the pain in the neck” Cubans were.

My father had sent money sub-rosa (for bribes) to help his two childhood friends and their families to get out of Cuba in the later 1960s, and he cried when thinking back on it all, saying the U.S. had “destroyed my country.” Che Guevara was executed on my father’s 43rd birthday.

So, I know that Castro made many mistakes, and had dictatorial tendencies, but he was exponentially better for Cuba than the U.S. ever was or ever will be (Cuba si! Yanqui no!, I saw that grafitto painted on Cuban walls in 1959-1960). And the Cuban government always has the U.S. and its embargo and its CIA, as an easy excuse for and distraction from its own mistakes and heavy-handedness in managing Cuba; but there is an abundance of truth in that excuse nevertheless.

Despite its evident poverty, Cuba is what Puerto Rico (I am 50% Puertorriqueño) should be: independent; “the Cubans will never bend the knee,” as the last East German premier has said. Despite killing 2 to 3 million Vietnamese (between 1965 and 1975), and toxifying much of their land with Agent Orange and Cluster Bombs, the U.S. has “forgiven” officially ‘Communist’ Vietnam because it has let itself become a sweatshop for capitalism; Cuba remains unforgiven because it has not. And THAT is a dagger pointed at the heart of American imperialists’ greatest fear.

By the way: rock and roll is, deeply, a Cuban invention. The “French Quarter” of New Orleans is considered by US Americans as the birthplace of rock-and-roll through the African-American roots of Delta Blues, R&B, and Gospel music (rhythmic and charismatic African call-and-response choral music – originally without drums, which were forbidden to American Black slaves).

The French Quarter was actually built by the Spanish governor of New Orleans during the ~25(?) years of Spain’s ownership of that port, by treaty with the French (who had established and owned it previously, and then owned it afterwards – eventually selling it to the Americans in 1803 – all by treaties between France and Spain, because of European wars in the 18th & 19th centuries).

The rhythm-based African music was imported to Cuba with the slave trade (Cuban slaves were allowed the freedom to drum at night, which was forbidden in the U.S. over fear of “signalling” a slave revolt). There was a huge trade from Havana (of Cuban sugar) to New Orleans (and back with furs bound for Europe), and with it rode in Afro-Cuban musicians to New Orleans, who by then had already incorporated colonial Spanish instruments (guitar, flute, violin, brass, piano) into their bands. Those musicians brought in the roots music of what would eventually flower as Blues, Jazz and Rock. Chuck Berry’s “Louis, Louis” is a pure cha-cha-cha.

Today, Cuban popular music incorporates hip-hop (reggeton, via Puerto Rico, and via the many back-channels Cubans have used to gain access to foreign recorded pop music: Cubans are the most talented and accomplished “pop” musicians of the world, and the tap root of it all is Africa). All pop music worldwide is basically African-based, which is why, (pop) musically, Cuba is the “ombligo del mundo” and Africa is its placenta.


3 thoughts on “Some Thoughts About My Cuba

  1. Shared the following with Rich Lancaster, so I thought I would also share it here: ME & FIDEL.

    I flew in a similar airliner (to a Bristol Britannia 4 prop) to Havana in 1959 and 1960. I also flew in a DC-3 from Pinar del Rio (Cuba) south to Isla de Pinos (now Isla de Juventud), which island is so tropically lovely (and I met Fidel there). That DC-3 was loud and ‘vibratey.’

    I met Fidel in 1960 when I was 10. My family was on a roadtrip east out of Havana. The idea was to see as much of the island as possible that summer. We stayed at a new nearly empty Hilton. It had a highrise building and also a separate building of motel-type groundfloor suites right on the beach. I used to go out the door early in the morning, walk out across the sand under the palms, and onto the endless very shallow-graded beach, and swim in the transparent near-waveless and warm water.

    One morning I heard a loud windy motor noise outside, went out to look, and saw a helicopter land maybe 30 yards from our door. Out stepped a very tall strongly-built man in crisp green Army fatigues, with a full beard and full cigar. He and another walked up toward the main hotel building. I went back into our rooms and told my mother “I just saw Fidel land!” She was dismissive, thinking I has imagined something very grand for an ordinary event.

    At that time there were bearded men in green Army fatigues everywhere in Cuba. We had sat next to them quite often in the streetcars in Havana. I was always impressed by their flashy sidearms all different: polished, pearl handles, extra-long barrels; and often enough right up against my side on the bench seats in the trolleys.

    Anyway, that night our family ate in the formal dining room of the Isla de Pinos Hilton, and sure enough Fidel soon entered the room. The maitre ‘d would come around to each table and asked if its diners wanted to meet Fidel. Well, of course! With our turn, we walked over to him, smiling, and he spoke with my parents, and then individually with my younger brother and me, and shaking hands.

    When I (reluctantly) got back to my grammar school in NYC, I would show my right hand to my classmates and brag “this hand shook Fidel Castro’s!” And then 1961 and the Embargo came, then the Bay of Pigs Invasion, then 1962 with the Cuban Missile Crisis, when my family wondered who would get radioactively incinerated first: my paternal grandparents in Havana, or us in NYC.

    After that it was hell for my grandparents until they were able to leave in 1967, and died not long after. My grandfather’s small shoe factory/workshop and leather-goods business was wiped out, and it would turn out that Che Guevara would be executed on 9 October 1967, my father’s 43rd birthday. After that is was the Vietnam War draft for me, college and hoping to find a honey who would take to me. Beyond that: the normal insanity of life in our times. But, I still have my Fidel-shook hand. His were BIG!

Comments are closed.