Cuba: Killing the Language and Making Beauty Ugly / Iván García

Man urinating in the street. From Cubanet.

Ivan Garcia, 31 July 2017 — Although they speak bad Spanish, with sentences chopped-up and sometimes incoherent, Sarah and Liudmila, in theory, are not illiterate. Their academic certificates show they passed the twelfth grade.

After finishing pre-university with their high school diplomas, they opted for the quickest way to make some money — working as escorts or prostitutes. Equally happy to sleep with a foreigner, of whatever nationality, race, belief or sexual orientation, or a Cuban, so long as they have enough money to pay for a night of fun, alcohol and cocaine.

Liudmila tells Sarah about her latest achievement. She does it in a made up language that they speak in Havana.

Original version: “Went out last night. Hooked a wild one who was at the pa’comer y pa’llevar (Havana cafe ). We downed a basin-full and then I went with the fool to his “holy room” (reference to a Cuban initiation ceremony). The guy gave me an incredible fuck. In the end he gave me 50 pesos. Today, it’s a second round with this freak; yawanna stringalong, bitch?”

Translation: “What I did last night. I won over an excellent client. We had some beers and then rented a room in a private house.  The guy was the best in bed. He paid me 50 dollars. I’m going to see him again today. Want to come with me?

Sarah and Liudmila, like thousands of young Cubans, prostitute themselves for a fistful of dollars. It’s their right. What is pitiful is the vulgar way they express themselves.

Right now, Cuba is exposed to various interconnected crises. An ongoing economic crisis; and a crisis of identity, with a whole lot of young kids who aren’t interested in their country’s history, or culture, and, fundamentally, the absence of morals and values, which is accentuated by the deterioration of the language. With people who speak worse and worse Spanish and whose conduct is sometimes vulgar and aggressive.

We know that the Castro regime has not done what it should have in economic and social matters.  Starting with services and going on through “revolutionary aesthetics” in design and architecture  – mostly clumsy and in poor taste – and on to its inability to provide meat, fish, seafood or fruit for the people, not just for tourists.

The hardships and shortages could be overcome with a government which is efficient and not corrupt. But, the crisis of values?

It would definitely take a long time to change that. Generations, probably.

You get in a shared taxi and say “good day” and no-one answers. People drop rubbish at every corner, leading to epidemics with who-knows-what consequences. Everyone thinks they have the right to play unbearably loud music in their house, and never mind the neighbours.

People frequently mistreat their children or hit their girlfriend or wife. It’s also become normal to drink beer in a bar and, although there may be a public toilet nearby, the men prefer to urinate in the street. And, in urgent cases, to defecate on the stairs in a building.

A story. I was going to my apartment, when I saw a woman excreting in the entrance to a building round the corner from mine. Seeing me scowling, the woman, the worse for a few drinks, says: “Hey, whitey, don’t act all refined. Everybody taking a shit does it where they can.  I’m not going to keep it bottled up, am I?

But the most lethal attack is on the Spanish language. One way or another, we Cubans have been killing it by incorporating in our vocabulary marginal expressions which many people think are funny or witty.

It’s not a joke. Sergio, a political science graduate, considers that the poor language employed by the official media, a virile and nationalist narrative, with a hint of tropical neo-fascism, has influenced the regression of Castilian Spanish and also affected the rules of civilised behaviour.

“Fidel Castro wanted to sweep away the past and adopted a new language – crude, arrogant and belligerent toward his opponents, inside and outside the country. Compañero and compañera were substituted for lady and gentleman. And he replaced politeness with a “proletarian manner”, which didn’t work in practice. All the government and Communist party propaganda is been filled up with repetitive slogans, initials and a boring lexicon. And that water brings this mud. Now, when they talk, many Cubans don’t have a command of more than five hundred words from the dictionary, they can’t write and their grammar is appalling”.

Sarah and Liudmila, Havana prostitutes, are good examples of this deterioration.

Translated by GH