National Identity As A Pretext / 14ymedio, Regina Coyula

Flags of the United States and Cuba in the streets of Havana. (14ymedio)
Flags of the United States and Cuba in the streets of Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Regina Coyula, Havana, 30 January 2016 — The view that the change in United States policy toward Cuba carries the danger of a loss of independence and of the values of national identity makes me smile wryly. Contrary to those who are worried, I would say that we Cubans are immune to the loss of identity, an idea that has some losing sleep.

It did not happen during the Republic, when we had mediated governments, nor did it happen when the Soviet influence was such that it “created” traditions, things that almost no one remembers now, like laying a bride’s flowers at the bust of a martyr, or substituting “Hurrah!” for “Viva!” among others I won’t even try to list. Instead, traditional festivities around Christmas, New Years and Easter were cancelled, along with others I also won’t try to list.

We have become accustomed to hearing military terms used to define the bilateral Cuba-United States relationship: cultural penetration, ideological battle, domination, hegemony. The national life throughout all these years revolved around the conflict with “the lurking enemy to the north.”

From the White House, nearly a dozen presidents eased and tightened the measures against its provocative neighbor. Conditions have changed with the passing of time and, with the disappearance of the socialist camp, other priorities left our country as an ember of the Cold War.

For the Government “governed” by a small group of octogenarians who come from the struggle against Batista in the Sierra Maestra, the situation has barely changed. They came to power very young, dynamited its structures, encouraged the bourgeoisie and with them the “lively classes” (the civil society of that time) to leave the country, and created their own way of doing things.

Because of this they never renounced the language of the barricade, nor have they stopped talking about the Cuban Revolution as a seminal and living event, when at least institutionally one can fix its end in 1976. Although the institutional character of the de facto Government of 1959 formally established a certain “informality” – with military uniforms giving way to civilian dress – the indisputable leadership of Fidel Castro sidestepped that inconvenience and he ruled as he saw fit.

Over the years, the anti-imperialist discourse has lost traction among the people, because as they have seen, the “empire” is not as fierce as it has been painted: half the family lives there, sends remittances, pays for our visits, or comes back loaded with gifts for everyone. Right now, the United States Government eases and eases and the Cuban Government interprets it as a well-deserved victory, not a quid pro quo, and still nobody understands what the crisis in farm products has to do with the “blockade.”

In the media and in academic texts (under State control), the consumer society and its values (or lack of them) have been anathematized; this has not kept cultural patterns from being a Frankenstein with the worst of each system. The taste for trash music, trash movies, trash literature and trash fashion is not only not avoided, but marks the canon of the popularly accepted. In a cruel paradox, culture has been what is most accessible to citizens in their spare time.

I don’t know how patriotism is measured. Flags haven’t been sold for many years, much less in Cuban pesos. The Cuban flag flies – though not always – on public buildings and in an ever declining number of neighborhoods and homes for the anniversary of the Revolution or the assault on the Moncada Barracks. It is also seen on the outfits made by the multinational company Adidas for our athletes, which many who are not athletes also wear, among them foreigners who assume solidarity, strolling through Havana with a beret, Che T-shirt and shoulder adorned with our national emblem.

In contrast with this quasi-institutional display, I see American flags in the old American cars that function as shared taxis, in the cartoonish bubble car taxis, in the pedicabs, and on caps, T-shirts, scarfs, and even in lycra versions that have flooded the streets with cellulite-filled stars and bars. La Yuma (the USA) and los Yumas (its inhabitants) are now the paradigm of a society that doesn’t substitute McDonald’s for roast pork and is considered anti-imperialist at heart. Weird, but true.

You don’t have to be an economist or a sociologist to see the exhaustion in individual perspectives, let alone the collective. If decades ago seeing one’s children emigrate was a tragedy, today it has become a hope. The State has no solution for the discrepancy between wages and prices, for the burden of transport and housing, and has now abandoned the role of father protector with which Fidel Castro felt so comfortable. Today, everyone must address the solution to their own needs, that for not being morally correct resolves the situation of two generations brought up under the idea of the State as the cradle-to-grave provider of everything.

The true and unconfessed fear of the champions of national identity is not a fear of the cultural influence that existed long before 17 December 2014, and which will not change the essence of Cubans, but of the free flow of information that lets any citizen peer into a looking glass that gives access to complete and contrasting information.