Lady, I love you

I am waiting on a bench in Parque Central for some friends who are already half an hour late.  It’s been a hard day and I have little desire to speak with anyone.  A boy, he can’t be more than 20, sits down next to me.  He speaks English badly but uses it to ask me where I’m from and if I understand Spanish.  My first impulse is to tell him to beat it, I’m not looking for jineteros hunting for tourists, but I let him advance his failed strategy of seduction.

I don’t know if it’s my pale skin that I inherited from two Spanish grandparents, but my passport is just as blue and Cuban as the one he has.  If not for his false impression that I’m a foreigner, he’d never come close to me.  I am not a good match—obviously he can see that—but he calculates that even if I look like a poor stranger, at least I could get him a visa to emigrate.  Encouraged by my silence, he says in English, “Lady I love you,” and after such a declaration of love I can’t contain my laughter.  I  tell him in my worst Central Havana slang, “Don’t waste your bullets on me, I’m cubiche*.”  He jumps up like he’s been stung by red ants and starts insulting me.  I can hear him shouting, “This skinny thing looks like a foreigner but she’s from here and worth less than the national money.”  My day has suddenly changed and I begin to laugh, alone on the bench, a few meters from the marble Martí that adorns the park.

The rematch comes quickly for the frustrated Casanova.  A Nordic woman in shorts walks by and he repeats to her the same refrain he let loose on me.  She smiles and seems dazzled by his youth and his braids ending in colored beads.  I watch them leave together, while the lively youth declares his love, in a language in which he barely knows a dozen words.

Translator’s notes
The original title of this post is in English.
Jinetero/jinetera: prostitute or hustler.
Cubiche: Derogatory slang for a Cuban.

Advertisements

30 thoughts on “Lady, I love you

  1. Well, glad you agree on some of the issues I raise. I do not discourage anyone from traveling, and rather encourage it if they can afford it, including Cubans in Cuba. I especially have no animosity towards any one particular country/culture. In fact Bolivia has a very colorful culture and I would like to go there myself – it is one of three countries I have not visited in South America. However, the suggestion that Cubans go to the shantytown is one that I take exception to, as I am sure there are other places in Bolivia and also in most of those countries you cite, that are worthy of attention as well, including a thriving business community engaging in the trades and selling a myriad of handycrafts, street vendors selling all manner of food treats and other goods, not to mention stunning geographical places to visit. Except for the latter, a prospective visitor would find very little of that in Cuba.

    Nevertheless, I acknowledge that there are cultural conditions and influences in todays world including overpopulation and lack of entrepreneurial and other education, which I know first hand are the reasons why there is so much poverty. We’ve come a long way in eliminating many deceases around the world, but have not had a plan to control population growth resulting from that success. To put it simply, if I as a middle class citizen in Chicago, with a college education, were to engender between ten and fifteen children – as I’ve commonly seen in families in other countries – children that I and my wife had to support, I would be poor right here in an otherwise rich society in these United States. This and other poverty problems have nothing to do with free trade agreements, or with somebody trying to exploit someone else. Free trade just is, it is not evil, or good or exploitative. It is an environment created and an opportunity to buy and sell to, and from, many more people than you could before thereby creating more wealth and abundance for all, period. This is long established through history going back three thousand years. That is not to say that people and governments do not have to be vigilant to ensure that it works to everyone’s advantage. But nevertheless the potential for benefit is enourmous.

    Now going back to Cuba, I believe that there is nothing that could benefit the Cuban people more than a free trade agreement with the rest of the Western Hemisphere, including and particularly, with the United States. I also think that Cuba is blessed with advantages that other countries do not enjoy. For one, there is no overpopulation problem (which could be deadly for an island country) but rather, couples seem aware of having too many children. People there tend to be entrepreneurial despite having to do it in a black market environment. And very importantly, the country is blessed with underdeveloped natural resources that because of the paralysis and incompetence of the osteoarthritic leadership of fifty years, have not been put to work to the benefit of the population.

    Do I want to see ugly American tourists getting drunk, talking disrespectfully, taking advantage of vulnerable women, and injecting bigotry into the country? No. But I think these issues can be addressed by a decent self respecting government while making visitors feel welcome*.

    And there you have it, this is my position regarding free trade, and paranoia about being “exploited” as proclaimed by some, including Chavez in Venezuela and the old dinosaurs in Cuba.

    * Australia had a problem with tourists and sailors being overaggressive with their women and they dealt with it appropriately.

  2. @Cold (I do speak Spanish by the way….just below conversational….i’m still working on it)

    First of all thank you for challenging me. Your post gives everyone allot to chew on. I’ve also traveled extensively, mostly with very little cash. I grew up with very little resources in the US and found ways to travel either by working, volunteering or just doing it very cheaply. I get that I still have acres of privilege, just the ability to get up go is something I try not to take for granted.

    Obviously you cannot take one country’s “civilization” and use it to measure another’s. Just as you also cannot expect a country to completely adopt another’s way of functioning . That is why I take issue with many of the post on this board. It seems to me that many of the people on here measure Cuba by very very inappropriate yardsticks. Also I should point out that Cuba *is* a western country…just a small point. People use the US, Canada and Social Democracies of Europe by which to judge Cuba…just as others use Haiti, Columbia and the Dominican Republic. It is wrong to compare Cuba to any of these counties or governments in a vacuum.

    But I think that if people within Cuba, and I have met many, are really working to change their government for the better they will need to look towards the countries, political systems and policies they wish to implement or emulate in Cuba. This is one of the reasons why their totalitarian government does not want them to travel. Because they may see and experience various political tendencies and develop new political desires only to bring them home to implement. And that of course, scares the shit out of those in power. I disagree that people in Cuba have nothing to learn from those in Bolivia and Venezuela, and take offense at your implication that the Bolivian people are poor because they simply don’t struggle hard enough.

    People will always have ideas to share and things to learn from each other despite obvious cultural and political differences. And to imply that the Cuban people have nothing to learn from or to share with their neighbors is also damning them to the same kind repression and isolation that they now face under their totalitarian socialist dictatorship. Except maybe in your vision it will be a Capitalist dictatorship where people will enjoy the “freedom” to struggle and scrape for “more” but will still never possess enough to actually travel and learn from other cultures and people.

    Doesn’t sound like much of a difference to me.

    Is anyone still reading this thread.

  3. Le sympathisant (Cuba, Haití) Été libre Associé des USA donne un commentaire :
    La discrimination qui existe entre ce qui est cubain ou le haitien qui est des citoyens des USA et le haitien ou cubain qui n’est pas des citoyens des USA est énorme. Quelques ils ont de la mobilité, d’autres n’ont pas de la mobilité.
    J’estime que Martin Luther King n’ait jamais voulu ce type nouveau de discrimination.
    Est essentielle la mise à jour pour les haïtiens et le Cubain à la citoyenneté des Etats-Unis, alors que cela n’est pas obtenu l’injustice, le paiement avec la devise dévaluée, la manipulation, nous continuerons de voir le haïtien et la mort cubaine quand ils essayent d’arriver illégalement aux Etats-Unis par la meilleure vie.
    En Dieu nous confions.
    solitariorodriguez@univision.com

    Supporter Cuba and Haiti Been Free State Associate of the USA give a commentary:
    The discrimination that exists between the Cuban or Haitian citizen of the USA and the Haitians or Cubans who are not citizen of the USA is tremendous. They have mobility, others do not have mobility.
    I consider that Martin Luther King never had wanted that ruler new type of discrimination.
    Is essential The update for the Haitians and Cuban to the citizenship of the USA, while that is not obtained the injustice, the payment with devaluated currency, the manipulation, we will continue seeing Haitian and Cuban dying when they try to arrive illegally at the USA by better life.
    God we trusted.
    SolitariorodriguezW@Gmail.com
    Simpatizante Cuba y Haití Estado Libre Asociado de USA da un comentario:
    La discriminación que existe entre el cubano o el haitiano que es ciudadano de USA y el haitiano o cubano que no es ciudadano de USA es tremenda. Unos tienen movilidad, otros no tienen movilidad.
    Yo estimo que Martin Luther King nunca hubiera querido este tipo nuevo de discriminación.
    Es imprescindible la actualización para los Haitianos y los cubanos a la ciudadanía de USA, mientras ese up grade no se logre la injusticia, la paga con moneda devaluada, la manipulación, seguiremos viendo Haitianos y Cubanos muriendo cuando tratan de llegar ilegalmente a USA por mejor vida.
    En Dios confiamos.
    solitariorodriguez@univision.com

  4. 25 NoThereThere

    Why are you asking Cubans to experience cultural conditions that are so completely alien to them, such as living a a shanty town in Bolivia with people who have completely a different outlook on how they want to pursue their lives. I have news for you: they probably would take you up on it. And chances are, given their drive, they’d probably lift themselves out of it by working til their hands are bleeding from open sores. And what’s wrong with maquiladora factories who employ millions of Mexicans who would otherwise live in abject poverty? I’ve got more news: having traveled to Mexico on multiple occasions, knowing the culture, and despite the corruption, (which the government is trying to control) Mexico has a significant manufacturing sector with a thriving middle class (current world economic conditions aside) which makes up a substantial portion of the population.

    Mr. NotThereThere, you have some choices to make: do you want people to work to lift themselves up or do you want to keep them in the shanties waiting for a handout. Arrogance about one’s culture is not acceptable, you have to account for cultural and other differences. You can’t ask a native southamerican culture, from whatever country, to adopt your European life style and culture, or share your goals and objectives, anymore than you can ask a buddist monk to come live and work as a stock broker in Wall Street, even if offered thorough and complete training for the job. I hope not to offend your sense of good civic behavior if I point out that, based on how you express yourself, you are measuring other cultures using your own seemingly westernized yardstick.

    Worst of all, you are advocating for dissatisfied Cubans, that they experience unrelated foreign cultures that have nothing to do with their goals and ambitions. Rather than have the Cubans go to a Bolivian shantytown, why don’t you go to Zimbabwe (since they speak English there among other languages) and see how much better off you are than in your own western society.

    Regarding OtroPogo’s criticism that proclaims the phrase “nordic woman” as being racist, it appears to me that he is distracting from the real issue and injecting his own unrelated notions (baggage) into this blog. In case you did not notice, this is about bringing freedom of speech and thought to a harshly regimented existence in an island where people are unable to migrate – except for a privileged few – or improve their existence through their own hard work.

    There you have it. Facts not fiction, backed by personal experience and that of others.

  5. 25 NoThereThere

    You are right, cuban people might be schocked to see poverty in America, Africa….etc.
    On the other side, cuban might be also schocked to see that many poor people have also sometimes their chances,
    and can live, with luck, their own work and efforts, on their own, which is not possible in Cuba.

  6. If the Cuban government were smart they would allow their citizens unrestricted travel…particularly in South, Central America and Mexico. As someone who has traveled to most Islands in the Caribbean, Mexico and some countries in South America, I wonder what many young Cubans would think of (yes) the massive shanty towns, the maquiladoras factories, the towns fighting to maintain water rights and barely able to feed their families. You see poverty in Cuba by European and US standards,and Cubans should fight to improve their conditions….I actively support Cubans doing so. But in comparison to their neighbors Cubans live very well and have access to many opportunities your average Salvadorian, Mexican and Haitian do not, and probably never will, have access too. You can’t view your situation in a political bubble. The fight for better wages and conditions in Cuba is tied to the fight for the same improvement of conditions in Brazil and Bolivia. But Cubans fighting to improve their country should also be wary of looking to the US as a model. Cuba is NOT the US. If Cuba were to tie itself into the same exploitative trade agreements that the rest of South and Central America has the majority of Cubans would suffer a MUCH worse fate then they face now.

    Honestly, for those daring tourists to “live a day like a Cuban”, sure I’ll take you up on it. Just as I dare my friends in Cuba (20 something youth into hip hop and American culture) to live a month in a Bolivian shanty town.

  7. @ otropogo. You’re the one who raised the spectre of Cubans not being able to speak openly about their political differences without resorting to violence. Previously you accused Yoani of ridiculing the Nordic woman. Now you’ve upped the ante by accusing Yoani of racism. And yet, in your eyes, I’m the one who can’t engage in reasoned debate. Honestly.

  8. Otropogo

    I accept every perspective … but first I have to understand it.
    I didn´t really undestand, if you were talking about other countries´pieces of advices, about the cuban government , or cuban people´s self criticism… and towards who or what. English is not my mother tongue, and I get lost in translation.

    Maybe it is good to take into account that we are writing for “others”.
    And also that we are making personal interpretations which are deep connected to our personal percepcion and world´s knowledge.
    I mean, references are important!

    So please, don´t get angry, I just wanted to understand you.

  9. You spouted a number of euphemisms, made a sarcastic remark, and asked me to agree to a completely unsupported assertion about the ability of Cubans to be civil in an environment of free speech. Is that your idea of debate?

    You appeared to be defending the responses of others, at least, that’s the only sense I could make of your comments. Others like Patricio, who above said of British “… you are either crazy or a defender of the Revolution” and called him a “couillon”. I see the “personal…heated” and maybe even the “passionate” you refer to, but none of the “reasoned” debate.

    Go ahead, “challenge” my opinions. Why don’t you?

    Tell us why you think Castroism is responsible for the continuation of racist attitudes in Cuba. Explain why you disagree with my observation that Yoani’s “Nordic woman” remark is disparaging in a racist manner. Show us some examples of thoughtful, reasoned debate from the “defenders” of Yoani’s blog.

    All the evidence I’ve seen here is that you have to agree with everything she spouts, unconditionally, or you’ll be branded “enemy”. Strange requirements in a forum supposedly devoted to democracy and free speech.

  10. Posted by otropogo: “John Two – name calling is not debate. Debate requires the application of relevant reasoning and/or facts. You don’t challenge an alternate opinion by simply reviling its author, calling him stupid, misinformed, and/or dishonest and telling him to shut up.”

    I find it difficult to respond since I have no recollection of doing any of the things you are accusing me of above.

  11. John Two – name calling is not debate. Debate requires the application of relevant reasoning and/or facts.

    You don’t challenge an alternate opinion by simply reviling its author, calling him stupid, misinformed, and/or dishonest and telling him to shut up.

    If this is how you deal with people over whom you have no power, and whom you have no reason to fear, how will you deal with neighbours who disagree with you?

    You clamour for freedom of expression, but in this forum, where you evidently have it, you do nothing but abuse anyone who expresses a different viewpoint.

    I have yet to see a comment critical of Yoani’s writings here, no matter how mild , that wasn’t greeted venomously. And more importantly, I haven’t seen a single comment from the unconditional Yoani fans condemning such responses.

    Yoarky – does that make what I’m trying to say clearer?

    If you truly value freedom of speech then you should welcome the opportunity to debate facts and analyses with people who see the world differently, and may be able to offer you a perspective you could not have otherwise.

  12. 17 Otropogo

    Why do you say that? Could you please explain this part:

    “If Cubans can’t respond thoughtfully to the sincere criticisms of disinterested friends, how will they be able to deal without violence with the arguments of real political opponents among themselves?”

  13. Cry me a river, otropogo. Unlike comments from opponents of the Castro regime that are routinely censored on Cuban state media sites, Yoani’s blog is an open forum where everyone is entitled to have their say. That’s doesn’t entitle anyone to having their opinions go unchallenged, however. That’s democratic debate – often times reasoned, but also passionate, sometimes heated and occasionally personal.

    In reply to your last question, I think Cubans are just as capable as anyone else in handling their political disagreements without resorting to violence. Don’t you agree?

  14. Is Fidel Castro responsible for continuing racism in Cuba? Have a look at India. Half a century of democracy and freedom of speech haven’t ended racism there.

    Look at your own arrogance. Yoani ridicules the “Nordic woman”, she has never even talked to, “Quedijistequedijo?” writes of the arrogance “typical” of the British people. Patricio accuses “British” of being “either crazy or … a defender of the Revolution”.

    There is NO reasoned debate here. All attempts to point out flaws in Yoani’s depiction of Cubas social, economic, and political reality are met only with vile personal attacks on the critics.

    If Cubans can’t respond thoughtfully to the sincere criticisms of disinterested friends, how will they be able to deal without violence with the arguments of real political opponents among themselves?

  15. @ British, regarding your comment “if you hate Cuba,” it’s pretty clear that Yoani loves her country, despite her disagreement with its government. Otherwise, she would not have voluntarily returned after living abroad.

    Your comment is frankly insulting. How would you react if someone said you should leave your country just because you disagreed with the policies of your country’s government?

  16. @ British — Are there “classes” in Cuba? I didn’t know that. After 50 years of Revolution I thought classes had gone the way of the dinosaur. And does it matter that Yoani’s skin is light? I thought the Revolution had done away with racism and that everyone there is equal. Fifty years is a long time and the price has been high… if the Revolution hasn’t even managed this…

  17. If you hate Cuba so much, why not emigrate to… no, not the USA… but to a typical Latin American shanty town?

    Then you might finally understand why the revolution has not been overthrown by the likes of this unrepresentative white middle class moaning minnie.

  18. Ha ha! That was a funny story. Reminds me of the many young men in my country [India] who adopt such strategies with foreigners. But, they do manage to catch some naive women into their net, which gives them the courage to keep on fishing.

  19. Ha ha! That was a funny story. Reminds me of the many young men in my country [who] who adopt such strategies with foreigners. But, they do manage to catch some naive women into their net, which gives them the courage to keep fishing.

  20. Gee Yoani I’ve only seen you in photographs and I think that I love you too. Well… at least I do love your blog and admire the courage of your convictions. Keep up the good work and best wishes for you and all the Cuban people who long for freedom.

  21. As a “Limey” myself, I’d hate to think that arrogance is more common in Britain than elsewhere. The ergot of my self-declared fellow-countryman/woman (above) is rather unfamiliar. “Friggin (sic)” is not a common expletive over here, although the absence of an apostrophe is, alas, all too characteristic of the standards of literacy achieved by what passes for our education system these days. As is the generally ungrammatical nature of the piece.
    On a lighter note, there are increasing signs that the Cuban regime is “loosing its marbles” (as actually DO say :-)). Madrid regional premier Esperanza Aguirre has just declared it an “honour” to have been labeled “Spanish capital’s leading head of the Miami Cuban-American mafia and terrorists,” in Granma. Honestly, even our satirical magazine “Private Eye” is no match for the real thing! But what was the purpose of the outburst? Her name can’t mean much to the average Cuban, while elsewhere, the accusation will prompt little but mockery. Incidentally, Esperanza did apologize to her constituents, a year or so ago, for the temporary absence of a team from the local health service which had been dispatched to perform the operation on Fidel. She pointed out that the latter claimed to have an outstanding health service, which alone almost justified the oppressive nature of the regime, but that there was no way the he would use it himself!

  22. British, quien eres tu que no vives en un pais con todo el control en un gobierno tan feo como lo que se encuentra en Cuba? You are either crazy or are a defender of the Revolution and as such feel the need to tear down a blogger who has to go through hoops just to get her thoughts out there? So, free speech is ok for you, but not for her? No one here put a gun to your head and forced you to read her postings. Looks like you are the one who needs to grow up, coullion.

  23. I think that what Osvaldo has just said explains that Cuba is more complex and grey rather than black and white. I went there a year ago for a month and whilst I can see what was lacking I also noticed what they have. I have been fortunate to have met a few Cubans I now email regularly and know that whilst they are happy being Cubans they have to deal with basic fustrations and on top of normal shortages 3 hurricanes. Whilst there is hardship there is also a colourful aspect. A country frozen in time…..if nothing changes I am sure if I revisit in 3 years time I will find all the same people I stayed with in the same places. No one is going anywhere fast.

  24. As a US citizen and visitor to Cuba who just happened to connect on a deep level with a particular Cuban man who was my tour guide, I struggled to understand the loyalties to Cuba. I could see the talents of my friend who spoke five languages fluently, all self-taught. I even suggested that I would be able to help him find a life where he could make his own choices, so strong was my sadness at how restricting Cuban life is. And he said to me, “But you must understand, THIS is my country and if I leave I will never be able to return.” That made it clear to me about the loyalties of Cuban people to their island. It is bigger than any of us from elsewhere can ever try explain and that is why, to me, the Cuban people are so very beautiful, even in the grip of such a dictatorship. Perhaps Yoani, like my friend, finds it too emotional to write about the beauty of the island, because Cubans are not free to enjoy the beauty of their island, and most of us cannot understand that concept at all. Yoani, send us some photos of the sunsets, or of the fields, or of the clotheslines, which are my very favorite thing to see floating in the sea breezes. Best to you…

  25. Yoani,

    I was born in Cuba, and left in 1955 when my father left the country because of Batista. As a very young child I recall my dad taking me to a small party in Upper Manhattan where a man named Fidel Castro was attending. It was, as I later found out, a small fundraiser for his trip to Mexico and the buying of the Granma. I recall this tall man embracing me in fatherly fashion. My father was a big supporter of Fidel until the 1960s when it became known Castro was a communist. To my father, communists were at best fools, at worst, demagogues. He reluctantly swallowed his pride and seldom spoke of Castro again. Although he did show support for the agrarian reform, the nationalization of industries, and the literacy initiatives. I returned to Cuba in 2000 with my wife (non-Cuban), our then 12 year old son, and my mom (she died in 2001). I was shocked by the incredible incongruities I saw there. My home town (San Antonio de los Baños) had not changed at all – I mean not at all. The same houses were still there – a bit shabby but many with the same paint job I remembered from 1955. I could swear the same 1954 Chevys were still parked in the same spots, and all in working condition. My cousin could not believe I owned a European car (a Volvo at the time) – “Why do American buy foreign cars when the best cars in the world are made in the U.S.?” – he would say giving away the time vacuum so many Cubans are in and are hardly aware of.

    I could go on with my narrative, but I do have a question. I am constantly asked by friends and colleagues who know I’m Cuban and who know I visited there nine years ago – “What’s it like in Cuba? How do the people deal with the situation?” I must say I lack a good answer. I usually go into my personal understanding siting the fact that Cubans have always “coped” with whatever political situation they find themselves in – they endured the US influence, and near rape; the endured Batista. So when it comes to Fidel/Raul/whatever – it is hardly a hardship; most Cubans – like you – have never known another Cuba, and have little to compare it to. In a more positive note I mention that abject poverty is not existent in today’s Cuba, and the literacy levels are the highest in the Americas, not to mention great medical care. But all this are just my way of rationalizing why Cuba has been so, …so “peaceful” for the last 50 years! Hell, I remember the tremendous and bloody opposition to Batista. Why has there never been such opposition to the current regime? How should I respond to the question – “How are the people in Cuba?”

    Gracias por tu blog.

  26. Hey British, first of all, you must be British cause the arrogance typical of your people shines through in your message:

    a) Take a hint dude, there’s probably not a whole lot of good FOR CUBANS (notice I didn’t say tourists like yourself who would go there and have the best of everything) to enjoy or write about, hence, she’s only left with the bad to talk about.

    b) She’s not crediting Fidel with inventions, she’s talking about what is a common practice in her town/country. Unlike yourself who’s probably been lucky enough to go to many places and see what other people do or don’t do, she’s stuck in Cuba and writing about WHAT GOES ON THERE. This is regardless of what goes on in other places. Step out of your privileged shoes into someone else’s for a change. See what it’s like to live in a society where scamming’s one of the only ways to survive.

  27. I didn’t know that Fidel invented the practice of people from poor countries scamming rich Westerners for a few dollars or a passport. I thought it went on everywhere. Silly me.

    Incidentally, is there ANYTHING about Cuba this blogger actually likes. Or does she just whine and whine all friggin day? Grow up, lady. Open your eyes and you will see the good in Cuba as well as the bad.

  28. la mancha del zoro-joven, tihi. no matter how bad thing get, no matter where, young people will dance n fall in love. please post more graffiti.

  29. hah! That story is funny and sad all at once. A pitiful situation indeed. Que caiga el Regimen Castrista! Fuera con el totalitarismo!

  30. That’s a funny story, thanks. I know the social aspect of it (desperation) isn’t so funny, but you can either laugh or cry. I don’t think Yoani sees the comments here, pero lo que me gustaria saber es si los militares y policia esta en movimiento porque hay un platica aqui que ya se murio Fidel o que se va a morir proximamente. Que se muere el viejo, ya!

Comments are closed.