¿QUE ES CUBA?
An excerpt from MITT Magazine Issue Nº2
Words by Eduardo Ramos
Photography by Jamie Beck
It is my enigma. A place that for much of my life only existed in photos. A black-and-white image of my grandfather who I would never meet, standing at the altar of a church in La Habana at my father’s christening, wearing a black suit, black and white two-tone shoes and black sunglasses, with a pencil-thin moustache draping a pinched-lip smirk. Or the image of my smiling cousins wearing my worn-out Nikes and bathing suits that no longer fit me.
Photographs like this one were a common theme. As I grew out of my clothes, they were washed and stacked high in a corner of my closet until the next shipment was ready to send. Cuba was often used as a deal-maker and deal-breaker in my family. She was the reason I couldn’t leave a crumb of arroz y frijoles on my dinner plate. “Comate toda la comida que en cuba no tienen na” (Eat up; they don’t have anything in Cuba)—Cuban guilt at its finest. It’s like Catholic guilt, with a sprinkle of “shut the fuck up.” Cuba remained an enigma until 2011 when the US government first softened regulations for US citizens with family on the island to fly directly there. Two months after the new regulations came into effect, I booked my flight.
Opinions are never short when you embark on a new experience, and this one being so close to the hearts of my family brought out many opinions. In the end, it was not their decision, nor their responsibility. I felt it was necessary to connect the generation that had been split, to bring to life the people that I had only met in photographs. A family that once thrived together had been chopped and left to fend for themselves, so here I was to break bread, share laughter and cojerlo suave (take it easy) with them. Something that everyone should do.
Deeper than politics, deeper than economics, the Cuban people’s biggest challenge is los derechos humanos (human rights). Rights that citizens of the free world enjoy every day are not shared in Cuba. There is no freedom of speech, of press or of assembly; in their stead, the most intense censorship of the western hemisphere. These basic civil liberties, when exercised, are punishable with up to 25 years in prison for crimes considered “acts against the revolution.”