Cuba as caricature? Welcome party for first US cruise to Cuba provokes fury amongst writers and cultural critics on the island
It was called retrograde, shameful and a national disgrace, provoking an outpour of commentary and debate from prominent writers and critics. What has so upset so many over an event hailed as another successful milestone in US-Cuba relations? For US citizens legal travel by boat, direct to Cuba, was mere reverie until this month. But on May 2nd the cruise ship Adonia set sail in Miami and docked into Havana: the first to arrive from the US in almost half a century. It’s still unclear who dreamed up the welcome event for the 700 excited passengers who came ashore, though, but eyebrows, issues and blood pressure were raised sky-high. Embarkees were met by a troupe of shimmying, scantily-clad, young women of mixed descent (mulatas) dressed in tatty, cabaret-style costumes made from Cuban flags.
Cuba has so much genuine, top-class culture
Here, where the national ensign represents a long and bloody fight for independence, it appalled: and when Cuba has so much genuine, top-class, culture to showcase. But more. The Cuban mulata (often with flag), poorly carved, painted and printed (on rum bottles/fridge magnets etc), has been used, uncritically, for decades, as an image for tourist consumption: a fusion, say critics, of racism, sexism and pseudo-folklore. This time real mulata bodies, real black women, were used, flag-wrapped, to pseudo-dance, live, for the new, US, tourism.
One writer ended his searing critique with Maracas, from renowned poet Nicolas Guillen. Written in 1936 it evokes the spectacle of bogus musicians welcoming wealthy ‘’yankees’’ off boats in this same port; their adulation of the tourist dollar. In poignant contrast Guillen then celebrates the poor, authentic black musicians who happily play nearby, heedless of the foreign money pouring into their neighbourhood. From Obama, the Stones, Chanel, Fast & Furious to the Adonia May 2016 has been a scorcher in Havana.