People

People watching in Cuba is intoxicating and kaleidoscopic. With such an integrated and diverse population, the country’s indelible physical landscapes are made even more beautiful by the swirl of humanity which so seamlessly blends in a natural, harmonious way. To say Cuba and her people are photogenic is an understatement.

This wonderful human mix and the unique culture it has generated is deeply-rooted in history.

In the 15th century, Columbus, in search of gold for the Spanish Crown, navigated his way into the Caribbean. This was a unforeseen accident: acting on erroneous calculations and misleading information from Marco Polo, Columbus thought he’d arrived in the East Indies. For this reason, he dubbed the original indigenous population he encountered ‘Indians’ when scouring their land, which they called Cubanacán, for gold. It was an unfortunate meeting for the peaceful people of Cubanacán: a short time after Columbus landed, they died en masse of imported diseases and abuse at the hands of the Spaniards.

The first African slaves landed in Cuba in the 16th century. They hailed primarily from Nigeria, Cameroon and Angola. After slavery was abolished in 1886, Chinese workers were imported to supplement the workforce; they were subjected to the same bad treatment as that of the African slaves. Next arrived waves of Haitians and Jamaicans who came to work on plantations, mostly in Cuban’s eastern region. White Cubans descend mainly from the Spaniards from Galicia, the Canary Islands, Asturias and Extremadura. Over the centuries, these different cultures have mixed into a colorful, ethnic mosaic.

Part of what makes Cuban culture so rich is that all these different people brought their own customs, language, forms of expression, music, religion, traditions, etc. This has generated a unique Cuban identity.

After centuries of foreign exploitation and oppression, revolt led to revolution, literally, and the new government set to educating the populace and developing all sectors of society. After the triumph of the revolution, a country-wide literacy campaign was launched (in 1961) and all levels of education were declared free and universal. The cumulative effect is that Cubans are cultured, proud, informed and well-trained, with a wonderful sense of humor and unparalleled survival skills. Social and expressive by nature, Cubans love to converse. Doors are always open to chat and the separation between public street life and private home life is barely perceptible. The tropical climate also encourages being outdoors and people across the country spend leisure time rocking in chairs on their porches, chatting and gossiping, flirting, joking or playing dominoes.

It may occur that you’ll run into a few rotten apples, eager to converse with foreign visitors in hopes of receiving an economic windfall. This is clearly a result of the increase of tourism, just as everywhere else. A friendly rejection is often sufficient. Better to save your conversations for folks genuinely interested in sharing experiences and perspectives with visitors from other countries.

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