Cuba: A Changing Culture
Photo and story by Andrew Seng
Walking through the streets of Havana, Cuba, an American civilian, especially one with a fancy camera from the Oregon University System (OUS), tends to turn a lot of heads. I figured that if I walked with purpose and confidence, I wouldn’t stick out like a sore thumb. As a journalist in the United States, it takes a lot of courage to approach people you don’t know and ask for a picture or two. In Cuba, the biggest challenge is the language barrier. My only choice was to immerse myself head first into Cuban culture and attempt to connect with locals on a personal level.
While visiting with Cuban elders of the Psycho Ballet, a group that uses classical dance moves combined with music to rehabilitate elders and psychiatric patients, I had the pleasure of meeting Miguel Aguillar Torres and Carmen Garcia: a pair of 100-year old Cubans who have lived through Cuba’s pre-revolution era, Fidel’s revolution, and the Special period of the ‘90s when the country was struck with immense poverty after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Even more touching was how they reveled in joy from seeing us OUS students.
The amount of energy they produced was astounding, almost palpable, and their stories were driven by emotion. It pained me to see Cuban elders display so much passion for their country and the OUS program that brought us to their country, when the United States government and American citizens have such a detached and misguided perspective of the beautiful people of this island.
Alfredo Prieto, a native Cubano and expert on Cuban-U.S. relations, told me “At the end of the day we’re supposed to have good relations.” I was struck by the simplicity of his statement because Cuba and the United States are only 90 miles apart, which is a shorter distance than driving from Eugene to Portland, Oregon. We’re so close, yet so far.
Prieto exudes progress when it comes to the betterment of U.S.-Cuba relations. He believes that if the blockade, an embargo that prohibits trade between the U.S. and Cuba, was lifted, American tourists would be a refreshing and uplifting change to the Cuban economy.
Cuban identity and nationality is defined by social unity between different cultures. Cuba is versatile in the sense that communities are able to absorb new traditions without the outstanding Cubano culture becoming over-saturated by foreign influences. This melting pot is largely evident in Havana, where you can observe the many influences that mesh together, creating the Cuban experience.
When it was time to return to the states, the Cubanos called us not friends, but brothers and sisters. They desired to help me provide the truth about Cuba. They wanted us as students to act as a medium for the truth, passing along messages of peace to our friends and family back in the United States. The spirit of my photos and the purpose of my work is to convey their passion for unity between the United States and Cuba—a passion that should be passed onto their, and our, younger generations.