Since President Barack Obama decided to end the 50-year embargo against Cuba, I reached a decision to rewrite my May 18, 2000, Daytona Times story.
A 10-day tour of Cuba replicates Kodak moments of a mix of culture – after an increasingly six-hour ordeal at passport checkpoints at Miami Airport.
We took off for Holguin, Cuba, on April 28, with viewfinders centering a culture of Cuba’s Spanish colonization and African roots in art, music, dance, and religious practices to produce a Cuban cultural portrait.
In conjunction with the Caribbean American Children’s Foundation (CACF) and the African American Cultural Society (AACS), we legally toured Cuba with travel licenses from the U.S. Treasury, regardless of the embargo imposed on trade. We were perhaps the first American Blacks to tour Communist Cuba and oftentimes were mistaken for Jamaicans.
Our 19-member delegation from Palm Coast, Ormond Beach, Baltimore, Queens, and the Bronx was treated royally, seated away from the sun beating down, at a community turnout in the City of Banes, the archaeological capital of Cuba.
Black Cubans preserved their culture despite the hardest strife of racial discrimination, the lack of education and health care. The socialist government, after the 1958 revolution by Fidel Castro, had countered the racial and economic divide.
Literacy is more than 96 percent; socialized medicine was enacted, and only Cuban citizens can buy or inherit land.
Moreover, Africans had arrived as slave labor, and the Jamaican influx coming after the Panama Canal was built, in addition to Marcus Garvey’s influence of the 1920s.
The descendants are educated and receptive of our combined African culture. They presented a street festival with drummers, glass dancers, fire-eaters, and children costumed in cultural dress as dancers.
‘I felt love’
Hand-crafted fashion was uninhibitedly modeled by young girls as we listened to their music in romantic tales like the typical craze of American-Black teens. Each presentation reflected was reminiscent of our cultural expression.’
“I felt love,” said Robert A. Brooks, chairman of Black Studies at the African American Cultural Society. “The people were nice, generous, and giving – and had a real concern for others.”
What amounted to a Brooklyn-Queens block party took a stance in miles of agricultural plains with goats along the countryside of thatched-roofed houses and quaint horse-drawn buggies. Bicycles and shiny American-made cars of the 1950s were common. Cuba is the world’s largest exporter of sugar and a chief producer of tobacco, rice, coffee, and fruits.
Because of the great Jamaican hospitality at the Club Anglocaribeno, including the “paladare,” a restaurant in the home of Etoy Wilmot Murray and his wife, a dentist, Dr. Alberto N. Jones, CACF executive director, was reunited with Rose Peyton, 78, his first English teacher.
Hospitality and culture outlined reflections by Haitian descendants at the Tumba Francescu Pompadour club in Guantanamo and costumed as look-alike baroque French dancers. Their language was comprehensive through the translation of our government tour guide, Aguedo (Aggie) Martinez Duquesne.
Juanito, our bus driver, steered us safely through steep, rocky mountains for a rigorous schedule of historical sites.
As far as our eyes could see, we spotted the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo from atop a lookout deck. The late Gertrude Blackwell, AACS Cultural Chairman, spearheaded the planting of a friendship tree showing goodwill in Solidarity Park, Guantanamo, Cuba.
We laid a wreath at the Monument of Mariana Grajales, Cuba’s unofficial Mother of the Nation. She is Antonio Maceo’s mother. Independence war heroes were paid tribute, among whom were Antonio Maceo, Jose Marti, and Ernesto “Che” Guevara.
Members of the Blue Mountain Association, the descendants of Jamaica’s Blue Mountains, showered us with souvenirs. The members are pharmaceutical specialists and goodwill ambassadors, who, like the other members of Cuban organizations, accompanied us on tour.
Our study group was invited to a phenomenal rehearsal at the National Dance Theater in Santiago under director Eduardo Rivero Walker, a Jamaican descendant. The theater is the only national company besides the one in Havana.
Our group donated streams of monies to the arts, cultural groups, the Santiago Medical School, other schools, health-care facilities and churches. We donated enormous amounts of school supplies and medicine. Our visits to churches dispelled the Communist notion of being unable to worship in church.
Plumbing and accommodations
Cuban plumbing is not the most effective. Apart from the toilets at the finer hotels and courtyard shops, buckets of water are utilized for flushing the toilets. Faucets are void of running water.
It seems that a premium is placed on paint for refurbishing ordinary houses and the more elegant, exclusive structures, which sometimes are converted to schools. Travail exists in a shortage of paper products – toilet paper and napkins. Liquid soap and toilet paper filled our knapsacks!
We stayed at one of the most luxurious hotels in Havana, the Hotel Habana Libre, a former Hilton Hotel. On tour, we stopped at other hotels and resorts.
Havana, once the playground of the rich and famous, is the gateway to the urban genre of bustling city life and providing culture, night life, speeding taxis, public transportation, international trade, etc. Harbors, beaches, parks, and outdoor markets have become places of embracing friendship.
“When you observe what is shown on TV, or what is said,” said Louis McCarthy, “it is different than when you actually go to Cuba. The only way to distinguish between what you hear and what you see on TV, is to go. And, that doesn’t mean to just go to Havana – just like New York doesn’t just constitute the United States.”
Latin music sizzles with serenades at hotels and cafes while belting down 7-Up and Coca Cola. Throughout the island, TV shows aired from the U.S. without technical difficulties. Cable CNN was broadcast in English, Spanish, and Portuguese. IBM computers functioned on line at hotels. It was interesting that in spite of the embargo, 7-Up, Coca Cola, and IBM were very much in demand.
The playing field is innovative for owning businesses and selling commodities. Cuba’s old-world charm in architectural design complements the surge of hi-rise construction. The American dollar remains the legal tender, and 25 pesos are equal to the U.S. dollar. American credit cards and travelers checks – because of the embargo – have not been lifted.
Moreover, “these are great moments,” elaborated Dr. Alberto N. Jones. “Thanks for your willingness to rewrite your past report…We need to get most of our people informed and involved. There will be business opportunities and our people should not be left out.”
Dr. Jones is synonymous with founding the Caribbean-American Children’s Foundation in 1996. He has spent over 20 years conducting humanitarian efforts in Cuba from his home in Palm Coast. CACF promotes better understanding among minorities, develops solidarity among youth, and encourages donations of material goods to the less fortunate in Cuba and other Caribbean islands.
Others not mentioned from the delegation that toured Cuba are Dr. Joanne Martin, co-founder of the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum, Baltimore, Md., the late William “Buddy” Gregory, Erma Brooks, the late Hazel Robinson, the late Perry Jacobs, Howard Eugene Stinnette, Charlotte Crawford, Roland McNeil, Catherine Pearson, and Robert Parks.
As always, remember our prayers for the sick, afflicted and bereaved.
Birthday wishes to: Miriam Pincham, Jan. 10; Marva Jones, Jan. 11. Happy anniversary to the Rev. Woodrow and Mrs. Gloria Leeks.