This January, I was very fortunate to travel to Cuba with some of my colleagues. (Cue, I have the best job ever!) For Americans, this is extremely new territory – the ‘forbidden land.’ Despite just being a hop, skip, and a jump away, our neighbor was off limits for over 50 years until 2014. Now, we have flights daily to Havana, but there are still some hoops to get through to visit Cuba, which I will discuss in another blog.
It was a very enlightening trip, especially considering I didn’t know too much about Cuba before. However, there were certainly some stereotypes I had heard beforehand. As I have mentioned before, every country has their stereotypes; we have our own opinions of some places before we even go. It is, unfortunately?, a fact of life and one I welcome as an American, just because I have heard it all when it comes to American stereotypes *insert Flag with country music blasting and really, really loud talking* Just like I did for Japan, here are some stereotypes of Cuba that may or may not be true:
1. Cubans hate Americans
Just like in Japan, you might figure that there was some pretty anti-American sentiment in Cuba. And while I am sure there may be some who don’t like Americans (due to recent events, I imagine many countries don’t like us right now!) we were treated with such respect and kindness. Something that a local said to me stuck out, “We aren’t our government. Just because our government my feel a certain way, doesn’t mean we do,” when asked their thoughts on Americans. I loved that. It is so true, especially during these times! While yes there is some fear from Cubans that Cuba may become ‘Americanized‘ with an McDonald’s and Starbucks on every corner (PLEASE DON’T LET THIS HAPPEN!) right now, they were very welcoming to Americans. This stereotype of Cuba is FALSE.
2. All Cubans hate Castro
Not gonna lie, I totally thought this was going to be the case when I visited Cuba. I remember vividly the people pouring into the streets of Miami when it was announced that Fidel Castro had passed in November (2016). They were in tears of joy, parading, honking horns, etc. So I figured it would be similar, just more “hush-hush” in Cuba. I couldn’t be more wrong! Of course there are people in Cuba who do not like the Castros, nor agree with the government, and you can certainly find this behind closed doors. However, there was a lot of strong pro-Castro/anti-Batista sentiments when speaking with the locals. Many are very thankful for what happened and the lives they are living. Some were even thankful we Americans didn’t get our greedy paws on Cuba and ‘Americanize‘ it like I mention above. Yes, they know their government is far from perfect, but many are content. This may not sit well, especially with American-Cubans, I know, this is just what we experienced. So this stereotype of Cuba is pretty much FALSE.
3. Visiting Cuba is like stepping back in time
YES. This one is definitely TRUE. I was blown away when we landed in Havana. You hear that visiting Havana is kind of like a time warp, but it isn’t until you step outside the airport and see the old cars zooming by that it really hits you. AND I LOVE THAT ABOUT CUBA! It definitely feels like you are going back to the 60’s where things were more laid back, people are happy and carefree (Ahh, the ‘island. I life‘) and lack of modernization. It is extremely refreshing. You won’t see the billowing skyscrapers of NYC or sleek modern styles of glass buildings today. Instead, you will see colorful colonial and baroque period buildings, some neoclassical homes, remaining remnants of ‘Soviet–style buildings’ and decrepit remains of former structures. It truly is a fascinating mix and unlike anything I have really seen before. Which leads into….
4. No Facebook. No Twitter. NO INTERNET in Cuba.
After joining a great group on Facebook called ‘Unlocking the Mystery of Cuba‘ everyone said, be prepared to unwind and disconnect. If you are expecting to work, post selfies and shots of the beautiful scenery on Instagram, or even Whatsapp your family, think again. Wifi and Data are not readily available in Cuba. See point 3. However, note how I say ‘readily‘. Some of the really nice hotels do have internet and some of the parks supposedly have wifi. And, as of this year some of the ‘Casas Particulares‘ have been granted wifi. You have to buy wifi cards, which can range in price. It is funny to walk near some of the big hotels downtown and you see throngs of people milling around it, connecting to the wifi after buying a wifi card. Our group was perfectly fine without internet for a couple days. This stereotype of Cuba is mostly true!
5. There are no homeless people in Cuba
While there has never been a true ‘Communist state‘ – Cuba is known for being one of the most tightly controlled places by the government. With this, the people of Cuba are supposed to be given free housing, schooling, and healthcare, and right to a job. Therefore there should be no homeless people in Cuba. Unfortunately, this one is slightly false. While we didn’t really see any in the streets of Havana, apparently there is a growing population of homeless people in Santiago de Cuba on the opposite side of the long island of Cuba. When speaking about homeless to one of our local guides, he claims that the people who are ‘homeless and begging‘ are choosing to and refuse to work. (His words, not mine!) Whether this is true or not, it does still exist, even Anthony Bourdain touches on this in his ‘Parts Unknown: Cuba.” Homeless is NOWHERE near the number of places like Chicago and Hong Kong, in fact it is a really small percentage; however, it sill does exist.
These are just some of the Stereotypes of Cuba – have any you would like to share in the comments below? Stay tuned for more blogs on Cuba and check out #SAdoesCuba on Instagram for more photos from our trip!