007. cuba: a vintage playground
traditional cuban music plays
Carmen: [00:00:00] Lounge on the white fine Sandy beach of Varadero, Water clear as crystal. Enjoy it. It's the only water available!
Fryda: [00:00:11] embark on an exhilarating scavenger hunt for Wi-Fi at a public park, a true treasure at just $10 an hour.
Carmen: [00:00:18] Marvel at the amazing curiosities at artisan markets, their creations present top-notch Cuban ingenuity using scraps and anything they could spare to make you keepsake key chains.
sound of truck driving
Fryda: [00:00:30] cruise around old Havana in a genuine vintage Chevy Bel Air kept in pristine condition. The Cuban people have not received new cars in over 40 years.
Carmen: [00:00:41] Dance the night away at a gritty night club, drinking rum they only serve to tourists
sound of glass clinking
Fryda: [00:00:46] take advantage of the lighting in the bathrooms. The apagon blackout likely starts tomorrow.
sound of light switch turning off
Carmen: [00:00:52] Enjoy how friendly and joyful the Cuban people are -- to you -- the gringo who might be their ticket off the Island!
teikirisi intro music plays
Fryda: [00:01:00] hurry!! before it changes. And we mean, before Cubans get access to the internet, global currency, new cars, food, and more!
Carmen: [00:01:14] The time to go is now. Cuba el Caimán del Caribe… awaits.
teikirisi intro music fades out
Carmen: [00:01:20] Hi, Fryda.
Fryda: [00:01:21] Hey Carmen.
Carmen: [00:01:23] What's up?
Fryda: [00:01:24] I am convinced! let's go to Cuba. Carmen,
Carmen: [00:01:27] Let’s go to Cuba, Fryda. Yeah, because we have never been as adults.
Fryda: [00:01:31] We were both born in Cuba. I’ve went back to Cuba when I was seven and when I was ten with my family, but I haven't been back since then.
Carmen: [00:01:40] And I haven't ever been back ever since I left. So this episode deals with a question that we get asked a lot when anyone learns that we are Cuban and specifically that we were born there, we get asked, have you ever been back? Inevitably, what we hear the most is I want to go to Cuba before it changes and this is so loaded. A lot of the times I don't really know what to respond to that... I kind of just smile and say, “Oh yeah, that's, that's interesting.” And then I try to change the subject.
Fryda: [00:02:12] Let's break it down. So the first part, “I want to go to Cuba.” For some people you can stop the sentence there and it's already a problem. “I want to go to Cuba.” Those are folks who are typically in the pro-embargo, anti-travel camp. Just saying that to a Cuban American who's in that camp will cause some tension, but saying that you want to go before it changes… I think, elicits something, even in people who feel more comfortable and actually might even encourage the idea of engagement and interaction between the two countries, the U S and Cuba, because it suggest that you don't want Cuba to change
Carmen: [00:02:54] the group of people that are saying this, that they want to go to Cuba before it changes-- those people are not Cuban. Those people are gringos or they're Latinos that are living in the U S but this is a very US-centric point of view because lots of people have been vacationing Cuba for a very long time, namely the Canadians ,people from the UK, Spaniards, Even Australians make that trek. Lots of people go to Cuba and it's not so taboo or forbidden.
Fryda: [00:03:21] So Cuban Americans, specifically Cuban Americans with family in the Island have been able to go to Cuba for the entirety of the timeline we're about to describe
Carmen: [00:03:32] tourism to Cuba can be divided, I think, into three different stages. The first one is before 1959, before the revolution where Americans were traveling to Cuba, nonstop, no problems
Fryda: [00:03:43] If you’ve ever been to the keys of Florida or key West it's 90 miles from Cuba. And to this day, if you travel there, you see a bunch of old posters from the 1950s and 1940s that say “travel to Cuba for a dollar.”
Carmen: [00:03:57] Cuba was open to the Americans and Americans were coming and partying and it's a beautiful Island and it was easy and cheap from Key West. Then came the revolution and things changed entirely. Cuba didn't even think about tourism until almost the fall of the Soviet union, because it was out there in the middle of the Caribbean, trying to build an entirely new and different economy, who has time for tourism?
Fryda: [00:04:19] After the fall of the Soviet union, Cuba started to rebuild its tourist economy. Restrictions for Americans traveling to Cuba have existed since the embargo, which has been in place since 1962. So the embargo is a set of sanctions placed by the United States on Cuba. The intention of the embargo, according to the United States, is to encourage, via sanctions for the Cuban government to not be communist and potentially become democratic.
Some of the restrictions include other countries not being able to trade with Cuba for fear of consequences placed by the United States. Americans have not really been able to travel to Cuba unless you're going for a very coordinated trip. For example, a student trip or a church trip.
Carmen: [00:05:08] In 2016, Obama came out and said that Americans would be able to travel to Cuba.
clip of obama’s speech plays
Obama: [00:05:14] I do not believe we can keep doing the same thing for over five decades and expect a different result. Moreover, it does not serve America's interests or the Cuban people to try to push Cuba towards collapse.
Carmen: [00:05:31] and people rushed to go that's when people decided that they needed to go, if they were going to go before it changes,
Fryda: [00:05:37] we're recording this in February of 2021. Trump reversed Obama's policies, travel restrictions returned for Americans. And right before Trump leaves office Cuba was placed back on the list of state sponsors of terrorism. Putting Cuba on this list helps reinforce continued sanctions. And a continued embargo.
Carmen: [00:06:01] So we grew up as part of the Cuban-American community, surrounded by many, many strong opinions about traveling to Cuba.
Fryda: [00:06:08] There are divisions in the Cuban-American community. There's tensions around travel. A lot of it centers around the politics of pro versus anti embargo. Like, are you in favor of the embargo? Are you against the embargo? Well, whatever you believe there, it will likely translate to your ideas around traveling to the Island.
Carmen: [00:06:30] Many people do not condone visiting Cuba in any capacity because they agree with the embargo. Many people believe that the blockade isn't affecting Cuba, but rather they think it's a hundred percent the Cuban state that is starving the people and that the embargo has nothing to do with it.
Fryda: [00:06:48] My parents have always said, “Fidel Castro had been able to use the embargo for many, many years to justify hardships in Cuba.”
Carmen: [00:06:56] There's people who believe that the blockade does affect Cuba, but that it’s totally worth it in order to provide pressure to the Cuban state to change itself. So they believe that the blockade will be successful or has been successful. Those people mostly believe that you shouldn't be traveling to Cuba because you are engaging with the state and you are spending money there and you are essentially helping communism thrive.
Fryda: [00:07:19] If you travel, you're giving money to the Cuban state and the Cuban state is repressing people, but there are a couple of other reasons why people and specifically Cuban-Americans may not want to go to Cuba. One of them being emotional reasons: returning to the misery, the trauma, discomfort, there are oftentimes divisions in your family that are started by leaving the country. So by leaving the country, maybe you're considered a traitor or maybe everyone wants something from you. So there's a lot of potential divisions that occur when you've left and you return. But then there's also something that I've heard that's like “the principle of it.” There's a lot of people that left around the revolution and have never, ever, ever returned.
And I don't want to speak for them. But I think returning is something that's like very painful and the principal is like, you're not going to contribute at all to the state that it was oppressive
Carmen: [00:08:19] a lot of people don't want to go because of fear of repercussions, people who are born in Cuba don't want to go back because there is a real fear of repercussions because once you get to Cuba, even if you have a US passport, you are not treated as a US citizen. You are treated as a Cuban citizen.
Fryda: [00:08:36] If you go to the United States government website and search “How to travel to Cuba if you are Cuban”, it has a disclaimer that basically says that if you were born in Cuba, Cuba often doesn't report that they detained you or that they arrested you if you are a dual citizen. Just the thought of that does strike fear into many people, including myself.
So now on the other side of the aisle, we have pro engagement -- in favor of engagement, diplomacy, potentially travel and tourism between the two countries. There's a whole spectrum, but generally, if you are in favor of engagement, you're going to be against the embargo. What are some of the justifications for being against the embargo?
One of them is that the embargo has been a strategy employed by the United States for over 40 years. And so if strict sanctions didn't break the Cuban government during El Periodo Especial, the worst period of time, the reasoning here is to say, will sanctions ever work if the Cuban people Managed to starve and still preserve the existing revolution?
Carmen: [00:10:01] The next one is the embargo has caused damage to the Cuban people that the sanctions have hurt people and not necessarily the government. The idea is that what the embargo has done is restrict trade to Cuba, which means that people aren't able to get necessary goods. The last one that we have outlined is that the embargo has actually made it harder for the US to conduct diplomacy in Latin America, overall, even to pressure Venezuela and others. And this, we want to shout out to our counterparts at the 90 miles podcast, we were listening to them when we were researching this episode, we'll link it in our show notes.
Then there's another thought, which is that Cubans need money to participate in their own country, in their own economy. Tourism, as we've mentioned, is a big deal for Cuba for many obvious reasons. And these people need their jobs, like let's be practical and support the Cuban people, that's one thought.
Fryda: [00:10:56] another way in which you can be pro travel and pro engagement is the notion that a cultural exchange is diplomacy. Now, the interesting thing about this is that, you know, people have been traveling to Cuba for awhile, Cuban Americans travel back and come back with their American ideas and people all over the globe have been traveling too.
Carmen: [00:11:16] Then there's a school of thought that it's good for people to come to Cuba just to make money. And they may or may not care whether the state benefits or not, but they want travel to happen because they want to cash in on this business opportunity.
Fryda: [00:11:32] Some people just wanna vacation, enjoy the beaches, smoke Cuban cigars and dance the night away and all of that
Carmen: [00:11:39] with the Cuban cuties,
Fryda: [00:11:41] with the Cuban cuties. So some people who are going to be pro travel just want to have fun.
We got to shout out people who just want to go back and see their family, and you can fall into either camp. So you can be pro embargo, pro engagement and still be thinking, “I want to go back. I want to see my family stay in my family's home. Maybe bring back some medicine and help them out.” Let's absolve this one of the politics of pro this or pro that
Carmen: [00:12:09] this is when you have like your Tia Usnavy, chilling in her house, preparando el gusano full of Advil and hair ties and canastilla stuff.
Fryda: [00:12:19] You have an entire bag full of medicine and a handwritten note that you want to get to your family, and she's going to be traveling all over Cuba or all over La Habana or wherever it is you go Santa Clara in order to deliver that. So. That's how Cubans traveled to Cuba when they go to see family. So what is un gusano?
Carmen: [00:12:37] so a gusano is a worm. That's the English translation. But then also when you're talking about a giant duffle bag,
Fryda: [00:12:46] there have always been pretty serious weight restrictions going to Cuba. And also you want to bring as much stuff back as possible. So you. Put it in un gusano, which basically is cloth. And you're able to maximize how many actual things you manage to carry every hour.
And usually you end up going to the Miami airport and it gets wrapped in a thousand layers of plastic wrap.
Carmen: [00:13:09] And of course, the gusano you get it from el pulgero… or Valsan.
Fryda: [00:13:13] “Valsan, los que vienen no se van.”
Carmen: [00:13:15] So back to the topic at hand, which is that you want to go to Cuba before it changes. Neither Fryda nor I have been back as adults. And so we decided that for this episode, we would speak to some people who have been to Cuba.
Quick little disclaimer, you will not hear from anybody in this episode who is pro embargo and anti travel because the point of the episode was about traveling to Cuba. And those people would obviously not have done that.
So first up is Jesse. She is our amazing graphic designer. She is half Cuban, half Puerto Rican. So she gets it. She's been to Cuba twice and she recounts her experiences next.
Jesse: [00:13:59] And we were being driven to this Airbnb and we're like, “Oh yeah, you know, we're just going to. Go to the store and pick up the things that we need, pick up some water, pick up some snacks.”
And that was just the idea that we had in our minds. Our guide had told us, “there's a market around the corner that you can go to and see if you can get what you need.” So we go, we walk around the corner, we get to the market, the market's totally closed. And from outside we could see that the the shelves were totally empty.
So we were like, it doesn't matter whether they had been opened or not. There's nothing there to purchase. We. We're walking back toward the apartment to see if we could figure out what our next steps would be. And we see this juice stand and we walk up to the guy and we're like, “hi, do you have any water?”
And he's like, “Oh no, I' don’t have water. “I was like, okay, well, “do you have any juice? It's a juice stand” And he's like, “no, uh, no juice either.” And I was like, “okay, okay. What about some soda?” “Oh no,” So there's no soda either. And this man next to me, he says, “que bueno ser extranjero” Like, he just looked this up and down because we come from this place where we think we can get whatever we need whenever we need it.
We've gone to, I don't know how many places and when you can't even find water, you know, a basic necessity. That kind of just immediately slapped me in the face. I was like, wow, you privileged bitch. We actually ended up leaving with a couple of beers and we're like, hopefully it will tide us over until we can figure out where to get our water.
That was our first experience in Cuba, realizing that you can't just get the things that you need.
Carmen: [00:15:26] There is an immense scarcity in Cuba. And that's what you are walking into. Unless you're going to go stay at a resort or a hotel that's, you know, organized by the state.
Fryda: [00:15:36] Jesse went to look for water and there wasn't water anywhere.
If you, as a tourist, are there and you end up grabbing the last bottles of water, are you taking water away from the Cuban people? On the flip side, you are paying someone in an Airbnb some dollars, so they can get something at some point. So this just begins this entire conundrum of like what it's like ethically to exist in this space and to travel there.
Jesse ended up telling us that she she drank beer for like three days.
Carmen: [00:16:08] Yeah. Oh my God. I can't imagine. that also begs the question of the lack of infrastructure that exists in Cuba in order to properly support Tourism that is not state sponsored.
Fryda: [00:16:18] Someone else that we talked to was Marggie.
She was born in the Dominican Republic and immigrated to the United States while she was still pretty young. And so she's familiar with the Dominican
Republic, familiar with the United States and has traveled around the Caribbean quite a bit. So Marggie took a trip to Cuba in 2017. Let's hear what it was like for her when she first arrived at the Jose Marti airport in Havana,
Marggie: [00:16:47] soon as I got out of the airport and we were driving, you can see like how poor this country is and how people are living. My thing is like the buildings: mucho de ellos no tienen puertas, eh, no tienen pintura, se estan callendo. How can somebody live like this? Even the building where my Airbnb was located at the outside was falling apart. I was just like, Oh my God, this is not what I expected. And I still remember it as if it was yesterday. I learned how to appreciate everything I have, from toothpaste to soap, to the food, to the running water. Cuba’s nothing like the Dominican Republic. I've never seen nothing like it.
Carmen: [00:17:27] We did not include this particular part of the conversation with Margie. But one thing that really stuck out to me that she said was that she knew other people who visited Cuba and no one warned her that you wouldn't be able to find soap or toothpaste. Nobody warned her that the buildings were falling apart.
People mostly glamorized Cuba, exoticized it. talked about the cars and the beautiful old buildings and described Cubas as sort of being in this time warp. And of course you buy into that romance and you get excited for your trip and then you show up and this is what you first encounter. It must have been so humbling and shocking.
Fryda: [00:18:04] She wasn't able to just see the exotic parts of Cuba without noticing things like the poverty and the dilapidated state of a lot of things. People who are staying in other people's homes and are staying in parts of Cuba where people live, they get this experience of scarcity.
Jesse took a second trip to Cuba. And the second time she had actually coordinated with the people from the Airbnb and asked them to save up jugs of water ahead of time. So thankfully the second trip Jesse was able to drink water.
Jesse also spent some time with her wife’s family. Her wife’s family are cuban nationals living in cuba. Jesse tried to take them out to restaurants and to different activities that are kind of touristy. And this is how, it turned out.
Jesse: [00:18:44] us all getting together at a restaurant and being served last, getting served, cold food, getting served food that wasn't up to par with what. Tourists were receiving. I remember getting excited because I thought we could all get on some jet-skis and have fun after this lunch. The guy tells us they can't get on, they can't ride, in reference to like the Cuban nationals. And we're like, what do you mean they can't ride? He was like, you guys can, but they can't. We're like, well, if they can't, we're not doing it either. How is that even a thing? So it was just, it's just like a slap in the face of their own people. It was so much of that
Fryda: [00:19:20] for the record, It's only been about 15 years or so that Cubans are even allowed to enter restaurants or allowed to enter hotels or any form of tourist facility. So Cuban nationals were not allowed to do any of these things. More recently, they are allowed to enter some spaces, but even when they enter them, they are still treated differently.
My mom to this day acts really strangely in hotels. Sometimes she still has a sense that she's not supposed to be there, that she doesn't deserve to be there, my dad always tells her “ya no estas en cuba” like “you're not in Cuba anymore.”
Marggie also told us in her interview that she took her taxi drivers out to dinner at a restaurant one day and the taxi driver ordered a Coca-Cola and the waiter came up to them and said, “no, you're having una malta,” which is another drink, a more Cuban drink. And Margie and the entire crew she was with was Like “what, what do you mean he can't have una Coca-Cola” they ended up having to stand up to the waiter in order to get this Cuban national access to the same drink that they had access to. A coke.
Carmen: [00:20:35] Um, you literally can't. Walk into a restaurant and order a Coke. That is just insane to me.
We also spoke to a woman named Marissa. She is @mimaencuba on Instagram and she runs a marketing company that works specifically with Cuban businesses in Cuba and she's back and forth a lot. So she has a lot of experience with this disparity between Cubans and tourists and how they're treated.
Mari: [00:21:02] Cubans can now enter any hotel. There's a few beaches that Cubans still cannot go to, one of them being Cayo Levisa in Pinar del Río que los cubanos no pueden ir, like they can't go at all. And I remember one time my aunt came to Cuba and we took her to Varadero and she was born in Cuba and she left when the revolution was happening, she wanted to go on the catamaran tour.
And they wouldn't let her because she was born in Cuba. And even though she has an American passport, they wouldn't let her. And so like, That was mind blowing the services like Cubans can't even access, just because they're born on their own island. It was crazy to see that, crazy
Fryda: [00:21:44] interesting nugget! If you left Cuba before 1970, you're allowed to get a visa and keep your American passport.
So she has an American passport, has a visa. Somehow they know she's a Cuban national and they're like, “she cannot go on this catamaran,” a catamaran. I struggle to understand the point of this discrimination.
Carmen: [00:22:05] I wonder if it has anything to do with not wanting the Cuban nationals to interact with tourists because they want to maintain this sort of rosy colored dream of tourism to Cuba. And if hello, if you start talking to the Cuban nationals, that bubble is going to burst, then next thing you know, like, you know how miserable people are,
Fryda: [00:22:43] at least in the way that state sponsored tourism has happened for a very long time. You're trying to keep tourists only in touch with. Cubans who are working for tourism.
Carmen: [00:22:49] Right, and who like, know the script.
Fryda: [00:22:51] and in order to work for tourism, you have to be at least in good terms with like your CDR
Carmen: [00:22:55] You're not getting these tourism jobs. If you're screaming on the corner, “down with the revolution,” like Fryda’s dad.
Fryda: [00:23:00] Yeah, Absolutely not. Let's think about it for a moment. Like tourism opened up again around the 1990s. The Cuban people were miserable around this time. It was El Periodo Especial. People were skinny. There was lots of scarcity and you know, there's still scarcity to this day, but at that time it was pretty bad. I think if you start tourism up at that time, you have to create a division if you want to keep, like you said, that rosy picture.
As a Cuban national, not being able to interact with tourists in a organic way is also one way of keeping Cubans only informed to the degree that the state wants you informed. Our first episode “oigo,” we talked about how difficult it has been for Cubans to gain access to communications. Part of it is economic reasons, but the other part is that it's convenient for the state. I wonder if this is another division that's convenient for the state.
Carmen: [00:23:40] Speaking of things that the Cuban government denies the people. Cuban nationals are not really able to travel around their own country
Mari: [00:23:47] to be able to say that, Oh, I went to Oriente from Pinar del Rio, as a Cuban, that is huge because most of the time Cubans don't have the opportunity financially to go tour around their own country,. Not like tourists can. So there's a saying in Cuba that in in English is like “tourists know Cuba more than Cubans know Cuba.” And that's very true. Most of the times when we had extra spots in the car, we would ask the Americans or whoever it was If they wouldn't mind to bring a Cuban that has never been to, for instance, Vinalles. And we did that often. We brought people that had never left La Habana to Vinalles for the first time. And that is such like a, a normal tourist thing to do is go to Vinales which is only two hours away from Atlanta.
Fryda: [00:24:33] This is another occasion of someone using their privilege again, I know we mentioned that that can happen in, You know the story of Margie, just getting their taxi driver one Coca-Cola. I know it's a minuscule thing, but in this case, get them to basically sponsor a Cuban. The underlying reality is it's a shame, you know, to not be able to, first of all, have mobility within your own country, but second of all, and we're about to get to this with Jesse: being able to leave your country if you want to.
Carmen: [00:25:01] Freedom of mobility is a human right
Fryda: [00:25:06] It’s very very difficult, unless you won the lottery, which We know from my story that my dad did, there's like no way out of Cuba, legally, or unless you're a musician who's playing, but everything has to be incredibly state-sanctioned. Jessie on her second trip, they go on a tour and they're required to show their passports.
Jesse: [00:25:35] This man, he drives my passport and he goes “que yo no daria para tener uno de estos, que yo no daria”And he just said it was with so much conviction and so much emotion that I was just broken about it. And I was like, man, I'll give you mine. I'll give you mine. If I could.
Carmen: [00:25:53]What I wouldn't do, in order to have this passport is what this man was saying.
Fryda: [00:25:56] As of 2013, Cubans are allowed to leave Cuba? They're permitted to travel. “Freely” in quotes for the first time since 1961. It's not quite that easy. Otherwise, a lot of my family would be in the United States. Uh, tickets are really expensive. There is a visa request process. Some people have not been granted these visa requests. It's not straightforward at all for a Cuban national to leave their country.
Carmen: [00:26:27] We also spoke to a good friend of mine. His name is Frank. He visited Cuba 10 years ago as part of a study abroad group. He is a white man with no ties to the Island. He does not speak Spanish.
Fryda: [00:26:38] This was before Cuba was open to Americans. Which means that you have to go through a coordinated trip
Frank: [00:26:46] I went as a student , a student visa for a study abroad trip with the journalism school that I was at the time, as much as we were there to do journalism again, air quotes, it did feel like a vacation and there was running water there.
Like, I took a shower every single morning. The bar was open every night, like every single night we sat on the patio, cigar in hand, or a Mojito and listening to music. That was the experience that the tourists have down there. It was all in a very touristy hub.
Fryda: [00:27:13] First time showing state owned tourism for many, many, many, many years all the tourists who are coming from other countries are generally using this route. So the tourism industry in Cuba is primarily owned and controlled by the state. Only very, very recently are people allowed to do things in their own homes and still not the biggest part of the tourism industry.
The state owns the businesses.It owns the different tours. It owns the hotels, it owns restaurants. And then the state takes care of the people. But an employee working at a five-star hotel in Havana in 2005 was paid $20 a month by the state.
Carmen: [00:27:52] Just one-third of the returns goes to the local community, isn’t that crazy?
Fryda: [00:27:57] Yeah. And by local community, we don't just mean that the people employed get paid that amount, but rather like what amount of money actually returns to Cuba versus to the overhead of Cuban state. There's the question of the enriching of the Cuban state versus the poverty of Cuba.
Carmen: [00:28:17] And then we asked, what would you say to someone who says to you, I want to go to Cuba before it changes. Here are some of those responses.
Marggie: [00:28:26] A lot of people talk about you Cuba, the amazing cars and everything is old, but cool and awesome. That's the idea that I had before getting there.
So if someone were to tell me that they want to go to Cuba before it changes my internal feelings, I will laugh a little bit, right? Sarcastically, and say, well, everybody should go to Cuba and have that experience. But one thing that I'm certain is that if you do visit Cuba will change you before Cuba changes as a country
Frank: [00:28:58] Cuba before it changes. It's a phrase that I've heard before. It's a phrase that I've thought before many years ago, but it is extremely problematic. 10 years after I traveled there. The way I see it is it's people looking at Cuba as a... Destination for themselves. They're thinking about their photos. They're not thinking about the people of Cuba. They're thinking about the cars they’re thinking about the Cuban cigars and thinking about, by the rum, which by the way, is really good.
Mari: [00:29:23] I would say that Cuba is not a vintage playground. It's not vintage Disney and people in Cuba. Don't in 1959, they live in 2021. and change is not necessarily a bad thing. Change has allowed us as Americans to live prosperously and that's what Cubans deserve as well. They don't deserve to be a vintage playground for one week. And things should change in Cuba. Just because You know, McDonald's comes in or Starbucks comes in. It doesn't mean that that's a bad thing. It doesn't mean that Cuban culture is automatically erased.
It just means that Cuba is entering the global world, just like the United States has just like many other countries in the world have. Come to Cuba and help it change! Uh, just go with an open mind, an open heart and being open to seeing a lot of difficulties, but a lot of joy as well.
Carmen: [00:30:13] So when I hear someone tell me that they want to go to Cuba before it changes and I'm doing air quotes.
I know that what they're talking about is before there is a quote unquote McDonald's in Havana and before all the buildings get renovated and all of this stuff, and before the street is full of Americans taking selfies with cars and all that, I understand that that's the change that they're referring to.
But what I don't understand is how they're not able to see how necessary change is. It boggles my mind that someone could think that it's okay for them to expect that a place would stay the same just for their own benefit for their five days of vacation.
Fryda: [00:30:56] If you’re listening to this podcast and you're American and not Cuban at all.
If you've ever thought this before, er want to engage you in this conversation because I think a lot of it, Carmen, is due to ignorance. Americans do not know what Cuba is like, because they don't see it with their own eyes. The difficult part is that there are enough people who did go to Cuba during that time that it opened up and had a great time. You might end up talking to a state-sponsored tour guide who will be like (sings) “everything is awesome.” Have you ever seen the,
Carmen: (sings) everything you wanted that’s the way you need it, no?
Fryda: no! carmen!
Carmen: [00:31:33] Oh, sorry.
Fryda: [00:31:34] It's from the car, man. It's from the Lego movie.
Carmen: [00:31:37] I haven't seen the Lego movie.
Fryda: [00:31:39] Oh my God. It’s Like, (sings) everything is awesome!!
Carmen: [00:31:42] If you are going to go to Cuba. You need to understand that you are coming from a place of immense privilege compared to Cuba, even just as a person, who's free to just go somewhere you already have a leg up. So. When you're thinking about how this vacation is going to be vacationy for you, understand at what price that comes for the community.
Fryda: [00:32:05] So we're begging the question, like what is an ethical way to visit? If you're going, support the local non-state economy, put money in the pockets of Cuban people, but also be mindful of the resources that you are taking up while you are there.
Responsible Travel, which is this agency, which goes into how to travel responsibly suggested visiting Cuba outside of the peak of December to April. I imagine that that might also allow there to be more resources at the time that you arrive.
And speaking of resources, try to bring some, if you can. bring medicine. Toiletries pencils, shoes with the intent of giving them away to people, knowing that these are things that are hard to come by in Cuba.
Fryda: Stay in people's homes, eat at paladares. which are places of business that are at people’s homes
Carmen: [00:33:00] and try to not just stay in old Havana, trinidad, vinales.try to see some lesser visited places and talk to people and get to know them, try to not contribute to over tourism. And I think you will also benefit a lot from seeing Cuba as Cuba is, and not just the Cuba that Is marketed to you
Fryda: [00:33:22] beyond that. If you make any relationships, sustain them, because this exchange of information, ideas, relationships, and bonds are really important for all of us.
So we've mentioned that Carmen and I both have not been back. Carmen, I know you actually, haven't been back since you left.
Carmen: [00:33:41] Yeah. My parents have both been back. My brother and I have never been back. I. Haven't gotten a straight answer from them as to why, but. It's always related to the amount of misery that is in Cuba.
And you know, why would you spend your vacation time to go to Cuba? Y pasar trabajo. why would you go struggle? That's not why I haven't been back. Obviously I became an adult and I've been an adult all of this time, so I could have taken matters into my own hands, but actually. It's kind of hard. It's hard to visit.
It's not like I can just roll up to Cuba as somebody who was born in Cuba, I have to go using a Cuban passport. for a period of time. You could only get a Cuban passport processed by an embassy. Aside from that, there's a monetary restriction for a while. You know, I was a college student. I couldn't afford this whole process.
And of course, as we have mentioned, I also Do feel a small element of fear of not knowing anything or anyone when I get there. And what if something happens? I am a dual citizen. It's complicated. Do I want to go back? Yes, absolutely. I would love to go back. I definitely will. It's just a matter of time.
Fryda: [00:35:00] I left around three, four years old, but I did return to Cuba.
My parents and I visited when I was seven. And when I was 10. When I was seven, it was for a week. I remember having a marvelous time. I was an only child in the United States. I remember being back and being able to see family and run around. I didn't see any of the poverty because I'm a seven year old kid, and I saw how much freedom my parents gave me in Cuba versus in the U S where they basically like didn't let me leave the house sometimes. Cuba could run around with my cousins. Getting into trouble all day. And my parents wouldn't even bat an eye. So I really did enjoy that. I remember crying a lot when I left and then I returned when I was 10 years old, we stayed for three weeks and already at 10 years old, I noticed, A lot, all in all, it was a much more difficult experience.
My parents decided to never go back again. And after that, just like Carmen, I could have taken matters into my own hands, but honestly, for a very long time, I didn't think twice about returning. And I thought to myself, like, I'm just trying to move on and make a life for myself. But definitely after going to college, I felt more of a desire to also reconnect with family that I haven't seen in a very, very long time. So similarly, I do want to go, but it won't be a vacation, not for Carmen, not for me. Hopefully Carmen and I can visit someday.
Carmen: [00:36:21] Yup. Well, you know what they say? Eso es un buey montado a caballo
Fryda: [00:36:25] Oh God. Es un problema grande. So, our cubanismo of this episode is . That is an ox riding a horse. So like, it's just a problem. Tremenda candela.
Carmen: [00:36:43] Imagine, i hope you’re imagining this.
Fryda: [00:36:44] like how you get the ox off the horse. Like, why is the ox on the, this horse?
Carmen: [00:36:50] The horse is struggling.
Fryda: [00:36:52] The horse is struggling so hard. Yeah. And it's also like, how did it even get up there?
So under what context do you use this cubanismo?
Carmen: [00:37:01] This is when you're describing something that's really hard, really difficult. It's very problematic.
Fryda: [00:37:06] So it's like, Oh, you want to go to Cuba before it changes? eso es un buey montado a caballo. okay. That's just like, I'm not even going to get started with that. That's a problem.
Carmen: [00:37:15] Yeah, exactly.
Fryda: [00:37:16] It's hard. I'll just reflect on the fact that it's been hard to feel that we truly. Presented this subject as much as we could, because there is so much information, so many complexities,
Carmen: [00:37:28] we aim to research and present that research to you. And then of course, we will tell you what we think, but we are very well aware that our opinions are not the only ones that exist in our opinions are not the only ones that matter.
It's just, you know, if you came here, you asked for it here. It was what we think!
Thank you so much for listening. A big, special, thank you to everyone who lent their voices and experiences for this episode and a super big Cuban shout out to our patrons. Jesse, Kelis, Yvette, Josh, Daniel, Jason, Karena, Sulamis, Sara, Kristen, Kaylee, Catherine, Lauren Salia. I feel like Busta rhymes.
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Fryda: [00:38:28] Take it easy, please.