I know you mean it in a nice way. I know you want me to have the surreal experience of being back in the 1950’s. I know you want me to feel like Cuba is unlike any other country in the world. But saying, “go to Cuba before it changes” is assholic on so many levels.
Now, if you’re saying to go to Cuba before it becomes tainted by capitalism (specifically American companies), then yeah, I’m right there with you. Lord knows we don’t need any more Hiltons or Marriotts. But do you denounce these companies, this capitalism, and then stay at some all-inclusive in Goddam Fuck Me Twice Over Varadero, which is basically a strip mall of palm trees and all-inclusives catering exclusively to a bunch of egg-shell white folk from around the world? Because that, my friend, is called hypocrisy.
Are you also fearing this “change” in Cuba because you want to get that beautiful portrait of the old, wrinkly Cuban man smoking his cigar on his doorstep and you feel that development and fucking westernization will force him to go inside, leaving you without that perfect shot for your Instagram?
Because you would be right. That man would retreat inside. Do you know why? Because currently he cannot afford, nor can his rundown, decrepit-ass building sustain, an air conditioner. So this sweet old man sits outside where he can catch a hint of a breeze because his apartment is sweltering. And while I will not argue that those gorgeous photos are full of character and culture, I will argue that tourism can boost infrastructure and development. And tourism can give this abuelo an air conditioner.
When you say you don’t want Cuba to change, you are also ignoring some of their bat shit crazy laws, such as the cattle law which will send any Cuban to prison for killing a cow. Even if that person has raised the cow since it was born. Even if that person’s family is starving. Because, you see, that cow is not owned by an individual, but belongs to everyone (and this is a communist country so everyone is code for the government). And if your cow dies of natural causes you have to notify a government official who then comes to check out the dead cow, signs some documents saying it wasn’t your fault, and then forces you to burn it. You can’t cut it up and feed it to your hungry neighborhood, to your family. My first night in Cuba, I asked my casa owner, “What is the one thing you would never do in Cuba?” “Kill a cow,” he said. “Kill a man? Five years. Kill a cow? Twenty.”
There’s also the issue of what your definition of Cuba is. You see, a lot of people have this generalized idea of what Cuba looks like, how people live, and this may include the colorful buildings of Old Havana, salsa music played by a charming group of old men on the street, sexy Cubans wearing white linen pants and Panama straw hats, and a never ending supply of mojitos. And a lot of travelers to Cuba specifically seek out experiences to confirm these preconceived notions.
But in doing this, they are crafting memories that fit within their social media controlled vision of what they think Cuba should be and ignoring the pieces of culture that do not sit perfectly.
Like, the gritty neighborhood of Central Havana, which also happens to have some of the most popping nightlife where actual locals hang out (guys, sorry, Old Havana is fucking boring and vanilla AF).
Or that young people listen almost exclusively to Reggaeton and dance incredibly sexually. Like literally, it’s called perreo, or doggy-style dancing. And it’s common not just in Cuba, but also in Puerto Rico (because Daddy Yankee, duh).
Or that most Cubans only get their clothes from friends and family coming from Miami, who arrive in the country with trunks full of clothing to sell under the table at house gatherings (and thus, the wardrobe choices of many Cubans is rather mixed and not-matched).
Or that Cubans rarely if ever order mojitos at bars, because mojitos are $3 each and they could just buy a bottle of rum for $8 and share it with their friends, getting drunk for the same amount that the tourist spent on one fucking cocktail.
So, you see, when you say “Go to Cuba before it changes,” I wonder if your eyes are open to Cuba as it is, instead of Cuba as you have decided to see it. Or Cuba as you want it to be.
While I definitely believe that tourism can boost development and infrastructure, I also recognize that it can be very fucking dangerous and diminish a country’s richness. When people with money visit (and in this case that means a lot of Americans to Cuba simply because of the vicinity) local people and businesses adjust to make those tourists comfortable, and that slowly changes the culture. When tourists only want to eat pizza and pasta (Jesus), then restaurants make less of the picadillo, moros y cristianos, and ropa vieja, because they are chasing the dollar bills, the hard currency. When (let’s be honest, it’s mostly white people) threaten to write a bad Trip Advisor review, which can truly break a business, of course these Cuban owners will adjust their menu, their service, to acquiesce to a Westerners comfort “needs.” And then do you know what happens?
We have another fucking Costa Rica on our hands.
And if you’re saying, “WTF, I love Costa Rica,” then you, gringuita preciosa, are part of the problem. We have a serious responsibility, as travel to Cuba becomes less restricted, to engage completely in the culture, and not just in what makes us comfortable. We have a responsibility to be conscious of the history, the people, and the set of social norms that were in place before we came, and they should not be abandoned or forgotten solely because you want this destination to fit your Instagram vision.
So please. Stop being ignorant fucks and encouraging people to milk poverty for the sake of whatever bullshit “cultural experience” you have yoked up in your mind.
Stop telling people to go to before Cuba before it changes. If you’ve ever met a Cuban, you know those beautiful people are resilient as hell. While some of the developments to Cuba may end up being shitty, the soul, the heartbeat of Cuba will never change. Because Cubans will never change.