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LOS FRIKIS ARS LONGA, VITA BREVIS MELLOW MEN GONZO GONE SOUTH EL ESPIRITISMO ¡AZÚCAR! THE ISLE OF YOUTH EL DíA DE SAN PATRICIO PORQUE Sí DURO DE MATAR
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Words and photos Helena de Braganรงa
My interest in Cuba dates back 12 years to my first viewing of I Am Cuba, a remarkable movie by Mikhail Kalatozov. Filmed in 1964, I Am Cuba tells the story of the destitution of the Cuban people under the Batista dictatorship, and the ensuing Cuban Revolution. I traveled to Cuba in March of 2007, inspired by the work of another filmmaker, my friend Jauretsi Saizarbitoria, who directed the documentary East of Havana about young rappers living in the ghettos of Cuba struggling to break free from the censorship and general oppression they experienced under Castro. I spent two weeks living with them and decided that there were many more stories to be told through pictures. A few months later I returned to Cuba with a Leica and hundreds of rolls of film to travel sola around the island. I stayed for eight weeks during the hottest time of the year, July and August. I returned in 2008 and again in 2009 to travel extensively and take more photos.
“…many rockers injected themselves with the AIDS virus between the years of 1989 and 1991…” I was not looking to document what the government wanted me to see through mojito-induced goggles. Rather, I wanted to capture a contemporary Cuban story, and the subplot I chose was that of the rockers. I was aware of the gay community being targeted as counter revolutionary— especially through the story of Reinaldo Arenas and his autobiography Before Night Falls—but I found that Cuban punk rockers, known as los frikis, are among some of the most marginalized people in the country.
While many tourists travel the five hours from Havana to the city of Santa Clara to see the Che Guevara monument commemorating the last battle of the Revolution, I was there to visit El Mejunje, a cultural center that is home to a diverse group, including transvestites, gays, and punk rockers. There I met Ramón Silverio, El Mejunje’s creator and owner. He introduced me to Amaury “Manolo” Trimiño, the lead singer and director of the hardcorepunk / death-metal band Resistenzia. What interested me about Resistenzia, although not as well known as other Cuban hardcore bands, was that they speak out against the Cuban government’s oppressive policies. Resistenzia’s music openly criticizes the lack of basic rights, the devaluation of the National Cuban Peso, and the devastation of the HIV epidemic. Manolo invited me to a Resistenzia practice session on the patio of their drummer’s home. The setting was raw—sparsely furnished with laundry hanging on a line, vibrating with the blasting bass. Everyone was bare-chested and passionate about the music and the message. One of Resistenzia’s songs tells of Cuba being portrayed as a paradise while its citizens do not have rights, like the right to travel. They also sing of the HIV epidemic that has affected most of the rocker community in that everyone at least knows someone who is positive. Cuba has a strict policy regarding HIV. Regular testing is mandatory for every citizen by the time they are sexually active and in the ’80s and early ’90s
Above: Ramón Silverio, creator and director of El Mejunje.
if an individual tested positive for HIV they were obligated to enter a sanitarium. In a tragic irony, many rockers injected themselves with the AIDS virus between the years of 1989 and 1991 in order to escape repression and gain the basics of life they lacked. “[Sanitarium residents] have a house, air conditioner, color TV, 100% of their salary, and a diet very high in calories and rich in protein. No one else has so much,” said Dr. Jorge Perez, head of the national HIV treatment program and director of the Pedro Kouri Institute of Tropical Medicine (IPK) in a 2003 article for The Foundation for AIDS Research. Or as a 20-year-old friki told Newsweek in 1994, “We gave ourselves AIDS to liberate ourselves from society and those laws about obligatory work, and live in our own world.” I also attended practice sessions and concerts with one of the original punk
bands, Eskoria, who sing about similar themes. I was extremely moved to learn that their frontman—Cuban punk pioneer William Fabían—was killed in January 2010 while trying to break up a fight after a concert. He was a rocker who had injected himself with HIV. The community was devastated by his death and he will be remembered as a pure punk who fought against an overbearing government. Spending time with different groups of rockers and punks in Cuba allowed me to get to see that most are wellinformed, highly intelligent people interested in world and local politics. It is true that most rockers do live a life of heavy drinking, partying, promiscuous sex, and letting their aggression out in mosh pits—they wouldn’t be frikis otherwise! On the other hand, most live with their families and some have children whom they care for and
love deeply. Because work is obligatory in Cuba, many have perhaps menial but nevertheless responsible jobs, working as a mechanic or in a bakery, or they choose to carry on in their studies. Walking the streets of Santa Clara or Havana, rockers stick out with their tattoos, piercings, black clothing, heavy leather boots, and dyed hair. They’re mostly looked down upon, but when approaching each other, there is an instant bond that can only come from being a friki. Helena de Bragança’s book, I Am Cuban, will be published by Damiani in Spring 2011. www.helenaimage.com
Open Mind, 2006-2008.
ARS LONGA, VITA BREVIS Words and artwork Yoan Capote Images courtesy of Jack Shainman Gallery, NY Cuban artists have changed, and the reality in Cuba is changing every year. In the ’80s maybe there was more censorship, but I don’t feel limited in my expression. I understand that this article could be an example of a new generation of artists in Cuba. Right now, a lot of artists don’t want to go away. A lot of people I know want to stay, because they understand that maybe in the future things are going to be different. Also right now Cuban artists are more focused on international issues. We know that the local, personal perspectives sometimes reduce the artistic value of a piece. That’s why the big challenge for my generation is to find the right point of equilibrium between local concerns and international projection. There are other artists from other generations—older maybe—who have used the political situation as a point to call attention to their work. But politics are ephemeral, and art is forever. My goal is for someone who views my work in the future to see artistic value more than they see geographical or political commentary.
Photo Robin Walker Special thanks Anton Schlesinger Ulpiano Reyes hasn’t been back to Cuba since he moved to South Gate, California, with his parents and three siblings at the age of four, but his homeland has never been far from his heart. In 1990, Reyes (brother to Sen Dog of Cypress Hill) released Escape From Havana, his debut album as Mellow Man Ace. With the single “Mentirosa,” Mellow Man became the first rapper to go platinum in both the US and Mexico, and he bridged an important gap by rapping in both English and Spanish. Mellow Man doesn’t remember a lot from his childhood in Cuba, so he was all for it when we asked him to interview his father about the old days.
Mellow Man Ace: Alright Dad. I want to thank you for taking time out today to do this interview. It’s the first time I’ve actually been able to interview you. Where were you born? Cirillo Reyes: First of all, it is a pleasure to be supporting my son. I am from Pinar del Río, Cuba. It’s about 175 miles away from Havana. I was born a long time ago, in 1933. MMA: Where were your parents born? CR: Same location, more or less. My father was born on a farm not far away from the city. And then he moved to the city when the years passed. I heard my father was born back in 1901, and my mother in 1906. MMA: What was life like growing up for you in Pinar del Río? CR: In Pinar del Río I went to school, all the way up to becoming a schoolteacher. I also got a diploma in business school. MMA: Were you a good kid, or were you running the streets looking for trouble? CR: No, no problems. I remember that my father and my mother gave me a lot of respect. I was very disciplined and I liked to follow advice from grownup people. MMA: Not like me! [Laughs] What did you do for work? CR: I went all the way to become a high-school teacher. I was a good student and had the ability to teach whatever was necessary—chemistry, Spanish, English…everything. Frank151: What year did you come from Cuba to the United States? CR: We came here in December of 1971.
F151: Why was it so important for you to leave? CR: Well, by the time I left, Cuba was in a transition—a lot of confusion, a lot of big problems. I didn’t feel comfortable at that point. It was tough to stay there. MMA: Now, when he says “tough,” he doesn’t mean, like, “Oh, my cable got shut off this month.” No. Tough is like, if you speak out against the government, you’re subject to incarceration. And it’s safe to say that myself, and my brother, we took advantage of the opportunity that he gave us. We didn’t just come to America to dick around and waste time or not become thriving members of society. I think we’ve upheld the family name and musical tradition very well. Dad, had you ever been to the United States before you moved here? CR: No. I saw a lot of movies and read books about the United States. You had a sense of how the society lived. It’s different, what you think about a place and when you live in that place. You have to adjust your mind and your way of thinking to try and understand everything. MMA: You’ve lived in America for 30-something years now. What do you miss the most about Cuba? CR: I miss the people. I miss everything about Cuba—my hometown. It might not be a big city, but I was born there and I spent 38 of my years in that place. F151: Do either of you have plans to go back to Cuba anytime? MMA: My dad went back in 1979. I haven’t been back since we left, but I want to take my dad with me to be my tour guide. And I’d love to take my wife with me and my two kids, Cuba
and Havana, so they can see where they’re from. Now that there’s so much hip-hop going on in Cuba with Orishas and so many others, I think once I show up in the plaza in Havana and start talking hip-hop, the rappers will start bugging out. I know through my own cousins who we sent records to that I’m known there as a founder. Dad, tell us about the family members that are still in Cuba. CR: I have my family in Cuba, in Pinar del Río. But also, I have a brother who lived in Marianao, Cuba. He’s in Havana, because there he had the opportunity to improve himself as a musician. He played the oboe. The oboe is for symphonic music, or pop music sometimes. There are a lot of musicians in our family. My father was a composer, a good clarinet player, a bass player. He
was my first music teacher. He taught me do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do. So, after my father came my brother Juan, who played the trumpet. After Juan are my nephews—Reynaldo plays trombone and Iván was a percussionist. MMA: How important was Cuban music to you growing up? CR: Well, Cuba itself is like a music plant, a music factory. Everywhere you go, you find music. Let’s say during a baseball game, you can see musicians playing somewhere around the park. MMA: Did you coach baseball in Cuba? CR: I was a teacher when I was invited to join a team, which was competing in a national championship. I was one of the coaches of Pinar del Río’s team, and we won the championship that year. When I came into the United States, I coached in South Gate. MMA: Did you teach me my curveball?
CR: You were a very good player. You were an ace hitter on the field, and a gentleman off the field. That’s how the name Mellow Man Ace came. Mellow Man, you know—nice guy. But Ace came from the baseball field. MMA: What baseball names do you remember that were either superstars in Cuba, or came to America to become superstars? CR: In the ’20s there was Adolfo Luque. He was a pitcher—I think that one year he won 27 games. Luis Tiant and Mike Cuellar came to the US together. In those days it was not easy to be here playing, because there was a lot of racism. But then, Jackie Robinson broke that barrier. Tony Oliva was a slugger from Pinar del Río, but he never played baseball in Cuba. When he came to the United States the first year, he hit .332. MMA: Now tell me a little bit about the music that you would play around the house for me. CR: I used to go to the record stores in search of Cuban music, like Celia Cruz and Orquesta Aragón. I remember a dance song in Cuba called “Un Real de Hielo.” “Un real de hielo” means you buy a block of ice, for a dime. MMA: The lyrics said, “When you go to the city, buy me a block of ice. But on your way back, make sure it doesn’t melt.” In that era songs were about simple things. That could become a hit. There was another record that you used to play about a girl who didn’t really have a butt. And so in order to get men at the parties, she used to have to wear a pillow on her butt. CR: It was “La Engañadora,” because she tried to fool people. In our country, men love women with big butts. According to the song, she bought some pillows and went to the party to
dance. That was the first cha-cha-cha that was written, and it was a hit all over the place. MMA: Tell me a little bit about how you felt when I made it big in hip-hop. CR: Well, that got me by surprise. All of the sudden I started noticing a big difference around my house. It was because you went somewhere with your music. A lot of interviews, a lot of limousines, people calling from here, from there…. You put our name in the history books. MMA: What would the father who made two legendary rappers say to the world? CR: I’m proud of that. And I have a relationship with all my sons and daughters. Keep going and do something. Whatever you do, try to do your best. MMA: I think it sunk in real well with me and my brother. I think after selling millions of records—both my brother and I—it’s an example of the way you were hard on us to achieve good things and believe in ourselves. F151: Why did you choose to settle in South Gate? CR: I came to California because my family is afraid of cold weather. I was looking for hot weather. The weather here in California is like the weather in Cuba. MMA: I’m not happy about that. I wanted you to live in New York. That way I could have been there in the Bronx, hip-hopping and skibbedyscabbin’. I brought New York to LA, you know. F151: Is there a Cuban community in South Gate? CR: There are Cubans in this area. There’s a Cuban social club called La Cofradía. Those clubs were founded
by the first-generation Cubans who came here. MMA: That’s where we used to go when we first started rapping—singing Spanish raps with obscenities and whatnot. The older Cuban folks would call my dad on Monday because on Saturday we were in there tearing shit up, doing songs like “El Más Pingón” and things like that. It was great. We used to wil’ out in that place. I mean, we used to go crazy…go in the bathroom and do mad lines and get on stage and just pour beer on each other, on some Beastie Boys type shit. F151: So while they’re trying to protect you and keep you out of trouble— MMA: They had no idea what we was doing in the bathroom, man. It was crazy! I’m sorry you had to find out this way, Dad! CR: When Celia Cruz got her Hollywood Walk of Fame star, she was invited to come to La Cofradía. MMA: Celia Cruz happened to be a very good friend of the family after so many years. I remember I even performed with her a couple of times on
a tour with José José and some other people. We became very close. Very priceless time in my life. F151: This club sounds pivotal in starting Cypress Hill and the music you were doing. MMA: Absolutely. Aside from all the surrounding house parties that weren’t Cuban that we’d just mob into and snatch microphones and start rapping, those clubs like La Cofradía were the staples. If you came looking for a battle, you knew where to find us. And you got served, regardless. We’d knock down tables or whatever we had to do at that time to outshine you. We’d snatch your microphones from you. We’d unplug your microphones while you were rapping. We really didn’t care. We were on some other shit. For me, it was a huge part to have that venue to be able to perform in the late ’80s. Not just for myself, but for my brother and Cypress and DJ Muggs. F151: Mellow Man, what does being Cuban and growing up in America mean to you? MMA: We’re a proud people. It’s rich in culture—the music, the baseball. My goal was to become the first Latino rapper to blow it up on a mainstream level. And my own Cubanism and not forgetting it is what allowed me to become what I am and to open many doors for other people. But the core of that starts with my dad, this city, those clubs, that surrounding. The rest is pretty much hip-hop history. www.mellowmanace.com
In the winter of 1999 I was visiting a friend, the then-Editor In Chief of US magazine, when he got a call from Hunter S. Thompson. I heard my friend mention that I was there, and that I knew a lot about Cuba. Then he said, “Maybe you should talk to him,” and put me on the phone. Hunter explained that he was going to Cuba to do a story for Rolling Stone magazine, and asked me almost immediately if I would be interested in going with him. I said, “Uhh…it sounds like fun. Why not?” Later it was very clearly expressed to me by the Managing Editor at Rolling Stone that I was not on assignment, but that I had only been hired to make sure that Hunter got in and out of Cuba safely. I had no obligation to do anything as a photographer. All I was going there to do was babysit.
Words and photos Michael Halsband Escorting Hunter S. Thompson on a week-long fact-finding mission to Cuba could be a dream or a nightmare, depending on your threshold for “adventure.” Perhaps best known for shooting the now-ubiquitous Warhol and Basquiat boxing series, Michael Halsband also served as the official tour photographer for both the Stones and AC/ DC. But when he accepted the assignment to act as cultural liaison and tour guide for the father of Gonzo, Michael didn’t know what he was getting into. Ten years after the trip, he’s still figuring it out.
The idea was for Hunter to be filing every day from Havana, this newslike, day-by-day reporting. I asked him what he was interested in doing while he was down there. He had some idea, but it was very hard for me to follow. It was some kind of conspiracy theory. He was following a line, a thread of a thought, but I wasn’t really getting it. “That’s what I’m interested in, and I’m not going to give you all the pieces,” is what he told me. Hunter flew from Colorado, I flew from New York, and we met in Mexico. I had read most of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas on my way to Mexico and finished the rest of it on the plane to Havana. I didn’t really know what his other books were like, but when I met him I was thinking, “Alright, at least he’s done one masterpiece. I don’t know what he’s done since then, but this is an amazing piece of literature.” He was able to write something in complete stream of consciousness and have it come across so well. That’s
what we’re all trying to achieve—to have it flow through us so clearly. After we checked into our rooms in Havana we started talking. He had a plan for the trip, and I was trying to hold off on that plan for a day or two and just let things happen, but I think he was very desperate to keep his flow—having activities in place and filing every day. I told him, “You know, this could be an amazing opportunity for a real shift in your work, for you to have another breakthrough. Because from what I’ve heard and read, it seems to me that you just try to accomplish the same thing you did with Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas again and again instead of challenging yourself to have a fresh burst of creativity.” He got very angry with me. I said, “I just put it out there because you’re in a new environment. Cuba is so unaffected by Western pop culture
that it really gives artists a great, new perspective. It has so much life and spirit, and everybody’s creating and functioning in such an old-fashioned way. I was just suggesting that we take a more laid-back approach.” That really inflamed him. I didn’t want to just write him off as knowing nothing—the guy’s really bright and he’s gotten this far—so I said, “OK. We’ll do it your way. Whatever you want to do.” So we go to sleep. Tomorrow’s another day; we’ll see what happens. At around four in the morning my phone rang. It was Hunter. “I’ve been trying to call you for three hours! I didn’t realize you had two rooms and I was calling the other room. I really want to talk to you. When I thought about it, you made a lot of sense, and I want to apologize for ripping into you.” I said, “Hey, don’t worry about it. Truthfully, it really didn’t mean that much to
me, but let’s just see what happens on its own.” The first day we had a meeting with some people I know down there who are very heavily involved in the art scene. They were the people I wanted Hunter to meet first so that we set the wheels in motion to have access to other people. In the course of that meeting a friend of Hunter’s who was living on a boat at the marina showed up. We ended up spending the evening with him. He was up to some strange stuff. Once we joined him a flag went up with the Cuban
and weird, but it went right past the Cubans. They weren’t amused by any of it, which was a little scary. It didn’t matter that he was in a strange place where people weren’t really on to his style or his humor; he was going to be himself no matter if people liked him or not. The writers’ meeting was hard on everybody, including Hunter. It didn’t seem like he was happy or that things were going well. He really wanted a meeting with Castro. My response was, “Do you think you could just get a meeting with Clinton? Where do you
authorities. While he was driving us around we got stopped by the police a couple of times and had to show our IDs, which I had never encountered in all the trips I’d made down there. I thought, “This isn’t a good sign.” This guy, Hunter’s friend, was talking about some sketchy stuff. He had a new Z28 convertible, he had a Honda motorcycle, and he had a boat. It wasn’t clear why he was there, but he wasn’t up to anything good. I said to Hunter, “It’s up to you if this is how you want to spend your time here, but it’s not gonna serve you well.” When we finally left him, Hunter said to me, “Yeah, that guy creeped me out.”
think we are?” By then we’d already blown our first meetings and I wasn’t really getting through to the people who had been accessible to me in the past. There was the first, usual vibe, and then the vibe changed. All of a sudden I felt like, “Wow, I’m really on a different trip this time. Hunter’s not on my trip—I’m on his trip.” Everything was grinding to a halt. I think the pain of having to move around so much also started to overwhelm him. He was scheduled for a double hip replacement when he got back to the US, and Cuba’s such a different environment; it can be taxing to get around and process what’s going on.
The next day we went for a meeting at an artists’ union where they wanted to introduce Hunter to a bunch of celebrated Cuban writers. During the meeting he was in complete, total Hunter S. Thompson form—funny
I do think that Hunter was on to something in Cuba. We were close, but who knows how close we were to what was going on there politically. There was a story there, but neither side—Cuban nor American—wanted
to play along. So we ended up sitting in a Havana hotel room. And maybe that was just Hunter’s fate in Cuba. Or maybe there was nothing to be exposed. Maybe it was all just imaginary. Who knows? I don’t know what he saw from his perspective. He certainly never made it clear to me. From there we made stuff up. We went to the US Interest Section. The guy who ran it invited us to his house. We had a good time visiting with him. He had an amazing mojito recipe. And then we went back to the marina to visit a bunch of Americans who were in Cuba on a big fishing boat. Hunter knew these guys from the States, so that was a fun evening, but it was not very challenging for him. And he could tell that we weren’t really getting anywhere. He was trying to squeeze whatever he could out of every situation, but in the end there was nothing fulfilled, nothing substantial enough to file. Plus we weren’t filing every day, so there was a constant pressure building. That’s around the time Johnny joined us. I think he and Hunter became really close during the filming of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. From the moment they got together in Cuba they shared this shorthand that I didn’t understand. Johnny was with us for two or three days. In that time I showed him around during the day and then we hung out with Hunter at night. When we were out in the street Johnny wore sunglasses and a Panama hat and had a video camera. I think a few Cubans recognized him, but they didn’t bother him that much. He was just like any other tourist—a tourist who looked a little like Johnny Depp. He was with us just for a weekend, on a break from filming, and then he left.
We had a few days left in Cuba, but I think Hunter was still really struggling with his hips. He wasn’t getting up until the late afternoon, and he wasn’t in the mood to do too much sightseeing. At that point, our interaction with Cuba was limited to going out for meals. Since the beginning of the trip I had been saying to Hunter that I wanted to collaborate with him on postcards to send to all my friends back in the States. It was the day before we were scheduled to leave and I figured, “I better just do this.” I bought 20 postcards and I went up to his room where he was sitting in his bathrobe reading the newspaper. I said, “I got these postcards. We’re gonna do this thing.” He grumbled, “Bah.” I wrote the first one and tossed it over to him. I started some of the postcards with, “Dear So and So, Thank you for supporting the Revolution,” and then some crazy personal message. Hunter was really jazzed on that. He started kicking in and writing extra bits, followed by “HST.” All of the sudden it was, “Give me another one…Give me another one…Give me another one.” We went through all 20 of them and then he said, “Go get me 20 more.” So I went down to the lobby and I bought him a whole bunch of postcards. And then we split. Everything was smooth—we got back to Mexico, we said goodbye. I went to Cabo to surf and start working on my next project. A couple of days passed and I got this call in my hotel room down in Mexico. To this day I have no idea how he tracked me down. Hunter just had this ability to figure out how to get to somebody, no matter where they were. So he called me in the middle of the night and said, “I have this idea. I think you
should come to Colorado and write this article with me. We should collaborate.” I told him, “I’m onto the next adventure now. And anyway, I don’t even know what we could make of it.” There was something about being in Cuba that kept us on level ground. I felt that if I went to Colorado I’d be on his home turf and subject to more of his crazy behavior than I was comfortable with. Besides, I was working on a project down in Mexico at that time, and that was heaven for me. Then he said, “You know, that little session of us writing those postcards together was the most creative I’ve felt in a long time.” All I could tell him was, “Well, then we did it.”
Maybe there was just this moment of, “No threat, no challenge, no pressure…just write,” that he tapped. Before that he was overthinking. He’d almost become paralyzed by how big he’d gotten. Hunter went on to write Kingdom of Fear, in which he includes a section on his trip to Cuba. He describes me as, “a swarthy little man wearing a seersucker coat and a goofy grin of a surfer” who “introduced himself as a famous rock and roll photographer.” It was an honor just to be mentioned. www.michaelhalsband.com
Looking back, I think about how he wrote Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas holed up in a motel room. He was so confined and reduced to so little when I walked in with those postcards.
Words Sonia Ortiz Photos Ellen Stagg
In the summer of 1994, in Key Largo, Florida, I rekindled my relationship with my spirituality and got closer to my Cuban roots. My mother’s cousin, Marisela, had married a metaphysical / spiritual teacher by the name of Santiago Aranegui. It was during a guided meditation that I realized I had forgotten something about myself. It was something I did not understand or agree with necessarily, but at the same time it was something that never really left me and was a part of my destiny. I remembered I am psychic. Both my parents arrived from Cuba in the ’60s after the Revolution. My father, Aurelio, is from La Víbora in Havana, and my mother, also named Sonia, is from a small town called Candelaria inside the province of Pinar del Río. Both my parents come from very spiritual backgrounds, and both of my grandmothers, Blanca and Mery, were devout Catholics. But underneath their religious veneer was a gift much more valuable than any material inheritance. As I dove into my history I began to find out all sorts of things about my family. I found out that my mother could predict the future with her dreams. She says she dreamt the Revolution days before it happened. She was just a teenager then. She believed my grandfather was also psychic, meaning I am a third-generation psychic and that my gift—or la gracia as my mother calls it—is something that is passed down from generation to generation. I really wanted to get acquainted with my abilities and my mother was also eager to see what I could achieve, so she sent me to her own psychic to learn about Spiritism. Spiritism, or El Espiritismo, is the practice of communicating with spirit guides, ghosts, energies, and so on via a psychic connection to the beyond. My teacher’s name was Margo. She would strike you as a typical Cuban abuelita— nightgown, silver coif, large glasses, slippers, under five-feet tall, and loads of unconditional love and insightful
advice to give. She also loved making coffee and collecting tiny spoons from all over the world. The first thing Margo taught me about Spiritism was that you don’t talk to anyone about having the grace. She and many other Cubans believe that if you ever reveal your guides’ identities, you give others permission to take your grace and guides away from you. Through her I learned meditation, tarot, and channeling. She taught me who my guides were and how I could channel through them. Margo also came in contact with orishas, the deities in Santería. Although she was not baptized in Santería (and neither am I), Margo would channel orishas in their saintly forms, and taught me to do the same. Santería is a religion that the Africans— the Yoruba tribe, to be exact—brought over to Cuba during the “discovery” of the New World. They fused the Yoruba teachings with those of the Roman Catholic religion and in some cases Native American traditions. There are seven main orishas, or seven African Powers. Here is what has been taught to me about the orishas from my teacher, my family, and the Internet (of course!): Papa Legba, or Elegua: The keeper of the crossroads. He is represented by St. Anthony or El Niño Atocha. His colors are red and black. Call upon him first for every ritual.
Yemaya: The mother of all the orishas. She is the ocean goddess. Yemaya is represented by La Virgen de Regla (Mary, Star of the Sea). Her colors are blue and white. She is also depicted as a mermaid. Oya: The goddess of the storm and the cemeteries. Oya is represented by St. Theresa of Avila or by Our Lady of the Presentation. She is associated with copper and the colors maroon or purple. Her full name is Oya Yansan, which means “Mother of Nine.” She can bring you fast change in desperate times of need. She is also the female aspect of the warrior. Ogun: Ogun is the god of iron and war. He is associated with Saint Peter. His colors are green and black. Ogun is known to bring work to the unemployed and also to heal diseases of the blood. Chango: Chango is also associated with war. He is the god of thunder, sensuality, and fire. Chango is represented by St. Barbara. His colors are white and red. It is believed he was once a Yoruban king. Chango represents masculinity in its full form. He is the ultimate warrior. Obatala: The first orisha. He was given the task of creating mankind. He is associated with Our Lady of Mercy. His color is pure white. He represents peace and tranquility. Because he is the creator of mankind it is said he owns your head. This is important when you do a spiritual cleansing, or despojo, because you bathe yourself from the shoulders down. Oshun: Oshun is the goddess of love, beauty, and wealth. She is depicted as a coquette. Her colors are yellow and gold. She is represented by Cuba’s
patron, Our lady of Charity. Many shrines have been built in her honor. Oshun oversees lakes and rivers. In Spiritism, you act like a free agent. You are guided to connect through many means. It just so happened the tarot chose me. I have had the tarot in my life now for 15 years. I was guided through my teacher who was also guided through a spirit. I’ve also been able to improve my channeling, like how Margo used to. She would usually sit there and describe something and tell me names and details and times and I would sit in amazement asking, “How the ‘F’ am I supposed to know to do this?!” Spiritism is usually a side activity; it does not take over your life. Most Cuban families at least have respect for Santería, and some have one psychic in the family who answers questions for loved ones. It is also a very hidden thing because of the Catholic aspect. I mentioned in the beginning of this article that I had forgotten I was psychic. That’s because my mom placed me in Catholic school, which consumed my way of thought for a long time. I have been honing my skills recently to read cards for many people. I still use the opening prayer my teacher taught me and even ask her spirit for guidance whenever I read for someone. Even though I keep a day job that is unrelated to my spirituality, I don’t want to forget my abilities or my history. I am proud to be able to help others and still keep my heritage alive through my craft. My hope is that in the future I will be able to pass it down to my own child. www.soniaanaortiz.com
Words and photos Joe Conzo Celia Cruz is considered La Reina (The Queen) of Latin Music. She really didn’t like titles, but she ran with it. As everybody knows, Celia’s Cuban, and she was very critical of Fidel and his regime. She longed to go back to Cuba, but she never did. She represented Cuban people like nobody else. She made her mark in many different forms of latin music, from mambo to cha-cha to salsa. She had her hand in all of that. I knew her through my dad, Joe Conzo Sr., who was the personal confidant, promoter, and manager for Tito Puente for 40-plus years. When I wasn’t taking pictures of hip-hop—the guys I grew up with—I was hanging on
my dad’s coattails and going to concerts and rehearsals. I was befriended by Celia, Tito, Machito...everyone. As a person, Celia was very down to earth. She was very particular about her costumes and her makeup and the show itself, but behind the scenes, most of those salsa icons were very approachable. They didn’t walk around with bodyguards like you see musicians doing today. Off-stage, Celia was just one of the people. www.joeconzo.com
Izzy Sanabria and Celia Cruz at MSG in the early â€™80s.
Words Bud Schmeling with Chris Isenberg Photos Bud Schmeling
I believe that there exists a location, governed by latitude and longitude, that speaks to, inspires, and informs every one of us. For me, that place is Cuba. I’ve been a sucker for Cuba for as long as I can recall. Hemingway, rum, baseball, casinos, gangsters, dashing rebels, salsa…shall I continue? From the moment I first touched down at José Martí International Airport in the summer of 1995, it’s been a full-blown love affair that has seen me return more than ten times. Undoubtedly, the most remarkable of my visits took place in the autumn of 2000. Chris Isenberg (my great friend and the mad genius behind the NYC apparel company No Mas) and I packed our camcorders, notebooks, cameras, and third-grade level Spanish and set out after some big-game journalism. We were in pursuit of a story that was yet to be defined. All we knew was that it involved baseball and would more than likely require some methods that would be frowned upon. We cared very little. There was even more than the usual political brouhaha taking place on the island at that time. The cherubic Elian Gonzalez had recently been abducted by his hysterical relatives in South Florida. The pitching Hernández brothers, Liván and Orlando “El Duque,” had both defected and were making major contributions to their teams, the Marlins and the Yankees, respectively. Most significantly, the tiny nation was still in the throes of the “special period”; since the collapse of the Soviet Union, an already grim economic situation had turned downright desperate. Given these circumstances, suspicion was amped up in Cuba, and two bumbling gringo periodistas hanging around ball players and asking questions definitely did not go unnoticed. We decided to focus our efforts on the western province of Pinar del Río, the third largest province in Cuba and the
fertile epicenter of the country’s legendary tobacco industry. More importantly, its baseball team, the Vegueros (cigar makers), was a perennial powerhouse whose lineup was bursting with the game’s brightest stars—José Contreras, Yobal Dueñas, and the sublimely gifted third baseman, Omar Linares. Linares’ exploits on the diamond are a thing of legend and have made him the target of many a US scout. Aside from being the greatest player of the modern age (lifetime batting average a staggering .368) he is also a hardened socialist and a dedicated defender of the Revolution. It is reported that Linares turned down several lucrative offers from MLB, ranging from two to seven million. Granted, it’s not A-Rod loot, but significant if you consider that the best players in Cuba were taking home about 40 bucks a month. Following in the footsteps of his commie confederate Teofilo Stevenson, the most decorated boxer in Cuban history, Linares rebuffed the offers, stating, “What is a few million dollars compared to the love of 11 million people?” When we arrived in Pinar, we learned that the team had an off day and the players were sequestered in the spectacularly drab Hotel Pinar before departing to the Isle of Youth for a three-game series. We also learned that we had no chance of getting close to Mr. Linares. We were undeterred and of the mindset that if we got away from the scrutiny of the city, we’d have a better chance of bagging our
Mr. DueĂąas is suffering from a doozy of a dolor de cabeza courtesy of the Yankee dollar. Taking his compromised condition into account, I wagered him that he would not get two hits that day. He did not. He had three, all with alarming authority.
prey. We booked our passage aboard a Russian hydrofoil and followed the team on the road. What happened on that trip was both exhilarating and vexing. We managed to gain access to what most hardened journalists could only dream of. When it was all over, we might not have gotten Linares, but we did get our story. We returned to Pinar to discover that the authorities had been on to us the whole time. We were apprehended and interrogated. They believed that we were there doing the bidding of a
US team and arranging future defections. The only person willing to sit down with us upon returning to Pinar was none other than the teamâ€™s manager and hall of famer Alfonso Urquiola. He provided us with a spirited 30-minute interview, wearing nothing but his jockey shorts. Immediately following the interview, we packed up and got the hell out of there. The pictures that follow are of the people and places that made our story possible. I hope this finds them well.
This stadium beats the hell out of some vapid bandbox off the interstate. The atmosphere was part religious festival, part bullfight. This bonsai stadium probably held about 4,000—every seat a luxury box. The boys from Pinar easily took this one, despite the fact that we plied them with enough Havana Club to fell eight Hemingways and got them home after 3 AM.
You don’t need no stinkin’ press pass to access the players on the Isle of Youth. This is starting catcher and Yobal’s best friend Yovani Madera. Señor Madera knows his way around the rumatorium. One of the last men standing the previous night.
BOTTOM LEFT The amazing Fenway Park-style scoreboard at the stadium. These two gentlemen had been turning the numbers for a generation and one of them had a son playing on the team. I spent a few innings with them and they were the epitome of the insanely passionate and knowledgeable aficionados Cuba is famous for.
TOP LEFT Yobal Dueñas was a gifted athlete and a mainstay on the national team. He was always considered to be a strong candidate to defect, and was closely monitored by the authorities. In 2004, at the advanced baseball age of 32, he did defect. The Yankees signed him for $60,000, but he never got past AAA. He actually came out to Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where we were coaching little league, and spent the afternoon with our team. Recently, he was arrested in South Carolina for grand larceny.
When you are the most famous and revered athlete in your country, you are afforded luxuries no one else enjoys. Those would include the only brand-new foreign car in your province, as well as a chauffeured motorcycle ride to an awaiting plane while the rest of your teammates wait for the slow boat back to the mainland. Linares was such a singular talent that there’s little doubt to the success he would have achieved in the States. For this man of steely principles, that was never an option.
Welcome to the big leagues. Now, you probably would not see this in Havana or Santiago, but in the small cities, times are tough. The average ball player would not take home more than $30 per month, so it’s a common sight to see a player selling his cap to a gringo during the game.
It was here, in this glowing testament to Soviet architecture, that we conducted our now-infamous interview with team skipper Alfonso Urquiola. Occasionally, when the team performed well, they were given perks. One of those perks would be a night at the Hotel Pinar del RĂo, a dank and oppressive place. When they won the championship a few years back, each player received a chicken. OPPOSITE This is Alfonso Urquiola. Hall of famer, and manager of both Pinar as well as the national team. Our hastily arranged interview took place in his hotel room back in Pinar. Halfway through a surprisingly candid conversation, there began a persistent and frightening pounding on the door. The coach didnâ€™t seem to notice, but a cold cloak of sweat covered my body. At the door was a visibly flabbergasted hotel manager demanding that we leave. With a most regal and knowing flick of the wrist, Urquiola dismissed the manager and the interview concluded. Immediately following this we were detained and interrogated for what seemed like hours. It was time to go.
*** It was later brought to our attention that as a result of this seamy photo, Urquiola was relieved of his duties as national team manager. He is presently coaching in Panama.
Words and illustration Duke Riley Photos Kitty Joe Sainte-Marie Special thanks Magnan Metz Gallery Of all the places in the world to throw a St. Patrick’s Day parade, Cuba might not be last on the list, but it’s also not a frontrunner. Ireland and Cuba are more than 4,000 miles apart and don’t have a lot in common—at least not on the surface. But dig into their respective histories and you’ll find more than a few intertwining roots. The connection was strong enough to inspire New York-based artist and owner of East River Tattoo, Duke Riley, to organize the first Desfile De San Patricio in 2009. While wandering around Old Havana in 2006, I stumbled down a side street that I was surprised to discover bore
my last name (Well, sort of, thanks to some changes made at Ellis Island). Curious about this potential Cuban
ancestor of mine, I decided to look him up. Calle O’Reilly was named after Alejandro O’Reilly, an Irishman who served as a general in the Spanish army in 18th-century Cuba and went on to govern Spanish-occupied Louisiana. He was a forerunner to the abolitionist movement and overall a pretty cool guy. O’Reilly was one of many Irish soldiers and railroad workers who settled in Cuba during the 18th and 19th centuries. Many Cubans with Irish surnames can still be found in Havana today. My Cuban friends were quick to school me on several prominent figures marking the symbiotic history between Cuba and the Emerald Isle. To name a few: Bonifacio Byrne, the Irish-Cuban Brooklynite and poet; Eamon de Valera, the half-Cuban third president of Ireland; and of course, Che Lynch Guevera was one-quarter Irish. When I was invited to return to Cuba for the Havana Biennial in March 2009, I decided it was high time that Calle O’Reilly was honored with a parade on St. Patty’s Day. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to confront my love-hate relationship with the holiday. The St. Patrick’s Day parade itself is an entirely American concept. Irish serving in the British army organized the first parade in the 1700s while stationed in Boston, Massachusetts. It started as nothing more than singing and drunken revelry from a marginalized group trying to create a voice for themselves. Unfortunately, in recent years the St. Patrick’s Day parade in America has become a symbol of exclusion and religious piety, drifting far away from its beginnings—and far away from the mayhem I remember as a kid. In other words, add cops and barricades, subtract booze and gay people, sprinkle
a little commercial bullshit on top, and you’ve got a recipe for a pretty boring parade. I knew I wanted to have a parade in Havana, and I knew I didn’t want it to be boring. As a former terror suspect, the idea of staging an event within the Axis of Evil was also appealing to me. In recent years, my own government’s policies on public assembly have become almost indistinguishable from those of Cuba, and I was no less allergic to Cuba’s brand of authority then I was to ours. I liked the idea of fucking with both governments simultaneously, but I wasn’t certain that I’d be able to pull this off. Being locked away in a Cuban prison might be pretty boring, too.
“As a former terror suspect, the idea of staging an event within the Axis of Evil was also appealing to me.” I arrived in Cuba on the ninth of March with the intent of staging an unauthorized parade. After an hour of coercing Cuban customs interrogators with promises of cerveza verde, I retrieved my duffle bag packed with green Mardis Gras beads, feather boas, green foil hats, and ball gowns. To my utter amazement, within 24 hours of touching down I had a handful of bagpipe-playing Cuban conspirators who were willing to risk any potential repercussions. I had followed the far-reaching and unmistakable drone for several blocks through the quiet night, eventually leading me to a rooftop. There I met
Daylin and Soria, who were practicing their ancient Asturian bagpipes. They didn’t know any Irish songs and there wasn’t any time to learn them, but they could play “Scotland the Brave.” I figured no one would know the difference. Word spreads very quickly in Havana, and Cuban people have more passion for history than they do for baseball. Within a few days, the level of support and number of participants we gained put us far beyond a covert operation. I now admit to a growing nervousness, especially when I thought about the arrests that resulted from the Damas de Blanco protests. When word finally did reach back to the Biennial Committee, I was accused of being an imposter. When they threatened me with expulsion from the Biennial and possibly from the country, I decided to gamble the fate of the parade—rather
than the fates of its participants—and seek official authorization. After five days of both rushing around and waiting for a dozen bureaucrats located in various parts of the city to attend meetings over cafecitos and mojitos (with about 500 cigarettes thrown in for good measure), the San Patricio parade was officially approved, with one day to spare. It was decided that about 50 people would march from Calle O’Reilly at the Plaza de Armas, up Obispo for about ten blocks, and end back on O’Reilly at the Parque Albear. I was given a stern warning: “Keep it historical and calm. We don’t want a free-for-all.” I realized the following day, as we prepared to kick off the parade, that I had somehow forgotten to mention to the officials that Farah, the legendary drag queen of Calle O’Reilly, would be lead-
ing the procession. I also neglected to mention that roughly 200 Cuban musicians and artists—a lively crowd I recruited from the local gay bars— and a handful of Irish ex-patriots and Brooklyn-based co-conspirators, would round out the march. The parade drew an excited crowd, and everything went smoothly until we got midway through the route. From the corner of my eye I caught what looked like the beginnings of a “freefor-all.” Fellow artist Sofia Maldonado’s green tube-top went flying up around her ears as a swarm of wide-eyed kids with a lust for green Mardi Gras beads almost trampled her 4’ 10” frame. At this moment, I felt a policeman’s hand clasp my shoulder and I assumed my caper was about to come to a quick and unpleasant end. Instead, he alerted me to a large pile of dog shit in the road that I was in danger of stepping in as
I marched backward down the street. He danced a bit with Farah, the crowd cheered, and the parade continued. High on adrenaline at the Parque Albear, the pipers and winds formed a circle and we all danced under a statue of José Martí until the deafmute Ernest Hemingway impersonator marching next to the “showgirls” wrote on his crumpled notepad: “We need to get the fuck out of here. NOW!” The event was followed by a late night of green beer, skinny-dipping, and bagpipe music along the Malecón. Duke and friends were invited back to organize the Second Annual Desfile De San Patricio, which happened successfully in March 2010. www.dukeriley.info www.eastrivertattoo.com
Words and photo Eli Dvorkin The perfect sandwich mixto arrives on tiptoe. Each half sliced to a crisp point, it offers up two ideal first bites. Outside, the soft loaf is doused in butter and pressed on a plancha until thin and crispy, forming a golden arrow. Within lies a spectrum of textures in equal measure: juicy roast pork (lechón asado), thin slices of sweet ham (jamón en dulce), melted Swiss cheese, and crispy pickles. There should be no mayo in sight, although you’d be forgiven for a discreet dab of mustard. It’s not overstuffed or supersized or available with the works and it doesn’t drip all over your lap. With every element poised in place, the mixto makes other sandwiches look sloppy. Accompanying the Cuban diaspora throughout the Caribbean and across the world, the mixto is perhaps the most widely traveled ambassador of Cuban cuisine. Legend has it that the sandwich itself was perfected in transit, serving as portable fuel for the army of cigar rollers that migrated between Cuba and Key West in the 1870s. Encased in a sheath of freshly baked bread, the mixto allowed workers to bring a taste of home on the road. Although the mixto likely began as a quick lunch for hardworking laborers and migrants, it soon became a
staple of Havana’s growing middle class. “This innovation migrated back to Cuba,” says Jorge Castillo, one of the Three Guys from Miami, whose quirky and immensely popular Web site celebrates Cuban cooking and culture. “That’s the way Cubans were eating them in the 1930s, until the time of Castro.” The Cuban-born cookbook author Maria Josefa Lluria de O’Higgins adds that fashionable young Havanans of the 1930s would meet at the recently opened Woolworth’s five- and tencent stores—El Ten Cen—for a mixto in the afternoon. “Just porque sí—for no
special reason,” she writes, conjuring images of men in straw fedoras snacking on sandwiches. From its roots as the product of necessity, the sandwich came to represent an urbane pause amid the hustle of modern life. Following the Revolution, meat rationing sent the sandwich itself into exile. “I ate many Cuban sandwiches growing up in Cuba,” says Raúl Musibay, another of the Three Guys and a fellow expat. “But with the coming of communism, it became more difficult for the average person to get all the ingredients.” Alienated from its working-class origins, the mixto fell out of favor in Castro’s Cuba as a luxury of the “porque sí ” class. But wherever Cuban-Americans make their homes, the mixto lives. Both Ybor City in Tampa and Miami’s Little Havana boast street-corner snack bars, or loncherías, that claim to dish up the original sandwich. The keys are plentiful pork products, butter to spare, and, most crucially, a local Cuban bakery. Unlike the similar hero roll, traditional Cuban bread—which provides the mixto’s uniquely crispy crust—is made with lard and dries out quickly. The window of opportunity is so narrow that in Ybor City’s Cuban heyday, a loaf left uneaten for 24 hours was known as migas, meaning “breadcrumbs.” As the mixto relies on a local market for fresh Cuban bread, it takes an entire community to support the sandwich. For just $3.20, New Jersey Transit Bus 159 takes only 15 minutes to cruise from midtown Manhattan to Miami— almost. Exit the bus on Bergenline Avenue in Union City, NJ and you could be in Little Havana, minus a few palm trees.
Home to the largest Cuban community outside Florida, Union City is a paradise of Cuban culture and cuisine. Referred to by Cuban-American writer and historian Yolanda Prieto as “Cuba’s northernmost province,” this small city on the western bank of the Hudson River faces the New York City skyline while feeling like a world away. As in cities and towns throughout Central and South America, most locals travel by shared minibus, or guagua. The sounds of timba, son, and Cuban rap float through open windows, accompanied by the scents of sizzling croquetas and sour orange. A passerby speaking English comes as a surprise. Whether for breakfast or lunch—or even better, just porque sí—the quest for the mixto ends here. Follow the aroma of soft-baked Cuban loaves from El Fenix bakery down the block to El Artesano, where the pork and pickles await. A cornerstone of Union City’s Cuban community since 1974, the restaurant’s long, red counter and whirling fans provide the perfect setting for a perfect sandwich. Sit on one of the tall bar stools and order a sandwich and a cafecito. The air hums with the constant sound of the juicer and the coffee grinder, staples of the Cuban kitchen. When things quiet down on the line and a classic tune bursts from the stereo, a dapper regular dressed in a babyblue seersucker suit and white calfskin shoes shuffles over to the counter and begins to dance slowly all by himself. The song ends, the sandwich arrives, and the whole place pauses for the first bite. Then the dance begins again. www.3guysfrommiami.com
DURO DE MATAR: LAS AVENTURAS DE SEﾃ前R INASESINABLE Words Robusto Bustamante Illustrations Matt Luckhurst
idel Castro is arguably the world’s most unmurderable man. Of the more than 630 purported attempts to get rid of El Comandante, a bullet has never so much as grazed him. With enemies like the CIA, Cuban exiles, and the Mafia, Castro has surrounded himself with loyal followers who have kept harm at bay. It’s reported that he went as far as to say, “If surviving assassination attempts were an Olympic event, I would win the gold medal.” Frank151 takes you through an illustrated history of some of the most notable plots and schemes—from the outlandish to the incompetent. 79
RED LIGHT…GREEN LIGHT On Christmas, 1959, President Eisenhower gives the CIA permission to kill Castro. The Agency’s Technical Services Division devises numerous tactics to take out the dictator. The challenge? Dream up a plan that can’t be traced back to the White House.
The CIA develops a special powder made of thalium salts, a highly potent depilatory. When placed in Castro’s boots, the powder would cause his beard, eyebrows, and even pubic hair to fall out. However, the CIA never gets close enough to El Presidente’s zapatos to deliver the powder.
SMOKING KILLS Regularly seen puffing a signature Cuban stogie, the CIA manufactures poisonous and explosive cigars. They successfully slip them into Castro’s personal stash during a visit to the UN, but the plan never catches fire.
LSD TV PLAN: Spray a Cuban broadcast station with LSD to make Castro trip out during a live television address. MISSION ABORTED: The CIA decides the plan is too far out.
POISON PEN The CIA provides Rolando Cubela, a disenchanted member of Castro’s inner circle, with a poison pen-syringe to be used on Castro (or on himself in case of a failed attempt). The operation becomes compromised and is completely shot. OUR BEARDLESS LEADER “My beard means many things to my country.” - Fidel Castro Thinking beyond murder, the CIA explores tactics they believe will make Cubans lose confidence in Castro. If they can take his beard, they will take his charisma and the support of his people.
SCUBA DUBA DON’T Knowing Castro to be an active scuba diver, the CIA attempts to give him a diving suit dusted with a fungus that would cause a disabling and chronic skin disease, as well as a breathing apparatus contaminated with the tuberculosis bacterium. When the scuba-suit plot doesn’t pan out, the CIA attempts to build a booby-trapped exploding seashell. Despite their best efforts, the plan to assassinate the Cuban head of state with an exploding seashell is eventually scrapped, leaving CIA agents feeling pretty crabby about the whole thing. FALSE PROPHET General Edward Landsdale, who supervised the Kennedy Administration’s covert war against Castro, proposes an elaborate scheme to spark a counterrevolution by convincing Cuban Catholics that the Second Coming is imminent and that Castro is the Anti-Christ. “Christ” would then surface off the shores of Cuba aboard an American submarine as star-shell flares illuminate the heavens. It was hoped that with the fear of God in them, the Cubans would rise up and depose of their satanic leader.
Assassination Plots per US President: Based on the records of Head of Cuban Intelligence Fabien Escalante.
The plan is canceled when someone in the room realizes the idea is straight up ridículo. CONNECTED The Mafia had a vested interest in deposing the dictator ever since he booted them out of Cuba, costing them millions in revenue from the island’s lucrative casinos. The CIA lets the Mafia have at it. Deciding poison is the best approach, Agency scientists create small plastic pills containing botulism bacteria that will dissolve instantaneously in liquid.
In January 1960, the CIA sends Castro’s spurned lover, a young German woman named Morita Lorenz, to his heavily guarded Havana Hilton hideaway. But by the time she arrives to his room, the pills have dissolved in her cold-cream jar. Ever paranoid, Castro confronts Lorenz, who cracks and admits to the scheme. Castro’s response is to offer Lorenz his sidearm. She takes aim before breaking down into tears, unable to pull the trigger. Castro tells her, “See, you can’t kill me. No one can.”
In 1963 the Mafia again attempts to poison Castro, this time with a laced chocolate milkshake. The plot fails when the waiter-turned-assassin goes to retrieve the poison capsules, only to discover they’ve been ruined after being left too long in the cafeteria freezer at the Havana Hilton. The Kennedy administration’s official anti-Castro program is cancelled shortly following the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion in 1961. In 2007, declassified CIA documents reveal that the moborchestrated assassination attempts
had been personally authorized by then-US Attorney General Robert Kennedy. EXILES GONE WILD The most dedicated anti-Castro assassins have come from within— Cuban exiles with a passion for democracy and an axe to grind. THE ARCHNEMESIS Antonio Veciana was working as an accountant when the CIA recruited him. An acquaintance of Castro’s since his university days, Veciana
doubted the leaders true intentions from early on. In Veciana’s own words, “He never said he was a Communist when he was in the hills. People from professions like mine—architects, accountants, and lawyers—got together to talk about what direction he was taking the country. He said he’d hold elections, but he never did. That’s when we decided to kill Castro the tyrant. We thought his death would bring an end to his whole regime.” A group of dissidents under Veciana’s command hide out in a flat across the street from the Presidential Palace. Armed with a bazooka, they prepare to fire from their bird’s-eye-view vantage point—so close they can “almost see Castro’s face.” However, the mission is abandoned when the group decides they cannot get the bazooka out of the window without being spotted. They consider the plot a suicide mission. Veciana would work with the CIA again to try and kill Castro while on a visit to Chile. Under the cover of a family vacation, he makes his move at a speaking engagement Castro is scheduled to attend. Veciana notes that press had been able to get relatively close to Castro without excessive security screening, so he devises a plan to conceal a gun inside a film camera. Despite being present during the press conference, Veciana’s operatives fail to complete their mission. Veciana would later lament that his men “weren’t brave enough” to complete their mission. In 1979, President Carter invites Castro to the US. Veciana hatches yet another plot to kill the dictator. Hiding plastic explosives inside a softball, he
plans to hurl the device at Castro’s car. Anticipating his plan, Cuban Intelligence follows Veciana and alerts the FBI, foiling the attempt. So what is a failed assassin to do? Veciana eventually settles with his family in Miami and goes on to run a chain of marine and boating supply stores—because nothing says “coldblooded assassin” like promoting a sale on life preservers. THE MERCENARY Felix Rodriguez flees Cuba and signs up to become a CIA sniper. Despite an illustrious career that includes capturing and ordering the execution of Che Guevara, Rodriguez fails to kill Fidel on three separate occasions. THE ARISTOCRAT Luis Posada Carriles was a relatively wealthy Cuban with an ambition to kill Castro. Training in Chemistry and Engineering at Havana University in the ’60s, he learns the art and science of sabotage and explosives from the CIA. In 1997, he masterminds seven bombings that tear apart Havana’s hotels with the aim of warning European tourists to stay away from Cuba while attempting to bring Castro’s economy to its knees. LET’S TAKE ONE MORE SHOT AT IT During a visit to Panama in 2000, Cuban Intelligence catches Posada and two conspirators as they attempt to hide a bomb under Castro’s podium. When the plot is foiled Castro declares, “The extreme right wing of the USA have sent agents to Panama with the aim of assassinating me.” Prosecutors amass a case against Posada and the Panama Supreme Court sentences him to prison. Four months later, Posada is pardoned by the outgoing Panamanian President.
Words Gilles Peterson Photos Youri Lenquette As far as most folks outside of the island know, Cuban music was born in 1999 with the release of Buena Vista Social Club. The truth is, Cuba has a long, rich musical history that is currently experiencing a fresh interpretation by a new Cuban vanguard. Disc jockey, label owner, and general Man of Music Gilles Peterson took it upon himself to travel to Cuba and produce Havana Cultura, ensuring continued interest in and renewed appreciation for the Cuban musical tradition. I got a phone call from a man named François Renié, who lives in Paris, and he listens to my show on Radio Nova. He works for Havana Club, the rum people. He was really keen for me to go to Cuba to check out the new generation of artists, producers, and musicians and try to do a similar type of project to the ones that I did in Brazil and in Africa, to highlight the new scene coming out of Havana. That was something brilliant for me, because I’d never had the chance to travel to Cuba before. Fortunately he
was there, and very quickly we got to hear the music that was going on in Havana. I had enough good stuff for us to go and record an album a few months later—that’s Havana Cultura. One of the projects that really helped me as an introduction to producing these types of things was when I worked on the Nuyorican Soul project with Masters At Work. Havana Cultura was similar, but without the DJ production side of things, which is what Louie [Vega] and Kenny [Dope] would
have given the Nuyorican Soul project. This was about working in Egram Studios, which is probably the legendary studio in Havana. That’s where they recorded Buena Vista Social Club. The live room has this amazing atmosphere and magic about it. It’s almost like walking into the Vatican. The whole thing is, “New Cuba Sound.” There’s almost too much expectation that everything should sound like Buena Vista Social Club. For me, it was really important to expose that there is a new generation of musicians. You go there and you listen to reggaeton all the time. You hear hip-hop being spat out on corners, in streets, at jams late at night. It was really about trying to open the door to that music. Roberto Fonseca joins the dots between Buena Vista Social Club and Havana Cultura, and that was key for me. He was a member of the Buena Vista Social Club. He was a child of Ibrahim Ferrer. He has got that massive heritage flowing through his veins, but he’s also got the vision and the interest in opening up and working with people like me, working with hiphop, working with electronic music, so he was the perfect person to collaborate with.
“There’s almost too much expectation that everything should sound like Buena Vista Social Club.” I had an incredible band, Roberto Fonseca’s band, which has the best rhythm section. It was really a case of me having music and explaining stuff to Roberto. I was working with a guy
named Vince Vella, as well. He was co-producing with me, and we managed to do the project in five days. We talk about the musicians within the project because you’d imagine that everybody would have known everybody. Havana is quite a small place, really. Especially because a lot of musicians and artists don’t get a chance to travel very often. One of the artists that I inadvertently hooked Roberto up with was this singer called Danay. I met her through a group called Obsesión when I was out on my second trip to Cuba doing a documentary for the BBC. She happened to be there. She used to go out with one of the members of Aldeanos. She said to me, “You should listen to my music.” So I got her demo whilst doing an interview and listened to it that night. I was like, “This is the singer we need on the project.” I said to Roberto, “Do you know this girl called Danay?” He was like, “Not sure.” I said, “Well, she’s got a great voice. Let’s bring her in.” He wasn’t completely confident about it, because he would have imagined he knew everybody, but he didn’t. So she came in and she was, to me, the highlight of this project.
The project that we did in Cuba, the original Havana Cultura, was a double CD. CD 1 is the recordings that we did at Egram. CD 2 is a compilation of tracks that I listened to and enjoyed and was put on to. That’s a compilation of the best of the last couple of years of Cuban sounds. That was the end of the project. But then the project started doing quite well. I was traveling, DJing everywhere and giving the record out to different DJs and producers. Every now and again I’d say to one of them, “Are you up for doing a new version of one of these tracks off my Havana album?” And a lot of them just did it. I was originally intending those remixes to be just DJ tools for me. But in the end we got about 15…16 really good remixes, including people like Carl Cox, Louie Vega, Seiji, Mocky, and Michel Cleis. In the end it was really working as an album, so I decided to put it out as the remix version to keep the thing going, do the live show, and also do a mix version of that remix album. www.gillespetersonworldwide.com
The song she recorded, “Think Twice,” is a J Dilla tribute. Wherever you go around the world there’s always somebody who’s completely obsessed with him or who knows very much about his impact—which is huge. The last place I was expecting to have people ask me if I had any unreleased Dilla tapes in my iTunes was the backstreets of Cuba, on my first visit. That’s where I realized that there were people who were hungry for as many beats as I could give them. Luckily, I had some stuff in my computer. So it felt right to do a Cuban tribute song to him, and “Think Twice” came out well.
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Words and photos Boogie I took these images in 2003, when I spent two weeks in Havana. What struck me was how safe the city was. I thought it was because there was a cop on every corner, but it probably wasn’t just that. Socioeconomic differences didn’t exist; everyone was poor. But also, everyone had enough to survive, by default. So no matter what, you would never starve or lose your shelter. Plus, rum was very cheap. I remember when my country, Serbia, was like that. I’ll definitely try to go to Cuba again while Fidel Castro is alive.
Interview Adam Pasulka Images courtesy of Roger and Rudy Miret In the early 1980s, Roger Miret helped shape New York hardcore as the frontman of the band Agnostic Front. Thirty years later, the hardcore genre and lifestyle are global phenomena, and Roger is respected as a veteran. As a Cuban-American, Roger was excited about the opportunity to sit for an interview alongside his mother Alicia (who spoke mostly in Spanish). Roger shed blood, sweat, and tears for everything he’s accomplished, but he also understands how hard his mother worked just to give him the opportunity to excel. Frank151: When and where were you born, Alicia? Alicia Gonzalez: I was born in Havana, Cuba, on February 7, 1948. F151: Roger, when and where were you born? Roger Miret: I was born on June 30, 1964, in Havana. F151: When did your family come to the United States? AG: April 30, 1968. F151: Who all came with you? RM: It was my mom—Alicia—myself, my brother Rudy, and my sister Myra. F151: Alicia, why did you leave Cuba and come to the US? AG: To give my children a better life. RM: My uncle Leo was living in New York, in Queens, and he became American because he married an American woman in the ’50s. He claimed us as family, and they let us leave. It took years for all the paperwork to get through. I was the only one
who had a passport, of the kids. I was four years old. My brother Rudy and my sister Myra had no passports, but they let them go. It would have taken another two years, all the paperwork. F151: Did you fly straight from Cuba to New York? RM: We went to Miami first, and then the same day we went to New York. F151: Alicia, do you still have family in Cuba? AG: Yes. I have brothers and sisters. F151: Is it true that one of your brothers is well known in Cuba? AG: Yes. He was a model, and my sister was in a film. RM: My brother Freddy [of Madball] used a picture of my uncle in his clothing line, Familia. There’s a man with two ladies around him, that’s my mother’s brother. I have an aunt who did a movie in Cuba, too.
F151: Alicia, what were some of your favorite things to do in Cuba? AG: Go to the beach, go to the parks…. Cuba is very pretty. F151: What do you miss most? AG: My family. F151: Have you been back to visit? AG: Yes, six times. F151: Is it difficult to travel back? AG: Before, yes. I couldn’t go for 16 years. But now it’s not difficult. F151: How did you get there? AG: Before, you’d go through Mexico or another country, but now you can go direct, from Miami. F151: How long ago did that change? AG: Six years ago. RM: I haven’t been back. I had a Cuban passport till four years ago when I became a citizen of the United States, so I really didn’t want to take any chances going back to Cuba with a Cuban passport, if you know what I mean. I probably could now, but since I became a citizen, I moved to Arizona and I started a family with my wife Emily. F151: Would you ever want to take your family to visit Cuba? RM: I would love to. That’s definitely one of my dreams. I want to go back and just walk the earth where I started. My earliest memories are of Cuba. I remember being on the beach. It was a rocky beach, there was a really tall lighthouse there, and I remember being there with my father. I remember being at home with my dog. I remember being on the balcony of my house. F151: Do you remember the trip from Cuba to Miami and then to New York? RM: Absolutely. I remember getting on the plane, being scared. I always make a joke that we’re Eastern spics, because everybody thinks that all Cubans come on boats. But we hap-
pened to get on an airplane from Eastern Airlines. I remember they put these little wings on me and I was nervous but excited at the same time. I remember getting into Queens and being amazed at how tall some of the buildings were. My uncle lived in a really high high-rise. F151: Did you speak English yet? RM: Just Spanish. I didn’t learn English till I went to kindergarten. F151: Alicia, were many families leaving Cuba at that time, or was it a rare opportunity? AG: A lot of families were leaving. F151: Was there a network of Cubans in New York? AG: No. RM: It was just in Florida. There wasn’t much of a network in New York. We moved to Patterson, New Jersey; we moved to Passaic, New Jersey; not till we moved to Union City, New Jersey— and I was in sixth grade by that time— did we see a big Cuban network. F151: You must have been changing schools a lot. RM: Yeah. I remember changing schools just about every year. You have to understand my mom at the time was about 20 years old. My mom married my father on June 30, 1963. On June 30, 1964, their oneyear anniversary, I was born. My mom was 15 when she got married, which was very common in Cuba. When we came to America, my father stayed in Cuba. He was in the military and was not allowed to leave. He didn’t come join us till the ’70s, right Mom? AG: Seventy-three. RM: We lived by ourselves, we had support from our uncle, and of course my grandmother was here. Then little by little all the family on my father’s side started coming here. On my mother’s side, they wished to stay in Cuba. On
my father’s side, they did not want to be in Cuba. Some person went insane and boarded a bus in Havana, where my father and my uncle happened to be in their military outfits, and the man shot up the bus because he was anti-Castro. He shot my uncle and my father, so they got out of the military. Once he got out of the military he proceeded to make his way out of Cuba.
Castro is loved by many, but he’s also hated by many. Some of the things he did, I think they’re different from a lot of other dictators. A lot of other dictators come in and say, “You have to just believe in me. I am your god.” Castro allowed Cubans to keep their religion. I think that’s what kept it strong, because Cuban people are very religious. When President Clinton was messing around with Monica Lewinsky, the Pope was in Cuba visiting Fidel Castro. Here’s the Pope visiting
From left: Roger, Myra, Alicia, and Rudy
Cuba, accepted, with Castro, with the people. Once you take religion away from people, you give them nothing to hope for. America has so much hatred towards this tiny country. I think the hatred comes from the fact that someone actually put their fuckin’ balls down and said, “You just can’t get everything your way.” The balls got bigger by joining a communist regime like Russia, and then the missiles were pointed this way. Nobody thought that would
ever happen to such a great power. This country has been punishing Cuba for so long. F151: Do you and Alicia follow Cuban current events? RM: Not really. My mother brought us to this country for one reason: she wanted us to have a better life. My mother’s side of the family comes from what they call los campos—there wasn’t much. On my father’s side, there were people with money. Then
Castro’s regime came in and wanted to make everybody equal. The doctors and successful people who felt like they worked so hard for what they had, those are the people who chose to leave, mostly. I remember my uncle coming here from Cuba, where he was a doctor. That certificate didn’t mean anything in this country. Here’s a man who’s very talented but can’t practice because of paperwork. Alicia just didn’t see us succeeding under a communist regime. A lot of people want to be hip on communism and talk about it, but they’ve never lived under those conditions. I could see if you’re living it—you walk the walk then you talk the talk. F151: Is there a hardcore scene in Cuba? Do you know if people there follow your music? RM: My uncle on my mother’s side— one of the very few who left Cuba on my mother’s side—lives in Mexico now. He used to send tapes with my mom when she went back. People in Cuba wanted me to sing on their records, but how did you do that back then? From what he was telling me, people are very familiar with the band. They have what they consider hardcore. It’s very hard to speak against stuff when you live under a communist regime. It’s not like in this country where you can go out and say anything you want. I remember meeting people in Russia who told me they did time just because they had our records. I remember a guy said, “We did four years just for owning one of your records.” F151: It’s interesting that you were born under an oppressive regime, and after moving away you grew up to pioneer an artform based on speaking out.
RM: Absolutely. When we started doing what we were doing, we were just kids speaking our minds. We grew up during the Reagan years, when America was going through a lot of stuff, too. But, we did manage to voice our opinions. I knew I couldn’t change the world, but I had a feeling I could make a difference. My mission was to do what I do and to help others. F151: You said your father was in the military in Cuba. Did everyone have to go to the military? AG: It’s obligatory. RM: It’s kind of obligated all over the world, especially in communist countries, but even in Europe. F151: At what age do you have to go in Cuba? AG: Seventeen. RM: Men and women have to go. AG: From 18 to 28 you’re not allowed to leave the military. La edad militar, it’s called. That’s why everybody comes to the US in boats. F151: Why’s that? AG: They’re leaving illegally. F151: Do you know people who have done that? AG: Yes. RM: My mom still lives in South Florida. There are a lot of them down there. I remember in 1980, the Mariel Boatlift, when about 125,000 Cubans migrated to the US. The dark shadow of it was that Castro said, “OK, you want to take everybody to America?” So boom, he emptied out his prisons to the United States. It was his slap in the face. He emptied out murderers, rapists, child molesters, or just people who spoke against his government. I remember I used to go to South Beach, and it was great. But shortly after that dumping happened, it was a ghetto. It was insane.
Photo Todd Huber
AG: It was better before the Mariel. Then after the Mariel there was a lot more delinquency, of course. F151: Was being Cuban important to you growing up and playing music in New York City? RM: I gotta say that being Cuban had nothing to do with my music. When we came in from Cuba we stayed in Spanish areas—more like Spanish ghettos if you want to say—because we only knew how to speak Spanish. When we first moved in we were in the Puerto Rican neighborhoods, because that was the closest thing to a heavy Spanish place in the New York / New Jersey area. Spanish communities always stay tight, whether it’s Puerto Rican, Colombian, Dominican…. F151: So in a Puerto Rican neighborhood you were accepted as Latino and not discriminated against for being Cuban?
RM: Absolutely. In fact, what was good about it was that I was on the Lower East Side and I spoke Spanish, so I was able to deal with the gangs from the Lower East Side that were trying to murder all the punks and skins. I was the Spanish guy and I had my clout for being Latin in the Latin areas that our music came out of. I’ve always been proud to be Cuban—I have it tattooed on me: “100% Latino.” I don’t discriminate, I don’t feel better than anyone, but I’m proud of my roots and I hope that some day I will be able to go and visit the country where I was born. www.agnosticfront.com
Words Jauretsi Saizarbitoria
Two years of remedial high school Spanish might help you locate a bathroom in Havana, but beyond that, good luck. These Cuba-specific phrases won’t save you from looking like a helpless turista, but they will tell you something deeper about Cuban culture. asere [a-SERR-ey] a warm term for “friend,” much like “brother” would be used in America. bagrawn Spanglish for “background,” it means an instrumental track that one raps over. Anything that can be rapped over is considered a bagrawn. brete [BRE-teh] a heavy disagreement. casa particular a private residence offering accommodations to foreigners. The Cuban who operates a casa particular must keep a detailed record of all lodgers, as there are strict government quotas for the number of people allowed in one home. Exceeding the quota can result in heavy fines or even confiscation of the house. CDR an acronym for the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution, one of Cuba’s most ubiquitous government organizations. Conceived with the team task of monitoring suspicious
behavior against the Revolution, the CDR is a network of committees organized through neighborhood representatives. Each CDR official is assigned a few local blocks, referred to as barrios (neighborhoods), and keeps a record of personal information on each resident, including friendships with foreigners, potential meetings in homes, family dynamics, personal freelance incomes, and attendance at pro-Castro rallies. The Cuban government defines the CDR as a committee designed to guard the Revolution. Its critics see it as a neighborhood spy program that crushes personal freedoms. The country’s musical jingle for the CDR proclaims, “En cada barrio, Revolución!” (“In every neighborhood, Revolution!”) Cubaneo the daily hustle of just getting by. chisme [shees-may] gossip.
el cameo (the camel) a nickname for the local bus, referring to the raised hump in the middle of the vehicle.
el Internet Cubano (the Cuban Internet) the term is often used to describe the way in which gossip travels by word of mouth on the streets. It’s also referred to jokingly as the only form of Internet on the island—a discreet commentary on the strict regulations which forbid locals from surfing the Internet without state approval.
can encompass a range of possibilities, from cultural companionship to sexual partnership and even marriage.
fula bullshit, fake, false.
pulmonero hustler, male prostitute.
gusano (worm) Fidel Castro’s label for CubanAmericans who have left the island. They are considered traitors to the Revolution. Associating with Cuban exiles in Miami might earn a Cuban the judgment of “being in bed with the gusanos.”
miki miki a jocular term used by rappers for anything or anyone considered wimpy. Derived from the cartoon character Mickey Mouse.
la película (the movie) nickname for the local bus. Also called la novella (the soap opera), referring to the daily drama that occurs on the bus.
imperialistas the Cuban government’s term for Americans; derived from “imperialism,” the policy of extending a nation’s authority by territorial acquisition or by the establishment of economic and political hegemony over other nations. internacionales thinking with a large mind. “Out of the box” and beyond Cuba. Derived from a rap song by Junior Clan called “Internacionales.”
mona literally translated as “ponytail,” this word is used in reference to fringe cultures, and in recent years, specifically the Cuban hip-hop movement. moñero a rapper or someone who is into rap music and culture. parque jurásico a term referring to an abstract, faraway place where friends disappear when caught up working hard or getting by on the daily hustle. Derived from the film Jurassic Park. pinchar to work. palestino someone who comes f rom the Cuban countryside. que bolada a term for “What a joke.”
jinitero / jinitera [hini-tera] although crudely compared to prostitutes, jiniteras more closely resemble the Japanese geisha. A jinitera may be motivated by economic necessity, but a jinitera’s background often includes a high level of education and sometimes even a white-collar profession. A jinitera’s relationship with her financial patron
la yuma a nickname for Americans. The origin is not certain but it has been suggested that it comes from a 1957 American western entitled 3:10 to Yuma. yanqui (yankee) a common Cuban word for an American.
Interview Nicole Velasco Photos Jauretsi Saizarbitoria Street-corner rap battles. Freestyling at underground house parties. Lyrical illumination of the hardships of the oppressed. These vignettes of early American hip-hop have crossed the border to set up shop all over the world. Author and professor Sujatha Fernandes has taken particular interest in rapâ€™s place in Cuba, where a simmering youth culture turned into a national movement. Her book, Cuba Represent!, sets out to explain what hip-hop means to the island.
Frank151: What’s your academic background, and how did you become involved with Cuban hip-hop? Sujatha Fernandes: I did a Ph.D. in political science and I now teach in the sociology department at Queens College City University of New York. I became interested in Cuban hiphop in 1998 when I was in Australia, where I was already involved with the hip-hop scene. My sister is a journalist who was working for Radio Habana in Cuba, and she emailed me from there and said, “I’m meeting all these fantastic hiphop artists and producers. You really have to come and check this out.” So I went in January 1998, and through her I met all of these people. It was very low-key; it was more just hanging out with them at parties and going to a few shows and talking to them. I left after three months totally fascinated. I hadn’t even been thinking about writing on Cuba or on hip-hop, but it struck me that this was really something that I wanted to devote more time to and learn more about. F151: In Cuba Represent! you mention hip-hop is largely a US import by way of Miami. How have American rappers influenced Cuban hip-hop, and which rappers have had the most influence? SF: American rappers in Cuba have had a very big influence. It’s mostly been what’s sometimes referred to here as conscious rap or underground rap—people like Common, Mos Def, Talib Kweli. Paris was the very first American rapper to go to Cuba, in 1997. So there’s been a long history of these more militant rappers—message rappers some people call them—going to Cuba and talking about issues of race, particularly.
When you look back to the ’60s, there’s a long trajectory of people who went and talked about issues of race and tried to make these connections between Black Cubans and African-Americans—Assata Shakur Stokely Carmichael, Angela Davis. In some ways I see the hip-hop movement as a continuation of that, these rappers going and talking about issues of politics and race to Cuban rappers and exchanging ideas. It’s both a continuation of that and it’s also very unique, because for many countries, their majority experience of hip-hop has been what comes through MTV or radio or multinational record companies. The unique thing about Cuba was, because of this history and tradition, they were hearing a very particular strain of Black nationalist rap, and so that had huge influence on Cuban rappers. A lot of them hadn’t really thought about race in those terms before, because in Cuba people didn’t necessarily think in racial terms. There’s this idea that, “We’re all Cuban, whether we’re Black or White or whatever.” That’s been very powerful throughout, both prior to the Revolution and especially during the Revolution. But as economic and racial inequalities started emerging in Cuba during the ’90s when they suffered a very severe economic decline, young people in particular started questioning, “If the Revolution is supposed to be all about racial equality, why is it I’m treated this way? Why is it that I’m not given access to working in the tourism industry? Why is it that Black people on the whole are poorer than White people?” American rappers were providing an answer that really seemed to fit with the Cuban experience. Finally there was the possibility for speaking out and for talking about issues of race.
F151: In your book you mention a difference between popular rap and underground rap in Cuba. Can you explain that? SF: Cubans were listening to rap music in the early ’90s, but it wasn’t until really the mid- to late-’90s that kids started rapping on the corner. Much like it started here, it was a really local thing that happened at the fiesta—the local party. It wasn’t yet something where people thought of themselves as groups and composed lyrics and had concerts. At that point
it was still what I would call the more popular commercial kind of rap. They were mostly imitating American rap that they were hearing from 99 Jamz FM or from other radio stations coming from Miami. Then in the late ’90s these trends start diverging. You get the development of an underground, more militant kind of hip-hop that criticizes race within Cuba, that makes demands on the Cuban state, that really begins to get a political voice; and on the other side,
dance music, which is more about bringing rap into a popular context, into parties, to talk about having fun, and even trying to attract foreign record deals, which underground rap really didn’t attempt. F151: In the very beginning stages of Cuban hip-hop, who were some of the groups or artists who were paving the way? SF: One of the groups that became internationally famous was Orishas. They started out in Cuba in the underground scene and had quite a large following there, and then because they couldn’t really tour and they couldn’t release records, they decided that they would leave and go to Spain. From there they started releasing albums that became really well known and have appeared in soundtracks for major films. They even won a Grammy. That’s one side of things. On the other side there were people like Pablo Herrera, the producer; Ariel Fernández, a DJ and a journalist; and various other artists like Obsesión, Anónimo Consejo, and Los Paisanos. A lot of these groups worked to raise the profile of hip-hop—to create more venues and state recognition for what they were doing. F151: On the topic of state recognition, in your book you note that institutional support for Cuban rap comes from the Cuban state and that there are representatives from hip-hop bridging the gap between government and people. How does that relationship work? SF: I think we have to refer to that in the past tense in some ways. When I wrote my book I was talking about the situation back in 2001 and about how Ariel Fernández, Pablo Herrera, and Nehanda Abiodun—a Black Panther
who is in Cuba—played a really important role because of their connections within state institutions, but also their legitimacy within hip-hop movements, both nationally and internationally. They managed to win themselves a certain degree of space within state institutions, partly by saying, “If the state does not recognize this very powerful and angry movement, then this movement is not going to support it. And what is going to happen with this mass of angry young Black people? If they don’t work together with the government, they’re gonna work against it.” I think at very high levels there was recognition that this was the case, and that’s why the state made a lot of effort to create a rap agency, to provide spaces for concerts. The annual festival that was held every year up until 2002 in Alamar attracted around 1,000 young people from all over the city. The state paid for bringing in Cuban artists to perform at the festival. The state would provide food, transportation to events…the government put a lot of money into supporting these underground festivals. In 2001 there was a meeting between rappers and Abel Prieto, the Cuban Minister of Culture. The rappers said, “We want our own agency,” because in Cuba all music is regulated through agencies. Any artist belongs to an agency that is of their musical genre, and any concerts they do, they do through the agency. As a musician in Cuba—whether you’re a rapper or whether you’re a renowned salsa artist—you receive a monthly wage from the state, so even a poor, struggling rapper can still receive a monthly wage, the same as the internationally touring jazz musician.
So in 2004 they created a rap agency, and the head of the rap agency was a woman rapper, Magia, from the group Obsesión. It was a really huge thing, because in rap generally women don’t have such a high profile. Right now I would say that people like Magia, Anónimo Consejo, all of these people who are in the Cuban Rap Agency, are playing a similar role to what Ariel and Pablo played ten years ago. Ariel and Pablo are no longer in Cuba. Ariel lives in New York and in DC and Pablo is in the UK. F151: Today, who’s carrying on the hip-hop scene in Cuba? SF: A lot of rappers have left. Obsesión is still there and Anónimo Consejo is still there, and those two groups are both in the rap agency. Instead of the rap festival, which finished in 2002, they organize a yearly conference, a seminar on hip-hop, which still brings people from all over to talk about hip-hop, where it’s going, what they’re doing. They’re also a bit older and they’re not the young people that were involved from the start, but I think that they’re still trying to do the work that they set out to do. They’re trying to expand hip-hop from beyond just music to do work in prisons and to take it into the provinces, because hip-hop has always been a very urban thing and it’s always been a very Havana-central thing. They’re trying to take it into rural areas and to Santiago, which is on the eastern side of the island, a very historically Black part of the country. One of the main groups currently in Cuba is Los Aldeanos, and they are very critical of the Cuban government. The fact that they can say these things and still be able to have an artistic career would never have been possible 20 years ago. It shows, I think, a certain
moving away from the path that the earlier hip-hop artists have tried, which was about working with the state, still trying to maintain what they saw as the ideals of their parents’ generation or of the Revolution. F151: Can you see the trajectory of Cuban hip-hop? SF: I don’t know if we can talk about Cuban hip-hop as only in Cuba anymore, because many of the pioneers have left. Julio Cardenas is one of the first, from a group called RCA. He was one of the first to leave, in 2001. He lives here in New York City. From Julio onwards, Ariel left, Pablo left, Los Paisanos left, Las Krudas—a lesbian rap group—left. Many of the founders and pioneers of Cuban hip-hop no longer live in Cuba, so when we talk about the future, we have to recognize that the future is in the diasporates. The second area I think that is the future of Cuban rap is in its mixture with other musical forms. The young generation coming up now is not necessarily listening to rap; it’s listening to reggaeton. But we have to recognize that reggaeton has its roots in reggae and rap. How rap music lives on through many of these other cultural expressions is really important to notice. That has been something very strong throughout the whole history of Cuban music, how these different genres meld into each other. Cuban rap itself drew on many other forms, and you see Cuban rap groups using traditional instruments, using salsa, using traditional drums like the batá. Just as Cuban rappers nourish from all these diverse Cuban music traditions, so it gives voice to different musical traditions. Even if Cuban rap is not what 1,000 young Cubans will go to a concert for anymore, it’s living on.
Eduardo Mu単oz Bachs - 1961
Words and images courtesy of Jose A. Rodriguez and Irina Cristobal In 1961, director Tomás Gutiérrez Alea approached his friend, a young illustrator named Eduardo Muñoz Bachs, with an urgent request. Alea needed a poster designed for his upcoming film, Historias de la Revolución (Stories of the Revolution). Bachs, an illustrator of children’s books, had never designed a poster. Nonetheless, he accepted the assignment. Bachs watched Alea’s film and chose one scene to feature—the first-person view of a rifle aimed at a man through a crude window. His simple yet effective composition was the first step on a path that would lead Bachs to a career as an internationally acclaimed poster maker. He would share his success with several other artists, all selected by the ICAIC (Cuban Institute of Cinematic Arts) to illustrate not only Cuban-made
films, but every imported film that was shown in Cuba’s movie theaters. Before the 1959 Revolution, Cuban movie posters were heavily influenced by Hollywood, with the end goal being ticket sales. After Fidel Castro took power, movie theaters were open to all people, and the government was not interested in selling any one particular title. Suddenly, ICAIC designers were
Eduardo Muñoz Bachs - 1974
Antonio Reboiro - 1967
Antonio Perez (Ñiko) - 1969
Raúl Martínez - 1968
René Azcuy - 1970
René Azcuy - 1969
Eduardo Muñoz Bachs - 1986
Antonio Reboiro - 1964
producing more than promotional materials; they were creating works of fine art. The importance of the Cuban movie poster did not come from aesthetics alone. During the 1960s and ’70s, leftist artists around the world saw the Cuban Revolution as the nest of their ideas and ambitions. Many famous European artists gave workshops to ICAIC designers. Well-known painters like Spain’s Antonio Saura and Chile’s Roberto Matta were also contributing their expertise. The final product was an eclectic work of art that reflected the individual style of each artist and their influences. As Susan Sontag wrote in her introductory essay to Dugald Stermer’s 1970 book, The Art of the Revolution, “[Cuban posters] show a wide range of influences from abroad which include the doggedly personal styles of American poster makers like Saul Bass and Milton Glazer; the style of the Czech film posters from the 1960s by Josef Flejar and Zdenek Chotenovsky; the naïve style of the images d’Espinal; the neo-Art Nouveau style popularized by the Fillmore and Avalon posters of the mid-1960s; and the Pop Art style, itself parasitic on commercial poster aesthetics, of Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and Tom Wesselman.” For decades, Cuban movie posters have been made using the silkscreen process. The posters are individually hand printed with thick paint that gives a texture reminiscent of brushstrokes. Each color is printed separately, requiring 24 hours to dry before the next color can be applied. Because of their painterly look, large format (20” x 30”), bold palette, and varied styles, postRevolution film posters were instantly respected as legitimate works of art both in Cuba and abroad. ICAIC artists were competing in the same design
contests as their counterparts from Poland, Czechoslovakia, Germany, Italy, Japan, and elsewhere, often bringing home coveted prizes. Cuban posters are very attractive to collectors because of their limited print runs, usually editions of 500. Of the originals, many were posted on public walls and billboards, and more still destroyed by tropical heat or bug infestation. Some prints have fetched four figures at auction—not bad for posters printed less than 50 years ago. No records were kept of how many movie titles were printed, but based on Lincoln Cushing’s Revolution! Cuban Poster Art, it’s estimated that “ICAIC’s total production to date is between 2,300 and 2,900 distinct titles.” Cuban movie posters are still being produced, though these days they’re mostly reprints of classic designs. Only a handful of the original golden team from the ’60s and ’70s are alive. Half of them left Cuba to work as freelance artists in other countries. In 1995, during an interview published in the book El Cartel de Cine Cubano (The Cuban Movie Poster) by Jesus Vega, Eduardo Muñoz Bachs spoke about the current state of poster making in Cuba. “It’s all abandoned. I would say that the main reason is the loss of support and incentive to the graphic artists. We created our own incentives by working as a team, loving our jobs, the enthusiasm of creating, the importance that those posters had at the international level, and all the prizes we won.” For two decades they were able to produce a body of work that put Cuba on the map among the best graphic design in the world, a feat that will probably never be repeated. www.artofcuba.com
A MOMENT IN TIME Words and photos Estevan Oriol I originally went to Cuba to shoot photos for a book called East of Havana which was about the Cuban hip-hop scene.
Cuba is one of the coolest places I’ve been in the world. In one sense you feel bad for Cubans because they’ve been held down over the whole trade embargo. They’re stuck in a time warp and have limited resources. Everything except for life stopped after the ’60s.
I know one day the world will fuck it up and make it a tourist trap like Cancun. You’ll be seeing Jamba Juice and Starbucks. Hopefully that’s later rather than sooner. www.estevanoriol.com
The people are nice and full of hospitality, the food is great, and the scenery is incredible.
FOTO : EstevanOriol.com
Words Jon Coen Photos Ann Marie Coen
I don’t know how I maintained composure trembling like that. My travel experiences had put me in some less-than-postcard situations, but somehow wading through a Central American river at night with a machete or treading water over a half-mile offshore Tahitian reef didn’t seem as sticky as this. A firm believer that nothing worthwhile ever comes easy, I had organized a surf trip to Cuba. At an age where surf potential had already been explored in remote regions of Russia and every nook of Indonesia’s archipelago, this tropical island, just 90 miles from the US, was largely undocumented by surfing publications. That’s most likely because Americans who travel to Cuba are in violation of the Trading With the Enemy Act, part of the half-century-long embargo on the Cuban government. Our very being there was considered subversive, especially by the George W. regime of the time. Most people think Castro forbids Americans, but he actually welcomes us. Fidel Castro has retained control of Cuba since 1959 when, as a courageous young leader, he led an armed overthrow of the crooked Fulgencio Batista dictatorship. The idealist notion of shared wealth in a classless society almost had a chance. But after firing squads, failed sugar yields, the fall of Soviet Russia, and decades of isolation and poverty, the movement is in a shape similar to the 84-year-old leader himself—stale, decrepit, and surviving off of an artificial anus. I was in trouble for a slight fib intended to save a few bucks. The Cuban economy relies on tourism. The things savvy travelers do in other parts of the third world to make our money go further, like hitchhiking or sleeping in a van, are highly illegal in Cuba. You’re not a surfer, a wanderer, or a traveler by their official standard; you’re simply
a tourist, and by their rules, you will pay tourist prices. Filmmaker Joe Carter, my wife Ann Marie—the trip’s photographer—and I had arrived in Cuba two days earlier in a busted Soviet-era sled. We were warned that American credit cards and ATM cards don’t work in Cuba (didn’t want a paper trail anyway) and the bank in the Bahamas was short on Euros. We were already tight on funds when we arrived. Once in Havana, we weren’t cleared through customs until we reserved two rooms in a downtown hotel at $160, which was way over our budget. The fact that they wouldn’t let us all stay in one room was our introduction to the strict adherence to the rules of Cuban tourism. In theory, Cubans have access to healthcare and benefits that most Americans can only dream of. No one starves, but folks are hungry. There’s no widespread human suffering, but tons of obvious depression. There is a love of the arts, but a tight lid on expression. Our first day in Havana was nothing short of visual brilliance. The same embargo that has caused such want has also uniquely preserved the architecture and historical integrity of Cuba. The old DeSotos, Regents, Corvairs, and Wayfarers are somehow kept alive as they roll past the Hotel Nacional, Habana Riviera, and the Bellavista—the old haunts of Meyer Lansky and his syndicated connections. The Cuban climate before the Revolution—both
meteorological and political—was an incubator for lawless American fun. And today, that same colonial architecture stands, weathered by centuries of salt air and protected by circumstance. And just as we had no regard for the embargo, the people of Cuba held no ill will toward us as Americans. When in uniform of clerk, hostess, bartender, or civil servant, the population is as helpful as a bag of hammers. But simply as people—a beautiful mix of Afro-Caribbean and Spanish—Cubans couldn’t be warmer. After the first night, Joe checked out of his room and into ours. I retired early, leaving he and Ann Marie at the hotel bar. When they were confronted about the one room, they pretended to be a couple and said I had gone to another hotel. But the staff actually followed them to their room and discovered
us. The entire night was punctuated with forceful knocks at the door and a ringing phone. Worst-case scenarios swirled through our heads. The plan was hatched the next morning for them to continue the charade and check out together while I snuck out. And that’s how I came to be scaling down a Havana fire escape early one February morning, with visions of a Cuban work camp in my head. I was scared, but stealthy as a goddamn ninja as I made my escape. I hadn’t any ethical dilemmas about disobeying my government, but I was well aware that should we encounter problems, we shouldn’t expect US intervention. If you’re going to disregard Big Brother, you can’t very well ask him to save your ass. The most unsettling aspect was that I had brought my wife into this situation,
and now we were separated. Every pore exuded sweat as I landed in the alleyway behind the hotel. There, a man confronted me and demanded to know what I was doing. I smiled and played the role of the lost gringo. I slipped in a doorway and rushed down a hall, only to come face to face with a glass booth filled with surveillance screens. We were fucked. Now escaping certain interrogation, I ran through the lobby, right past Ann Marie and Joe. I fled out the front door and across the busy Avenida Paseo, and down to our planned rendezvous spot. Looking back, I’m not sure what kind of trouble we were in. Flash forward several days, we fell in with locals, surfers who exist essentially without surf culture. The first boards were made of refrigerator foam and fiberglass stolen from the boatyard. The rare “real” board was brought in from family in Miami or the even less common visiting surfer from Europe. Once pro surfers Billy Hume, Ben McBrien, and Ian Parnell arrived, we rolled 15 deep, with new friends who would have taken a bullet for us. Eventually a cold front swung through the Gulf of Mexico and a powerful swell lashed Havana. The surf went from flat to well-overhead overnight, and we surfed solid waves mere yards from an unforgiving, razor-sharp dry reef. Surfer magazine had been here in the ’90s but didn’t score a swell like this. On some level, we broke surfing Cuba to the world. But what stayed with us was sharing it with such an impassioned group of waveriders. Despite the bond we had forged with the local crew, our governments were still at odds. After the swell, we returned to downtown Havana to a spot where
six weeks earlier, American ideologues had placed a digital scrawl touting historical human rights quotes on the US Interest Building. Shortly before our visit, Castro had responded by shielding the words with 138 black flags— one for each Cuban killed in the Bay of Pigs Invasion of 1961—and a host of anti-Bush billboards. The wind had come up considerably and the flapping sound of the imperial resistance filled the air as we walked first past armed Cuban officials and then the suspicious American military personnel. Since Bush left office, the digital scrawl has been shut off. Back to the spot where I was supposed to meet my wife and friend—I was a wreck. I’d been waiting ten…20 minutes, and now pacing for a half hour. I wasn’t going to walk back toward the hotel for fear that I would be nabbed. But now the thought of my wife in custody made me frantic. I made short trips up the street, daring closer to the hotel every time, reviewing horror stories of imprisoned foreigners. I was potentially going back to admit my guilt and start plea bargaining for our freedom. This was the bottom. As I approached Avenida Paseo I looked across the street and spotted Ann Marie and Joe. And they weren’t shackled at the ankles. There were no officials in dark sunglasses awaiting my surrender. They had checked out without issue and were now sitting at a table, waiting for the waitress to bring their cafecito. And there I was, the would-be escapeartist-turned-sweaty-American, yelling obscenities in English at my wife across the ornate brickwork and beautiful vintage taxis.
Words and images courtesy of Marta Rosa Prohías Pizarro I do not remember what clothing he was wearing the morning of May 1, 1960, although I am pretty sure it was a business suit. I recall him waving as he was about to board the Pan Am flight that would take him directly from Havana to New York City. I did not know how long it would be before I saw him again. As a 13-year-old deeply attached to my father, I was scared. I know now that he was scared as well…of the unknown fate that awaited him. Besides some basic clothing, he took with him his memories, his incredible talent, and his dreams. Antonio Prohías’ life began as an orphaned baby (his mother perished in a fire) who was lovingly raised by paternal aunts in Havana. Whenever he was bored in elementary school, he would entertain himself and his classmates by creating illustrated stories. Following high school, he enrolled for one year at the University of Havana to study Agricultural Engineering and fulfill a promise made to his father. He also attended the well-known Escuela de Arte de San Alejandro, where he found it impossible to limit his artistic
expression to the pre-established formula espoused by the institution. Around the same time, at 18 years of age, he began his professional career, contributing cartoons to weekly newspapers. At age 25, he earned the Juan Gualberto Gómez award, recognizing him as the foremost cartoonist in Cuba. For many years, my father was the editorial cartoonist for El Mundo, one of the most respected newspapers in Havana. He also continued
contributing to weekly newspapers, primarily Zig-Zag, for which he created “El Hombre Siniestro” (The Sinister Man), still remembered today along with other characters, such as Tovarich. Few know that he often did graphic art and marketing work to supplement the small salaries offered by newspapers.
When Castro took over on January 1, 1959, my father was the President of the Cuban Cartoonists Association and was honored by Castro himself for the anti-government cartoons he had published during Batista’s regime. My father was at the height of his popularity in Cuba and was hopeful that this national movement would bring stability to the country’s political structure. But within a few short weeks, my father had grown disillusioned with the new regime and began publishing antiCastro cartoons. As a result, he was dismissed from all the newspapers that employed him. Many asked that he be executed “at the wall.” He was forced to revert to his graphic and marketing artwork, which became his sole means of support, while planning an exit from his homeland. He had decided to migrate to the United States. My father realized early on that “El Hombre Siniestro” would not cross
over to the US. Since the timing coincided with the height of the cold war, he was inspired to transform “El Hombre Siniestro” into a duo of characters constantly spying on and attacking each other. El Hombre Siniestro—dressed in black—was joined by a twin, dressed in white, and Spy vs. Spy was born. My father then began thinking about where his new characters would fit. By the time he arrived in New York, he knew that MAD magazine would offer the most suitable home for the spies. Upon his arrival, he worked briefly in a factory ironing sweaters. Within a week he was publishing political cartoons— primarily anti-Castro—in two New York City Spanish-language newspapers, which hastened my family’s departure from Cuba. Along with my mother and brother, I reunited with my father in New York on July 1, 1960. Twelve days later I accompanied him to the offices of MAD so that he could present his ideas and characters. For the next 25 years, his efforts concentrated on Spy vs. Spy, although he published other works and contributed ideas for MAD’s cover pages. His body of work remains as proof of his talent and ingenuity. However, it fails to reveal the man behind the pen. This very caring soul was a true gentleman who, in contrast with his famous characters, avoided conflict and vulgarity. He read avidly, primarily philosophy, psychology, and history. He was a perfectionist in his work, researching extensively to ensure that even the most superfluous details were accurate. He kept voluminous binders with drawings and photographs of clocks, tanks, airplanes, and so on, which he would later use in his work. Since his days as an editorial cartoonist for a morning paper, he
learned to work at night and sleep during the day, a routine he kept throughout his life. He smoked too much and constantly drank strong Cuban coffee. He enjoyed good conversation, music, and family. He believed deeply that children need encouragement and guidance to flourish as productive and happy human beings. My father continued to live in New York City, making occasional visits to the family in Miami. In the mid-1980s he simply stayed in Miami and stopped working, with no fanfare and no official retirement. He once told me that on that day in May of 1960 he knew that he would never see Cuba again. He was right. Antonio Prohías died in Miami on February 24, 1998 after a short illness. I still miss him.
Cuba has always had a strained relationship with capitalism—an isolated country whose main revenue comes from t ourism—a nation whose currency is tied to the one country with an embargo against it. What would a mainstream Cuba look like? What would happen to the island if any US citizen could take a thirty-minute flight from Miami?
Interview Brendan Sullivan Photo Keith Lew
Roberto Monticello’s Cuban filmwork will be a part of that process, no matter what happens. His work focuses on loving Cuba just the way it is, fixating always on its traditions and historical legacy. Although Monticello has worked extensively in other regions, his heart always brings him back to Cuba, the island where he was born and from which he later absconded. Frank151: You were born in Santiago de Cuba? Roberto Monticello: Right. Yes. F151: What keeps you going back there if you left in the first place? RM: It’s my roots. It’s where I come from. I’ve been doing humanitarian work and human rights work in many countries through the years, so I decided that I have to do something in Cuba. I go to Tampa. I have two friends who have sailboats. We fill up the two sailboats and we go to Cuba with medicine. I do it to help people there, because the US embargo and travel ban does not really affect the Cuban government; it affects the poor people in Cuba. I’ve been arrested four times for taking medicine to Cuba. F151: Do you get arrested in Cuba, or
on your way back to the US? RM: On the way back to the United States. I don’t hide it. I do it openly. It’s like an act of civil disobedience. F151: How do they know you’ve been to Cuba? RM: For some reason they know. I don’t hide it. And when I go by plane, the same way. At the airport, they always stop me. Something about my passport. They check my passport, and immediately they ask me, “Where have you been?” I always say, “Cuba.” I never lie about what I’m doing. I actually think I’m doing the right thing. I’m going back in July, actually. I’m bringing medicine. Then I go back in September to see friends in Havana, and then I go back in December for a film festival. F151: So you don’t think of your work as political? RM: This is not political work; this is humanitarian work. We cannot punish the Cuban people for the government they have. They have a healthcare system, but they do not have enough medicine. F151: What are the medicines that they need in Cuba right now? RM: Mostly antibiotics, but they can use anything—antibiotics, laxatives.... One time I went to Cuba, we went to Montego Bay first, and then we crossed into Santiago, my hometown. In Montego Bay I bought a dialysis machine for $800, an old one, and I took it to Cuba. F151: I’ve heard that there are overthe-counter medications that are almost impossible to find in Cuba. I’ve been told that if you go to Cuba, you should just bring a bottle of aspirin for your hosts. RM: That’s exactly right. They run out of medicine. They have 12 million people. If the population was four to
five million, that would be fine, but 12 million people, they don’t have enough. And I cannot just sit in New York and have a good time and not try to help. F151: Where are you going to be right before you go to Cuba this time? RM: I’m going to the Gulf of Mexico. I’m gonna be filming the oil spill. I work for different human rights groups and disaster relief. I’ve done films in Darfur during the genocide. I’m doing one about human trafficking into the US from Eastern Asian countries, but I will always be doing films about Cuba, no matter what.
“This is not political work; this is humanitarian work. We cannot punish the Cuban people for the government they have.” F151: Cuba struggled for an identity for hundreds of years because its capital is very European, and there was a heavy class system. Cuba being isolated now has a very strong culture. Do you see it as your work as a filmmaker to document and preserve that culture? RM: My life is Cuban culture. I want Cuban culture to survive and grow and get even more centered on what they are. We are what we are, and we have to be proud of it and respect everybody else, but the only way to respect every other culture is to be secure in your culture. Hopefully, this fall and winter, I’m making a film in Cuba. At the moment, the script is called The Pride and the Passion. It deals with World War II in the Caribbean, what Cuba was like and
the Caribbean during World War II. That story has never been told. F151: Tell me more about Carnival De Cuba. My understanding from your film is that it is a merging of many cultural traditions that still survive there. RM: Havana has always been very European, even in look. Santiago, the other end of the island, is the Caribbean side. The Caribbean side has more defined religions, and all these religions participate in Carnival. It’s the most cultural place in Cuba—Santiago. It used to be the capital, before Havana, and now it’s the cultural capital of the Caribbean. They have more museums, more performance spaces, than any other place in the Caribbean. F151: For most Americans who are able to get to Cuba—even illegally— the best way to go is to fly to Cancun and then take a propeller plane to Havana. Cancun is a Caribbean city, but it’s very Americanized. There’s Señor Frog’s. There’s T.G.I. Friday’s. Is there a way to preserve the richness of Cuban culture, including the European Havana and the Caribbean Santiago? Would there be a way to allow Americans in that wouldn’t be completely corrupting? RM: That’s what I’m hoping for. I’m hoping to preserve Cuba as it is. Better life for the citizens, but preserve the culture of Cuba. My heart is the culture of Cuba, and I want to preserve it. The first time I see a McDonald’s in Cuba, that’s when I will be very upset [laughs]. You know? I’m hoping that we can keep the culture like it is. If you go to many parts in the Caribbean, or any place in the world, it’s very Americanized. No other place is as settled on the roots as Cuba is.
F151: Do you think the United State’s relationship with Cuba will change in the future? RM: It has to…but why hasn’t it? The US has normalized relationships with all communist and former communist countries, except Cuba. We do banking with China and we trade with Vietnam. Why is Cuba so different? The Cuban Missile Crisis had more to do with the Soviet Union than anything else, and look at that relationship today and ask, “Why can’t the US normalize relations with this little island?” The only possibility is that there are people in power who are still upset over the Bay of Pigs. F151: Can they change, though? RM: They must. F151: For the typical American tourist who might find a way into Cuba or get a visa and travel there, how do you recommend they be respectful and enjoy Cuban culture? RM: I would suggest, for example, instead of staying necessarily in one of the hotels, you can stay in what they call a casa particular in Cuba, which are people’s homes. They rent rooms there, so you get to know the people. And also, don’t go just to the few tourist places. There is so much to see, and it’s so raw. Nothing has changed there in 50 years. Right now, Cuba is too isolated. We want to keep the purity of the island, but we want to be able to go to the world and say, “This is who we are.” www.robertomonticello.com
José Parlá for Frank151 - 2000
dylan Dylan Rieder, a short film by Gravis Footwear. For more info, log onto gravisskateboarding.com
As far as political notoriety goes, Cuba punches far above its weight. The feisty Caribbean nation is well known for playing “David” in a lo...