The Red Blood of Cuban Identity
In the spring of 2000, I traveled through Cuba’s rural Guantánamo Prov-
ince on the back of a Russian flatbed truck with twenty-four Cuban artists
and theater performers. Holding on for dear life as the ancient machine
thundered through rocky mountain passes, hats tied down tight so gusts
of wind and dust did not blow them o√ onto the dusty roads, we took in
the paisaje—the beautiful scenery of the most distant points from Cuba’s
capital city of Havana. At the Punta de Maisí, the absolute eastern end-
point of the island, we jumped down from the truck and looked out over
the ocean toward Haiti, conscious of our position on the map and of the
vastness of the ocean that surrounded the island. An eerie graveyard of
shipwreck victims was haunting, reminding us of the ultimate fragility of
human life and the risks some take to chase a faraway dream.
The group that disembarked from the truck that afternoon was called
La Cruzada Teatral (the Theater Crusade), and it trekked—loaded with
bedding, cooking supplies, and the group’s puppets, costumes, and stage
props—into the farthest, most isolated reaches of rural Cuba called the
zonas del silencio (zones of silence). Considered inculto (uncultivated,
uneducated), even fifty years after a revolution that promised equality,
education, and ‘‘cultural development’’ for all, many Cuban campesinos
(farmers, once rural peasants) still had never had access to professional
artistic performances. Their exposure to the performing arts and to what
urban Cubans considered ‘‘culture’’ was limited to local amateurs—
guitar trios and folk singers who practiced on front porches, bartering
their music for bottles of rum and pork sandwiches at neighbors’ fiestas.
La Cruzada’s old truck rumbled through the small mountain commu-
nities once a year, performing in local schools by day and in town plazas
at night, actors and audience congregating under and around a single
spotlight powered by a small, humming generator.
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