INTRODUCTION:
MORE THAN JUST SCENERY
Campesinos in rural Cienfuegos and Guantánamo claim that Havana is
not the ‘‘real’’ Cuba, for it is a cosmopolitan city that has always been
exposed to international influences. The real Cuba is in the countryside,
they argue, where the culture has developed in its own uncontaminated
way and where the pura cepa (pure stock or root) is still alive and thriv-
ing. The president of the National Theater Board, Julián González, also
told me this when he met up with La Cruzada Teatral in Holguín for one
of its performances. As an urban dweller (he admitted), but also a cul-
tural specialist, he conceded, ‘‘Laura, mira,’’ waving his hand to indicate
the green hills lying for miles before us, ‘‘esto es Cuba de verdad, ya te das
cuenta’’ (Look, Laurie, this is the real Cuba, as I’m sure you realize by
now). This Cuba de verdad (real, true), according to its residents and
proponents, is a ‘‘pure’’ and noble face of Cuba whose spirit is not yet
‘‘contaminated’’ by the commercial market in the cities, the discontent of
fleeing rafters, or dissident Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White) posing
for foreign cameras. Conversely, urban residents say that Havana is,
indeed, the real Cuba, and that todo el resto (the rest) is sólo paisaje (just
scenery). After all, Havana is where the majority of Cubans live or want
to live; it is ‘‘where everything happens.’’ This popular jab extends to
theoretical debates in artistic and academic communities both inside
and outside of Cuba. Most stories about Cuban national and cultural
identity have been told from the perspective of the intellectual and urban
center, neglecting the other voices that have actively participated in con-
versations about cubanía (Cubanness). At various academic conferences
between 2001 and 2009, I was bewildered by what some of my fellow
scholars had to say; it was as if we had been conducting research in
entirely di√erent countries. According to many of these scholars, ‘‘Cu-
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