By Kylee Dawson | Arizona Daily Wildcat
Though off limits to Americans, Cuba is one of the most prized destinations of travelers worldwide.
A testament to this is “Cuba in Mind,” an anthology that contains experiences of love, poverty, romance and, of course, revolution in Cuba.
“Havana is the greatest club city in the world,” said travel writer Eleanor Early in 1937. And several of the authors in this anthology concur.
30 contributors from all walks of life, the authors of “Cuba in Mind,” including Ernest Hemingway, Langston Hughes, Allen Ginsburg and, UA alum Kimi Eisele, provide commentary on the beauty and mysticism of Cuba.
Cigars, mojito cocktails and distinctive styles of music make Cuba appetizing, but it is its people (and I don’t just mean Desi Arnaz and Fidel Castro) that make it irresistibly fascinating.
The anthology offers experiences of both foreigners and Cuban-Americans, which are all drastically different, but individually remarkable.
By far, the funniest experience comes from Romanian-born anti-communist writer and radio host Andrei Codrescu, who relocated from the Soviet Union to the U.S. in 1966. He pokes fun at the Cuban ‘sex trade’ in his book, “Ay, Cuba!” in which underage girls (and boys) who serve as tour guides might also show tourists a lot more of Cuba than they anticipated. (Wink, wink.)
Codrescu writes, “The boys gave off the same signals, though they were not as overtly sexual as the girls, and offered themselves as tour guides. The girls offered, well, everything.”
One American writer probably known just as well for his womanizing as his writing is Hemingway, who spent the last 20 years of his life in Cuba and is no doubt the high-roller of the anthology. His contribution to Cuba comes from the famous “Old Man and the Sea,” the story of a Cuban fisherman’s pursuit of a giant marlin.
The chapter titled, “The Great Blue River” begins, “People ask you why you live in Cuba and you say it is because you like it. It is too complicated to explain about the early morning in the hills above Havana where every morning is cool and fresh on the hottest day in summer.”
As the most prominent voice in the Harlem Renaissance, Langston Hughes had created a large fan base in Cuba by the time of his first visit in 1930. Translated into Spanish, his poems identified the racial issues in the U.S. and paralleled those of Cuba at the time.
No other author captured Cuba’s rich African heritage as Hughes did in “Havana Nights,” an essay he composed while mesmerized by Cuban music and women.
“When I arrived,” Hughes writes, “a Negro rumba band was playing in the courtyard, beating it out gaily, with maracas beneath the melody like the soft undertow of sea waves.”
Aside from Hughes, the most prominent poet represented in the anthology is Allen Ginsberg, whose interview with Allen Young in Gay Sunshine magazine describes Ginsberg’s experiences in Cuba during the Stalinist persecution of artists, writers and homosexuals who were put into forced-labor camps (as depicted in the film, “Before Night Falls,” about the gay Cuban poet and novelist, Reinaldo Arenas).
Discussing the persecution, Ginsberg writes, “It was a secret campaign, with the Young Communist League party-hack, flag-waving kids, like the Nixonettes, so to speak, accusing everybody they didn’t like of being faggots.”
Cuba has offered something very unique and memorable to each individual in this anthology, be it culture, politics or the interweaving of the two. Though compacted into stories, essays and poems, Cuban culture is immortalized in this beautifully prepared anthology.
Editor Maria Finn Dominguez will shed some more light on Cuba and Cuba in Mind at the Reader’s Oasis bookstore, located at 3400 E. Speedway in the Rancho Center shopping center, at 7 p.m.