Cubanidad: Survival of Cuban Cultural Identity in the 21 st Century
By Maria Morukian
The history of Cuba is studded with social unrest and the struggle for international recognition and self-control. For the past forty years, the Castro government has fought to survive as a communist regime and to maintain a national sense of defiance, particularly against the United States. However, the collapse of the Soviet Union has forced Cuba to open its doors to more diverse foreign investment and international tourism, thereby introducing the ideals of capitalism and consumerism into a socialist society. Although foreign relations, especially between Cuba and the United States, remain on shaky ground, the Cuban government has taken strides to increase the flow of communication between Cuba and the rest of the world. In the past decade, major changes have taken place to increase tourism and foreign capital in Cuba,yet along with these changes come various concerns regarding the preservation of Cuban culture and the welfare of Cuban society.
Cuba is on the threshold of entering an interconnected global environment, and in order to thrive while maintaining its strong individual identity, it is imperative that new institutions be introduced and existing institutions be developed in order to prepare Cuba for the effects of a consumer society. Despite the Castro government’s fear that loosening its absolute control over international exchange could result in the loss of the distinct Cuban culture, the state must submit more power to civil society by allowing citizens to participate in the decision-making processes of the nation and recognizing Cuban citizens as consumers of universal popular culture by granting civil society control over the mass media. These changes can be accomplished without the threat of sacrificing the essence of Cubanidad, yet it will take a great deal of compromise and ingenuity on the part of both national and international organizations.
It must be noted that this paper does not argue for the complete decentralization and democratization of the Cuban government. Rather, the paper focuses on researching the history and foundation of the Cuban identity and what measures must be taken to both preserve the Cuban culture and to give Cuban society the flexibility it needs to participate more productively in the international community.
The Essence of Cubanidad
In order to understand the future of Cuban culture, it is necessary to investigate the ideals of Cubanidad and how the national and cultural identities have been cultivated. To begin with, Cubans are extremely proud of their culture and eager to share the different facets of the country’s history. The island’s mixture of Spanish, African, and indigenous roots and its history of contradiction and struggle have played large roles in forming the national identity that thrives on both assimilation and diversity. Despite Communism’s stark imprint on the face of Cuba, the island continues to display its love for the characteristic vibrance and warmth of the Caribbean. As Dr. Pablo Fernandez, Cuba’s poet laureate, pointed out, Spain may have given Cuba a language, but Africa gave Cuba its soul.
The influence of these diverse cultures on the Cuban identity was ignored through the centuries under Spanish rule, as the history books were essentially written from the viewpoint of the Spanish conquistadors. Racial and ethnic discrimination greatly altered the representation of the indigenous and African populations and undermined their struggles under the Spanish Crown.
Thus, the histories and lifestyles of the “others” survived through vibrant music and dance, and through legends and myths that have been kept alive and handed down through the generations. The Castro Revolution altered the idea of the white intellectual definition of Cubanidad, however, helping Cuban identity evolve into the ideology of a nation defined by its solidarity, the cubania revolucionaria that we see today.