March 6, 2013
By Judy Rickard, author, Torn Apart: United by Love, Divided by Law, Findhorn Press, 2011
I have been fascinated by Cuba for decades – I don’t remember when and I don’t remember why and I don’t remember how – but I know it is in my heart. It’s been almost a year since my third trip there, with Witness for Peace, a group that does people-to-people journeys to Latin American countries and now to Cuba.
One of the most enjoyable parts of my visit, again, was meeting Cuba’s kids – dozens of them. I saw more – probably hundreds of them. Their faces and their smiles and their everyday world was a wonderful part of my trip in 2012, as it was in 2004 and 2005. I got a real reminder of that when I saw a movie last week at a film festival in my hometown. I think you would enjoy it if you can find it – at least find out what you can online.
Habanastation is a 2011 Cuban drama film directed by Ian Padrón. Filmed in a slum in western Havana, the film addresses inequalities in Cuba through the relationship between two children of different social strata. The film was selected as the Cuban entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 84th Academy Awards,but it did not make the final shortlist. I wish it had so it would have had wider distribution.
In the film, you see a very good depiction of Cuba through the lens of economics. The film focuses on two main characters, who dress alike in school uniforms, but that’s where the similarities end. A boy who lives in Miramar, a rich Havana district, is thrust into the life most Cuban kids live when he finds himself in La Tinta, a poor part of Havana. As the movie goes, the boy who has everything, has nothing in many ways and yet everything money can buy in his world. The boy who has nothing, of course, is rich in life and friends.
My first trip to Cuba included stays in Old Havana, Trinidad and Cienfuego, with a stop in Matanzas. I saw kids who were more like the movie’s poor kid, although the school we visited in Havana was in a district that was more upscale than the one in Habanastation. As I walked around Havana taking photos I saw kids playing soccer with goals made from scraps. I saw kids playing with bottles and broken toys. I saw kids looking in windows and admiring things they could not afford to buy. I had similar experiences on my second trip. My most recent trip more closely modeled the movie. Our group stayed at the Martin Luther King Center, a teaching and residential center adjacent to a Baptist church. Accommodations were very basic by American standards. From the outdoor stairs I could see kids playing soccer and tennis at a community center behind the dormitory we stayed in. They were not rich kids, but happy kids. Other kids came to the center many days we were there. They were not rich kids, but happy kids. That was my feeling everywhere. Even when we went to see the vocational high school, the art college, other sites. The kids everywhere were happy, having fun, no matter what they were doing. I even saw a young boy and girl screaming and laughing as they shared a pair of roller skates – each going along the street in a sort of skateboard action, pushing with one foot and wheeling along with the other. These kids who have very little know enough to share and enjoy things they have together.
I have learned Cubanos and Cubanas enough to recognize them when I see them in America. If I feel comfortable enough and the environment is okay, I often ask. So far I have been right. It happens in Florida a lot. It happened when I was on a White House tour. It happens here in California. I feel a bond and I can talk about Cuba a bit. It may be bittersweet for them, based on why they are here or why they left, and that is a big part of the story of Cuba. One day I hope our governments can be friends, like I feel our people are. That is what I say when I am in Cuba – “I love Cuba and the Cuban people. I wish our governments could be friends.”
Enjoy these pictures of the young faces of Cuba!
Find out more about Habanastation at this link:
Find out more about Witness for Peace at this link:
Judy Rickard is the author of ‘Torn Apart: United by Love, Divided by Law‘ (Findhorn Press), a book that presents the obstacles faced by binational same-sex couples and the efforts being made to bring equality and justice to them.