Although a clear Cuban identity has emerged, Cuban society is not easy to fathom. Cubans “adore mystery and continually do their damnedest to render everything more intriguing. Conventional rules do not apply,” thought author Juliet Barclay. The Cubans value context, and the philosophical approach to life differs markedly from North America or northern Europe. Attempts to analyze Cuba through the North American value system are bound to be wide of the mark.
In the decades since the Revolution, most Cubans have learned to live double lives. One side is spirited, inventive, irrepressibly argumentative and critical, inclined to keep private shrines at home to both Christian saints and African gods, and profit however possible from the failings and inefficiencies of the state. The other side commits them to be good revolutionaries and to cling to the state and the man who runs it. When loyalists (those faithful to Fidel) speak of the “Revolution,” they don’t mean the toppling of Batista’s regime, or Castro’s seizure of power, or even his and the country’s conversion to Communism. They mean the ongoing process of building a society where everyone supposedly benefits. Despite a pandemic of disaffection, many Cubans seem happy to accept the sacrifice of individual liberties for the abstract notion of improving equality.
The Cuban people are committed to social justice. The idea that democracy includes every person’s right to guaranteed health care and education is deeply ingrained in their consciousness. True, city folk crave the opportunity to better their lives materially, but few Cubans are concerned with the accumulation of material wealth. Most Cubans are more interested in sharing something with you than getting something from you. They are unmoved by talk of your material accomplishments.
The traditional Afro-Cuban tropical culture has proved resistant to puritanical revolutionary doctrine. Cubans are sensualists of the first degree. Judging by the ease with which couples neck openly and spontaneously slip into bed, the dictatorship of the proletariat that transformed Eastern Europe into a perpetual Sunday school has made little headway in Cuba. The state may promote the family, but Cubans have a notoriously indulgent attitude towards casual sex. Infidelity is “as Cuban as sugarcane,” suggests Ann Louise Bardach.
Cubans are also notoriously toilet- and fashion-conscious. Even the poorest Cuban manages to keep fastidiously clean and well dressed. The struggles of the past decades have fostered a remarkable sense of confidence and maturity. As such, there’s no reserve, no emotional distance, no holding back. Cubans are self-assured and engage you in a very intimate way. They’re not afraid of physical contact; they touch a lot. They also look you in the eye: They don’t blink or flinch but are direct and assured. And free of social pretension. They’re alive and full of emotional intensity, and chock-full of chispas (sparks).