My family is Cuban, but I had never been to Cuba before visiting the country earlier this year. I met cousins and aunts and uncles for the first time—family that I’d been separated from until the U.S. travel ban was eased in 2015. Now, once again, travel between the U.S. and Cuba has been restricted.
To me, the country is beautiful, but my cousins always complain about how everything is old. “We hate it,” they say. Although beautiful to outsiders, the famous streets lined with disintegrated and abandoned architecture is something the Cuban people are not proud of. Havana has looked the same way for decades, and the people who live there yearn for something new.
La Yuma is Cuban street lingo for the United States. The truth is, most Cubans dream of coming to America with hopes of a bright future and leaving their country behind.
But there’s little chance of that: The average monthly income (besides government employees) is equivalent to $25 dollars a month. With simple things like a hairbrush costing $40 in Cuba, it is impossible to live on that alone. People create makeshift restaurants, barber shops, and businesses right from their homes—anything to earn an extra income. In most cases these are illegal, but they are necessary to live.
Despite their conditions, Cubans are lively and happy, and do the best they can with what they have. Kids line the streets playing soccer while the adults watch from afar and laugh.
Cuba is idealized by Americans because it’s untouched, stuck in time. But perhaps “trapped” is a better word. It’s through this lens that I viewed the country where I am from.