WHAT IS CUBA ABOUT?, 2016
Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to visit Cuba with a group of artists and art historians. Before going, I sent postcards to friends and family asking if there was anything they wanted me to find out for them while I was there. The questions I received gave me things to look for and learn about while in Havana. I formed a set of keywords based on these questions, which I often referred to and also shared with my travel group, so they too could gather cultural intelligence and report back.
Being there was incredible—and fortunately, the group I was traveling with was also incredible. I was able to experience so so much by their sides and through retellings of each of their individual experiences. After the trip, I asked them to fill out a questionnaire where they shared any information pertinent to five select keywords of their choice and one kindergartner's deceptively penetrating question: “What is Cuba about?”
UPDATE: I’m working on a response mailing that takes the form of a folded brochure, incorporating a compendium of questions and answers. I plan to mail responses to 150–200 people, as well as publish the brochure digitally. Coming soon: early 2017.
Do you have houses? Do they have a brick house? What kind of handcrafts did you see? Did you see anyone engaged in handwork? Do seniors have a form of social security? What is the age of eligibility? About how much/mo.? All citizens covered? Do you have cars? What would the Cuban people think of the U.S.A. if (God forbid) Trump was elected President? Not too many Americans know this, so I'm curious if the Cuban people do: What was Operation Northwoods? I can email you more info, basically is the past 55 years of American-Cuban relations in a nutshell. What is the general feeling or impression Cubans have on America? Are we thought of as the producers of the vintage cars or of as producers of prisons like Guantanamo Bay? I guess does the lifting of the embargo change sentiments of America to Cubans? What do some of the Cuban intellectual community think of the changing behavior of the US? Will there be future projects between the US + Cuban libraries to fill in gaps on either side? Do you go to school? What is the Cuban government doing to ensure the preservation of the coral reefs. Their reefs are the most pristine because of the lack of tourists. Now with the country open to outsiders, how will they protect it? What's the punk scene like? Like with many Caribbean nations, I assume that various African Cultures (like Yoruba...?) have influenced Cuba. But does the revolutionary government take Afro-Cuban history into account? Is it part of Cuban culture writ large? (How so?) ...And how is this different than here in the U.S.? Do they have clip-on side ponytails, too? Do you have cats? Do you have dogs? Do you have owls? Can you look at the gardens? Specifically landscaping around the houses or businesses - intentional or wild? I bet there are community gardens there too. Are Cubans importing any trees or flowering plants from the U.S.? Do you have spaghetti in Cuba? Do you have a cafeteria? Please find BEST recipe for a... Mojito. What is a good recipe for Ropa Vieja? What kind of food is Cuba known for? How is it different from other areas of Latin America? Is there other good Cuban rum other than Habana Club? I am curious as to how common and open the trappings and practice of Santeria is these days. Healthcare system and major religion. I would love to know about the music scene there! What forms of music venues are located in the Havana area + what genres of music are played? Photography Galleries. Is there a Unitarian Universalist fellowship/church in Cuba? Do you have a Target? Do you have a mall? Does it look like Cuba will become a destination for American tourists and if so, do you see any of our chain hotels and restaurants there? i.e. Holiday Inn, Hilton, Applebee's, McDonald's, etc. I want to know how many stars you can see on the sky at night in Havana. I want to know which is the most popular children's story told in Cuba. What do people use for alarm clocks in Cuba? What do they look like? What happened to the casino in Havana? What differences will lifting embargoes have on your country? What are the general impressions of Americans that Cubans hold? Do you have hiking trails? Do you have a playground? Do you have a newspaper? What is Cuba about? Do you have furniture? Have artists changed their work since the embargo was eased/lifted? And if so, how? Are there any glass blowers down there? What books do people own in Cuba? Are there people making artists books? How do they manage their aging and/or disabled population? Are you going to try a Cuban cigar? Going to bring any back? Question Do Cubans like Americans? Do you wish we could visit each other more? What is the weather like? Has it ever snowed? I would like to know to what degree Cubans are, in general, aware of the extent to which US politics, media and entertainment are insidious propaganda mechanisms inciting a perverse desire for undermining social justice. Would they like to live in the US? I'm wondering if Cuban reporting about the U.S. relies on repeated tropes and clichés of "America," like American reporting on Cuba does. Did you observe recent development, construction or demolition that you thought was related to the change in Cuba / USA relations? What language do the kids speak and how do they get to school? Bus, scooter, walk, train, bike or something else? I’d like to know more about the Caribs, a cannibalistic tribe from ancient Cuba. Does the fashion seem influenced by any outside sources or mostly home grown? Are Cubans better dressed than Americans? What do real Cubans put on a Cuban Sandwich in Cuba? Can you get a wafer cookie from a vending machine in Cuba? Do they eat pretzels? Has anyone ever tried pizza there? What's up with Cuban pizza? What is the best local dish? Most popular recipe for Cuban Corn. Guess the only thing I want to know is how good the food is? And I guess this is for the Havana motor club. I wanna know which American classic is popular in Havana? What's life like for queer folk? Is there a good time to be had? Who are the most popular musicians and artists at this moment? The thing I would like to know about the (history and the contemporary life of) Jews in Cuba, and if they have any involvement in the arts. Any information would be interesting to me! I actually just went on a couple of dates with a Cuban guy and he mentioned they don't really observe religious holidays because of the communist society, so it would be interesting to see how that might be changing and how that influences art. I'd like to know how their technology compares with the "West". They haven't been as isolated as, say, North Korea, but to some degree they still have been isolated at least from trade with the US, so are they outdated? Up to date? In some areas more than others? Are women treated with equal rights and respect there? Do women smoke cigars in Cuba? What does it smell like? When you're in Cuba find out what they're going to do to keep it from turning into an ugly commercial shit storm like Florida etc… Do they have clowns in Cuba? Are they as scary, less scary, or more scary than American clowns? When can we visit for vacation? What is the healthcare system like? What does Havana smell like? Do window screens taste different in Cuba? What do Cubans worry about? I've heard it's illegal to advertise for goods and services. How does it feel not to see ads and billboards everywhere, like we do in the US? And do Cuban shop owners behave differently from American shop owners as a result of not being able to advertise? I would like to know what makes people happy in Cuba? and please find out how they defend themselves from the evil. have fun and come back with stories. A Geography Question: according to people in Cuba, how many continents are there in the world, and if the answer is "5, obviously" what are they? What are the top 3 favorite colors of Cubans? Who are your favorite artists, Cuba? Do they like Bernie Sanders in Cuba? Since 2012 the people of Cuba have been allowed to build their own houses and have their own businesses. Do you see much of that happening today? And is there much of a middle class? Or is it mainly the rich and the poor? Please tell us what you see and feel in there. Have they fashioned any of the old cars to run on biodiesel or is it all cheap, subsidized gas? What do people like better there? Baseball or ballet? Any why? Any further investigation into the culture and economy that sustains the classic 1940s era cars that are still driven all over Cuba. Best billboard? Will Cuban feminism change with the opening of relations with the U.S.? If so, how? Please find me the most beautiful beach in Cuba. What are the Top 5 animals in Cuba, from your personal experience? What is the best soda? How many boats are in Cuba? What do the cars look like? Are Legos popular in Cuba? What is really popular? I'm curious about Cuba's historical perspectives. I'd love to see what a typical high school text on Cuba's history would be like. What is making money, in terms of imported or exported products? I wonder how pleased/displeased the Cuban people seem with the thawing of US/Cuban relations.