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February 2016
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National Identity As A Pretext

National Identity As A Pretext / 14ymedio, Regina Coyula
Posted on January 31, 2016

14ymedio, Regina Coyula, Havana, 30 January 2016 — The view that the
change in United States policy toward Cuba carries the danger of a loss
of independence and of the values of national identity makes me smile
wryly. Contrary to those who are worried, I would say that we Cubans are
immune to the loss of identity, an idea that has some losing sleep.

It did not happen during the Republic, when we had mediated governments,
nor did it happen when the Soviet influence was such that it “created”
traditions, things that almost no one remembers now, like laying a
bride’s flowers at the bust of a martyr, or substituting “Hurrah!” for
“Viva!” among others I won’t even try to list. Instead, traditional
festivities around Christmas, New Years and Easter were cancelled, along
with others I also won’t try to list.

We have become accustomed to hearing military terms used to define the
bilateral Cuba-United States relationship: cultural penetration,
ideological battle, domination, hegemony. The national life throughout
all these years revolved around the conflict with “the lurking enemy to
the north.”

From the White House, nearly a dozen presidents eased and tightened the
measures against its provocative neighbor. Conditions have changed with
the passing of time and, with the disappearance of the socialist camp,
other priorities left our country as an ember of the Cold War.

For the Government “governed” by a small group of octogenarians who come
from the struggle against Batista in the Sierra Maestra, the situation
has barely changed. They came to power very young, dynamited its
structures, encouraged the bourgeoisie and with them the “lively
classes” (the civil society of that time) to leave the country, and
created their own way of doing things.

Because of this they never renounced the language of the barricade, nor
have they stopped talking about the Cuban Revolution as a seminal and
living event, when at least institutionally one can fix its end in 1976.
Although the institutional character of the de facto Government of 1959
formally established a certain “informality” – with military uniforms
giving way to civilian dress – the indisputable leadership of Fidel
Castro sidestepped that inconvenience and he ruled as he saw fit.

Over the years, the anti-imperialist discourse has lost traction among
the people, because as they have seen, the “empire” is not as fierce as
it has been painted: half the family lives there, sends remittances,
pays for our visits, or comes back loaded with gifts for everyone. Right
now, the United States Government eases and eases and the Cuban
Government interprets it as a well-deserved victory, not a quid pro quo,
and still nobody understands what the crisis in farm products has to do
with the “blockade.”

In the media and in academic texts (under State control), the consumer
society and its values (or lack of them) have been anathematized; this
has not kept cultural patterns from being a Frankenstein with the worst
of each system. The taste for trash music, trash movies, trash
literature and trash fashion is not only not avoided, but marks the
canon of the popularly accepted. In a cruel paradox, culture has been
what is most accessible to citizens in their spare time.

I don’t know how patriotism is measured. Flags haven’t been sold for
many years, much less in Cuban pesos. The Cuban flag flies – though not
always – on public buildings and in an ever declining number of
neighborhoods and homes for the anniversary of the Revolution or the
assault on the Moncada Barracks. It is also seen on the outfits made by
the multinational company Adidas for our athletes, which many who are
not athletes also wear, among them foreigners who assume solidarity,
strolling through Havana with a beret, Che T-shirt and shoulder adorned
with our national emblem.

In contrast with this quasi-institutional display, I see American flags
in the old American cars that function as shared taxis, in the
cartoonish bubble car taxis, in the pedicabs, and on caps, T-shirts,
scarfs, and even in lycra versions that have flooded the streets with
cellulite-filled stars and bars. La Yuma (the USA) and los Yumas (its
inhabitants) are now the paradigm of a society that doesn’t substitute
McDonald’s for roast pork and is considered anti-imperialist at heart.
Weird, but true.

You don’t have to be an economist or a sociologist to see the exhaustion
in individual perspectives, let alone the collective. If decades ago
seeing one’s children emigrate was a tragedy, today it has become a
hope. The State has no solution for the discrepancy between wages and
prices, for the burden of transport and housing, and has now abandoned
the role of father protector with which Fidel Castro felt so
comfortable. Today, everyone must address the solution to their own
needs, that for not being morally correct resolves the situation of two
generations brought up under the idea of the State as the
cradle-to-grave provider of everything.

The true and unconfessed fear of the champions of national identity is
not a fear of the cultural influence that existed long before 17
December 2014, and which will not change the essence of Cubans, but of
the free flow of information that lets any citizen peer into a looking
glass that gives access to complete and contrasting information.

Source: National Identity As A Pretext / 14ymedio, Regina Coyula |
Translating Cuba –

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