April – May Magazine

What people in each country eat says a great deal about their locals. We Cubans have a complex and central relationship with food. Our lives revolve around eating because of the many years of hard work involved in getting provisions. Feeding every day the family has aroused an imagination that borders on magic, frequently on madness. However, there’s always food at our parties, birthdays, celebrations and during all the pleasant times, food is frequently the central theme, or the pretext. We share our food like the most prized treasure and, no matter how little there is, if you get to a Cuban friend’s home at suppertime (even if you haven’t been invited), he will share with you what he has, he’ll just have to “add some water to the soup.”

In this edition of OnCuba Travel we are speaking about food.

When I think about the subject, my grandmother Elena’s black beans immediately come to my mind. She used to live in the countryside, more or less 40 minutes from Havana. My parents, my sister and I used to go see her on Sundays; I used to spend the entire trip thinking of the plate of black beans that was invariably waiting for me. The best black beans in the world!

To accompany them there could be pork, or chicken, and if things were bad: eggs. When it got “really bad,” just rice, but those beans that never stopped smelling of bay leaves, cumin and “ají cachucha” peppers where always present.

The best of the desserts was the guava preserves with white cheese which she used to make herself. My grandfather had a small farm with two or three cows that could only be used to produce milk, therefore grandmother made everything she could with it: white cheese, butter and…the caramel spread!

Food is so linked to our memories that we Cubans dedicate a lot of our conversations to it. My father says we are probably the only human beings on the planet who talk about the next meal while we eat.

Today Cuban food is varied. We don’t eat the same thing at home as in the restaurants, or in the city as in the countryside, or in the east, the center or the west of the country. Gourmet and Cuban cuisine take up special places in the hundreds of paladares scattered across the island…. The smells and flavors start being different.

For me still, each self-respecting Sunday has to smell of black beans with cumin.

February-March Magazine

I enjoy nothing better than showing my home. About Cuba I know a great many nooks and crannies, I’ve toured it from one end to the other, few corners still have not resisted me. I can’t say I have a favorite place in Cuba. I’m moved by Cuba’s countryside, the healthy ingenuity of its people; I’m impressed with its colonial cities, full of impeccable harmony or disharmony; I adore the Cuban beaches, when I dive in them it’s like being at home. But when I close my eyes and think of Cuba there’s no uninhabited landscape, the people are always there.

That’s why I tell my friends: if you want to be alone, take in the sun, enjoy the summer, or isolate yourself in the tranquility of a very beautiful beach; don’t go to Cuba. We have all that, but it’s a waste to go to Cuba and not grasp its culture, or get acquainted with its people.

Cuba cannot be understood and I stopped trying to understand the Cubans, but it’s not necessary. You can go to Cuba and feel alive, enjoy and suffer; question yourself, surprise yourself. You can like it more or less, but you’re not leaving Cuba feeling indifferent, moved, a mark that you’ll have forever.

This magazine is the invitation I am making to my friends to visit my home. I will try to show you all of it. I like its lights and am not afraid of its shadows, I just want you to honestly get close to it, that you let go of all the masks you can and fully enjoy, suffer and live it.

December 2017 – January 2018

The township of San Cristóbal de La Habana, the Cuban capital, recently celebrated its 498th anniversary.
I believe we all have a Havana that is ours, that changes nuances, that has a smell and a feeling for whoever has enjoyed and suffered it. Havana is different in each barrio and authentic for each human being who feels it.
Those of us who love it cannot think of today’s Havana without Eusebio Leal, the City Historian, its most fervent and passionate lover. Since the late 1960s, Eusebio has led the works of conservation and restoration of a city that has expanded beyond the foundational historic site, a center that undoubtedly he saved from disaster. His principal merit has been to work tirelessly, educate, convince and make everyone fall in love with Havana.
In 2012, barely a few months after the creation of OnCuba, we interviewed Leal. At that time he told us something about Havana that I haven’t been able to forget: “More than a group of definitions and memories, Havana is a state of mind.” This issue of OnCuba is a special invitation to visit Havana, and we want it to also be a tribute to the work that – under the command of its faithful protector – the Office of the Historian carries out in the reanimation of the city’s urban and social fabric.
In this edition we include a special gift for our readers: the excerpt of a text by renowned poet, essayist, researcher and literary critic Fina García Marruz about José Martí’s letters. An approach of invaluable sensitivity to the soul of the patriot and poet born in Havana, whose anniversary we celebrate on January 28.
From the pages of OnCuba I invite you to visit Havana, the city that opens to the sea that surrounds it and keeps it alert; the city of the Malecón seaside drive and of stone paved streets, of remote places, of broken and restored buildings, of potholes, of sheets hanging in the wind, of street vendor songs, of old cars…the city full of charm built by the people who inhabit it.

October-November Magazine 2017

On Pajarito – the horse that accompanied him in battle -, the man was writing the stanzas that I sang so many times in the school playground. It was October 20, 1868. Two days before, his daughter Canducha, aged 17, had entered Bayamo as the standard bearer of a recently formed troop, donning the colors of the new flag. She was escorted by her brother Gustavo and one of the sons of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes himself, the man who barely a few days before had freed his slaves and had harangued them to follow him in battle to not “live in dishonor,” that was the beginning of the Independence Wars in Cuba.
They had taken Bayamo in two days and had established there the headquarters of the first government of the Republic in Arms. The man who was writing while riding his horse, in the middle of all the excitement in the town square, was Pedro Figueredo, Perucho. Like Céspedes, Perucho was a lawyer, the son of a wealthy family, very cultured, a mason, a lover of arts and letters. A solid intellectual, he had traveled the world and studied military tactics: he was the owner, together with his family, of the sugar mill that tried to be the “most efficient on the island,” and where the slaves were not punished. Perucho had married Cuban-born poetess Isabel Vázquez Moreno. They had 11 children.
Perucho was giving up everything, when he was almost 50 years old. He was joining his fate to that of the black men who had been slaves, to that of the mulattoes and whites, most of them poor and illiterate. And there he was, among the people who, a few months later, when the defeat became imminent, preferred to set fire to absolutely everything and flee to the brush before again being subjugated. There he gave out the lyrics of the anthem they wanted to sing together.
There are those who say that on that day, on his horse, Perucho improvised the lyrics. While others that he had written it months before, with Isabel, the woman he always loved.
It is said that he was an elegant, tall man who attracted attention because of his refined ways; that he was sweet and communicative, that he knew how to laugh. And, at the same time, he was authoritarian and determined. A man faithful to everything he loved, who was still called Perucho even when he was a Major General of the Liberation Army.
Suffering from typhoid fever, Perucho was taken prisoner by the Spanish army in August 1870. He was forced to make a long journey to a slaughterhouse to be executed by firing squad. They promised to forgive him in exchange for not taking up arms again. He didn’t accept. He was ordered to kneel down. He did not. He died standing up, barefoot.
From OnCuba we are celebrating October 20, the Day of Cuban Culture, the day in which one of the illustrious men of my land renounced all his wealth and, sweaty and smelly, sang in chorus the Cuban National Anthem with the people of Bayamo.

August-September 2017 Magazine

“How easily does a person with imagination create a universe out of nothing”

Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer

“In times of crisis, only imagination is more important than knowledge”

Albert Einstein

Imagining, having the capacity to dream and the courage to make dreams come true; setting a goal even when others consider it unreachable; creating a project and going all the way to achieve it…. There is no greater inspiration than this.
Cubans have always used imagination. Otherwise, how could they have survived the shortages, the siege, the limitations?
For imagination to be productive it must be accompanied not just by inventiveness, creative power, willpower, the capacity to work, but also needed are knowledge, training, qualities which Cuba can boast of in all fairness.
The best thing a country with a poor economy, blockaded by the most powerful neighbor in the world, can do is develop individual and collective initiative, boost the possibility of creating, encourage prosperity, create the foundations for everyone to set goals for themselves that have an impact on a social level.
As in any modern society that tries to be just, the biggest challenge consists in that the personal goals contribute to the collective dreams, from the family, the neighborhood to all of society. Of course, development cannot exit there where individuals don’t find the context that activates their dreams and, furthermore, backs and promotes them.
In this issue of OnCuba you can read stories about persons who have fought against all odds to achieve their dreams. Today they are creators of beauty and common goods. I recommend the magazine to those who know Cuba as well as to those who approach the country for the first time. Let creativity always find sustenance! Let imagination always be possible!

Revista Junio – Julio 2017

Nueva York es la ciudad más poblada de los Estados Unidos. Muchos la llaman, con razón, la capital del mundo. En NYC viven personas de todas partes del universo, se hablan más de 170 idiomas, su diversidad es tal que se dice que ningún origen étnico predomina sobre otro, aunque los más importantes son el puertorriqueño, el italiano, el antillano, el dominicano y el chino.

Hace unos días estaba trabajando en Nueva York, salía de visitar el estudio de un artista visual cubano. No había caminado ni dos cuadras, muy cerca de Washington Square una pareja se me adelantó. No pude evitar escucharlos, uno de decía al otro en perfecto inglés: “¿sabes que hoy toca una orquesta de cámara cubana en el Parque Central?, no me lo pierdo”. Y yo pensaba: esta ciudad tiene más de 8 millones y medio de personas, ofertas culturales inimaginables, y yo escucho en la calle que hablan acerca de música cubana.

Por supuesto que fui al concierto, estaba repleto, a pesar del calor que los neoyorkinos saben padecer. Cientos de personas disfrutaron la música en el escenario maravilloso que es el Parque Central de NY. Al final tocaron un arreglo del famoso Manisero. Los dos o tres cubanos que estábamos allí, no pudimos evitar movernos y bailar al ritmo de la orquesta de cámara. Fuimos rápidamente reconocidos y varias personas se nos acercaron. Nos preguntaron sobre Cuba, sobre la música… habían escuchado algo extraordinario y querían saber más: cómo vive la gente, el clima, los principales lugares a visitar… Algunos conocían a varios artistas plásticos cubanos, querían saber si eran notables los cambios que estaban ocurriendo en Cuba. Tratamos de satisfacer su curiosidad, pero les dijimos: para conocer Cuba hay que visitarla, hay que entrar en contacto con su gente, con su cultura. Muchos nos pidieron referencias, estaban deseando viajar a Cuba y querían hacerlo “antes de que todo cambie”.

Al otro día, el presidente Donald Trump anunció en la Florida que se limitaban los viajes People to People individuales de norteamericanos a Cuba. Los estadounidenses no tienen derecho de viajar libremente a una Isla que está a 90 millas del extremo sur del país y que tiene una riqueza cultural impresionante. Aunque todavía se pueda, es más difícil que viajar a Arabia Saudita o a China. Una cosa es cierta, el interés por ir a Cuba crece, como demuestran las cifras. En el 2016, después de la flexibilización de los viajes hecha por la administración Obama, 284 mil 937 norteamericanos viajaron a Cuba, lo cual representó un 74 por ciento de crecimiento respecto al año anterior, y la tendencia se ha mantenido en los primeros meses de 2017. De viaje al aeropuerto para regresar a casa el chofer del taxi, al saber que era cubana, me dijo: “yo quiero ir a Cuba, y voy a ir porque es mi derecho, aunque el gobierno me la ponga más difícil. Voy y veré la Isla que encantó a Hemingway”.

April – May 2017 Magazine

March has just come to an end, a month in which Women’s Day is celebrated. This year with a special connotation: on March 8 some 54 countries participated in the Women’s International Strike against gender violence.
Its organizers proposed a big movement that would make a call to everyone to think of the inequalities we still suffer, as well as how to make visible aspects of the problem which are not always taken into account. “The International Women’s Strike (IWS) is a grass-root movement created by women from different parts of the world…. [It is] a response to social, legal, political, economic, moral and verbal violence experienced by contemporary women in diverse parts of the world,” one of its organizers explained.
At the height of the 21st century we are living in a world where one out of three women suffers physical or sexual violence, almost always from their couple or ex couple. According World Health Organization data, the mistreatment of women is the social phenomenon that claims more women lives per year in all parts of the world. It is the principal cause of death among women aged between 15 and 44, and it is estimated that in the world seven out of 10 women suffer or will suffer some type of violence at some time in their lives.
This is the extreme of a matter that goes through an enormous range of problems, some more visible, others more subtle: only 67 countries in the world have laws against gender-based discrimination in their hiring policies. In the United States, for example, women are paid 75 cents per each dollar earned by men doing the same job.
Discrimination against women, gender violence, the patriarchal scheme of society, machismo, are not only part of the underdeveloped world or of a certain politico-social system: those evils are present in all societies, even in the ones that have advanced the most.
And it is no longer just about the conquest of basic rights and a full life. Inequality and machismo continue being manifested in many ways, being reproduced based on the most dissimilar messages.
Women as sex objects, the increasingly narrower standard of beauty as synonymous to success and acceptance, women’s role as the center of the family, the caregiving women, the women victims, the domestic women, the dependent women, are stereotypes constantly reproduced by many media and publicity, assumed without criticism, accepted and again reproduced.
Being critics of everything that smells of discrimination, again raising the question of the schemes, the models, being brave to question and redo, from femininity and from masculinity, from the individual, the family and society, thinking about what type of human beings we are educating, is a struggle that involves all of us.
In OnCuba we also joined the strike this March 8. Because, despite what we have achieved, Cuban women still have much to conquer. If we want a world with equality of rights, something must be done every day to achieve it.

Revista Febrero – Marzo 2017

Hace cinco años comenzamos OnCuba. Opto por no mencionar nombres, pero puedo decir con total convicción que lo conquistado ha sido gracias a un esfuerzo colectivo; todos los que están y han estado en OnCuba se han enamorado de su trabajo, cada quien ha dejado huella y camino.
Trabajamos un buen tiempo en “oficinas itinerantes”, en las casas de personas del equipo (algunas se convirtieron en verdaderas comunas), hasta en cafeterías que abríamos y cerrábamos consumiendo solo agua y café. Con una conexión a Internet que multiplicaba los tiempos al infinito; imprimíamos en negocios particulares, haciendo coberturas mirando la televisión y dictando por teléfono… Los tiempos de fundación tienen un encanto especial.
No imaginamos el alcance que íbamos a tener en tan poco tiempo, así que hemos ido reiventándonos constantemente, siempre pienso que somos algo en construcción y que no tenemos metas finales, siempre las corremos, como los límites.
Muchísimos nos agradecen, otros nos acusan: en Cuba algunos nos etiquetan de disidentes, y en Estados Unidos de estar al servicio del gobierno cubano. Y es que nuestra Isla despierta pasiones encontradas y suele ser vista desde posiciones terminantes.
Nosotros tenemos motivos para celebrar: cientos de miles de personas se informan de Cuba a través de nosotros; miles de norteamericanos han entrado en contacto con información sobre la Isla gracias a una distribución sin precedentes en el territorio norteamericano; cientos de miles de cubanos nos siguen desde todas partes del mundo, felices de encontrar por fin no la caricatura de la Isla, sino su riqueza cultural, humana y belleza impresionantes; un país que, en medio de un período de transformaciones, tiene tanto de qué alegrarse como de qué lamentarse.
Cientos de colaboradores, jóvenes y consagrados, han hallado en OnCuba un espacio para compartir su manera de ver y vivir la Isla (desde el amor, que puede ser tan implacable como sublime).
Gracias siempre a quienes iniciaron el camino, a quienes lo continúan, a quienes nos han apoyado, a quienes nos siguen y son parte… Y, claro está, gracias también a la crítica que nos obliga a cuestionarnos e intentar ser mejores.

Revista Diciembre 2016 – Enero 2017

Me encanta la época de fin de año. En mi familia siempre se ha celebrado el 31 de diciembre más que cualquier otro festejo. Es para nosotros, sin dudas, la fiesta del año. Las mujeres procurábamos tener algo que estrenar; era el día del familión completo, juntos desde el mediodía hasta el siguiente. Jornada de cerdo asado al carbón, de congrí, yuca, buñuelos, plátanos tostones, dominó y cerveza.
¡Tantos recuerdos tengo de 31 en 31! Todos los años mi papá inventaba una manera diferente de asar el cerdo, y cada año había un accidente. Dice él que la vez que mejor quedó fue una en la que el horno, en plena faena, se incendió. Las llamas acabaron con la mata de limón y amenazaron con estropearles el día a los bomberos de la estación de Santa Catalina. Aplacamos la llamarada con agua a manguera y reanudamos el asado. Mi padre cree que ese “golpe de calor” le dio el toque de distinción al azaroso asado.
En los últimos años, madre ya de dos hijas, los 31 fueron siempre tan ajetreados para mí que el año nuevo me sorprendía sin bañarme, con olor a carbón y todavía en chancletas. Pero, a pesar del trajín, siempre he procurado un momento para pensar en el año que se fue y en el que está por llegar. Me gusta saber que voy a cerrar un ciclo, sobre todo por el reto de proponerme otras metas e imaginarme nuevos sueños.
Cierra otro año complicado, de cambios, de decisiones duras, de ausencias, de fracasos, pero también de encuentros, de reencuentros, de ilusiones nuevas, de empeños, de pequeños y medianos triunfos cotidianos…, y de caminar otro poquito tras mi propia utopía.
Ha sido un año donde dos gobiernos, el de Raúl Castro y el de Barack Obama, han avanzado en pos de la normalización de una relación que parecía eternamente irreconciliable. En esta edición de OnCuba analizamos el nuevo escenario que implica la elección de Donald Trump como presidente de los Estados Unidos.
Desde OnCuba, exhortamos al nuevo gobierno a no retroceder en lo alcanzado, a hacer lo que la mayoría del pueblo cubano y del norteamericano desean; a tener relaciones respetuosas entre ambos gobiernos que posibiliten una mayor interacción entre pueblos histórica, cultural y geográficamente cercanos. Eso, de seguro, estará entre mis deseos cuando, a las 12 de la noche de este 31 de diciembre, mire a los ojos de mis hijas, piense en las personas que amo y brinde por Cuba.

Revista Octubre-Noviembre 2016

La Habana es la ciudad más poblada de Cuba, con más de 2 millones de habitantes. Asimismo, más de 2 millones de cubanos viven en los Estados Unidos, contando a los nacidos en la Isla y su descendencia. Desde que creamos OnCuba, hace más de cuatro años, quisimos ser un puente, una conexión, entre esos cubanos que viven en Estados Unidos y su país, sus costumbres, sus raíces, su gente.
No imaginábamos entonces que el restablecimiento de relaciones diplomáticas entre ambas naciones estuviese tan cerca, y que se abrirían con ellas tantas oportunidades para facilitar el intercambio. Nosotros nos habíamos adelantado un poco. Cientos de miles de cubanos y norteamericanos han sabido de la realidad cubana a través de OnCuba. Es una responsabilidad enorme, que nos acompaña cada mañana y cada noche.
La historia de Cuba no puede hacerse sin su emigración, para nosotros la Isla trasciende sus fronteras físicas, y se multiplica en cada sitio donde existan cubanos que se sientan como tal, y que deseen y participen del sueño de construir un país mayor. Son personas que se insertan en otras culturas, que viven, que trabajan, que construyen sus vidas en otros lugares, pero siguen conectadas emocional, cultural y humanamente con la tierra que les vio nacer.
Estos cubanos no solo continúan formando parte de la realidad cubana, sino que influyen, transforman y juegan un papel a veces determinante en la relación de otros gobiernos (principalmente, el norteamericano) con el gobierno cubano, y, sin dudas, en la noción que se tiene sobre Cuba en otras partes del mundo.
OnCuba vive un momento de transformación. Hemos decidido potenciar nuestro trabajo en Miami, conocer más la realidad de los cubanos en Estados Unidos, cómo se insertan en la sociedad que los ha acogido, qué desean, qué sueñan, cómo viven… Esto ha sido un reclamo de nuestros lectores y estamos respondiendo a ello.
Estados Unidos atraviesa unas elecciones, cruciales, que denotan la complejidad y diversidad de la sociedad norteamericana. Cuando los cubanos de la Florida voten por uno u otro candidato, en ese estado que ha sido determinante en las últimas elecciones, estarán votando también por el futuro de las relaciones entre sus dos países.
Desde OnCuba hemos apoyado el restablecimiento de las relaciones y seguiremos viendo con simpatía cuanto hagan los gobiernos, los empresarios y la sociedad civil de ambos países por aproximar a todos los cubanos, y que los norteamericanos tengan la posibilidad de conocer una Isla, geográfica y culturalmente cercana, de la cual han sido privados, impedidos de conocerla de primera mano, sin intermediarios.
Hace unos días conversando con un cubano que lleva viviendo en Miami más de 20 años aprendí lo que es sentirse parte de algo. Mi amigo me dijo: “yo tengo que viajar a Cuba cada cuatro o cinco meses, lo necesito… ¿sabes por qué? Es donde encuentro el combustible para darle cuerda al alma”.