Culture

Here’s A Brief Look At The History Of The Cuban People And The Island They Call Home

Most of us might think of white-sand beaches, tropical dances, colorful cars, and big cigars when Cuba is mentioned, but there’s so much more to this Caribbean island than meets the eye. The result of nearly fifty years of embargo and isolation might have put the country through some financial hardships in the past but also meant that it developed its very own, distinctively unique character and culture. Indeed, Cuba’s history is filled with fascinating facts. Here’s a list to prove it.

It was once called Isla Juan.

@Brian Godfrey / Flickr

Shortly after Christopher Columbus arrived at the Caribbean, his famous ships -La Nina, La Pinta and the Santa Maria- reached the northern shores of Cuba. Columbus claimed the territory for the Kingdom of Spain and named the island Isla Juan, after the prince of Asturias.

The origin of the name.

@Patrick Annable / Flickr

Cuba’s name is widely believed to derive from the Taino language and it may translate either to ‘’great place’’ (coabana) or “the place where fertile land is plenty’’ (cubao). There are also some who believe that the island got its name from the homonymous Portuguese town.

It was inhabited long before Columbus.

@Sami Keinänen / Flickr

During the pre-Columbian era, the island was inhabited by three different indigenous tribes: the Taino people that migrated from Hispaniola, the Ciboney people that came from South America and the Guanahatabey people.

Havana is much older than you’d think.

Cuba Old timer Havana old. Digital Image. Pixabay. 2018.

Initially named San Cristobal de la Habana, the city was one of the first Spanish settlements on the island, founded in 1515. Today, Havana is the capital and most populated city in Cuba.

European diseases brought the downfall of indigenous peoples.

@Theodor Hensolt / Flickr

Forcing the natives to work in harsh conditions under a tough regime was not the only reason behind their undoing. In fact, their population saw a dramatic decline due to contagious European diseases -primarily measles and smallpox- for which they had developed no immune mechanisms.

The 10 Years’ War.

Cuban volunteers in the barracks. Digital Image. Wikimedia Commons. 2009

Cuba’s first war of independence began in 1868, led by Carlos Manuel de Déspedes, a sugar plantation owner who proclaimed independence and called all natives, regardless of race, to unite and fight for freedom. The conflicts between Cuba and Spain went on for a whole decade and war also became known as the “Guerra Grande” or Great War.

An offer to buy Cuba was denied.

Digital Image. Wikimedia Commons. 2010

The United States has attempted to invade independent Cuba several times throughout their history – without much success. After it became clear that conquering the Caribbean island was probably an unattainable goal, the American government offered to buy it from Spain in 1848 for $100 million, but the offer was quickly declined.

The mysterious explosion that started a war.

@Tim Evanson/Flickr

In 1898, the explosion of a United States naval ship called Maine shook Havana harbor. Almost three hundred men were killed in this calamity. Numerous investigations were conducted but revealed no culprits, causing outrage in the States with the press proclaiming ‘’Remember the Maine! To hell with Spain!” The explosion led to the Spanish-American war that started the same year.

Ernest Hemingway lived in Havana, Cuba for twenty years.

Ernest Hemingway at the Finca Vigia, Cuba 1946. Digital Image. Wikimedia Commons

Even though Hemingway was an American, he is one of the most prominent literary figures in Cuban history. The famous author moved to Havana in 1940 and went on to write some of his most famous works there, including ‘’The Old Man and the Sea” and “To Have and Have Not.”

Cuba’s nickname comes from its physical shape from an aerial view.

Map of Cuba. Digital Image. Wikimedia Commons. 1994

You might have heard Cubans refer to their country as “El Caiman” or “El cocodrilo”, meaning crocodile in Spanish. Have you ever wondered why? The answer is simple. Just look at any map and you’ll find that Cuba looks like an alligator from an aerial view.

¡Revolución! Cuba is the first communist country in the western hemisphere.

@Pignews.com / Flickr

Led by Fidel Castro, a rebel army of communist revolutionaries came to power in 1959. Castro went on to rule Cuba for almost 50 years until he stepped down due to health issues in 2008, with his younger brother Raúl taking his place.

It has one of the highest literacy rates in the world.

@Javier Guillot Jiménez / Flickr

This is mainly due to the ‘’year of education’’, a campaign launched by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara that aimed to combat illiteracy by sending ‘’literacy brigades’’ to remote, rural areas to build schools and train teachers.

The government controls all the media.

@Pedro Szekely / Flickr

Four national television networks, six national radio channels, several newspapers, and the internet are all tightly controlled and monitored by the Cuban government, the same way they have been for the past 50 years.

Cuba’s “Special Period” was a difficult time.

@Pedro Szekely / Flickr

The harsh conditions and severe shortages in paper, fuel, and even food during the island’s economic depression in the 1990s led to this era becoming known as Cuba’s “Special Period in time of Peace” or ‘’Período especial.” The financial struggles were caused by the downfall of the Soviet Union and the following dissolution of the Comecon (Council for Mutual Economic Assistance).

It has nine sites on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

@Gabriel González / Flickr

These include the colonial fortifications of Havana, San Pedro de la Roca Castle, the historic centers of Cienfuegos and Camagüey, the landscapes of the first coffee plantations, the Viñales Valley and Trinidad and the Valley de los Ingenios as cultural sites. Additionally, Alejandro de Humboldt National Park and Desembarco del Granma National Park as natural sites.

An import ban made the people adapt and work to make sure their things still work decades later.

Cuba Havana Oldtimer. Digital Image. Pixabay. 2016

It’s hard to imagine Cuba without the presence of colorful old-school cars strolling by the oceanfront. But, have you ever pondered the reason why there are so many classic 1950’s cars in the country? It’s because Cuban authorities had implemented an import ban on cars up until recently. The ban was lifted in 2011. So those charming photos are just examples of Cuban ingenuity living under an oppressive regime.

The highest number of doctors worldwide are from Cuba.

Estudiaelam. Digital Image. Wikimedia Commons. 2015

Cuba has an impressive medical system and the highest number of doctors per capita in the world. In fact, Cuba has so many doctors that it has sent medical staff on international missions to over 40 countries. Cuban doctors played a significant role in fighting the Ebola epidemic in Africa.

Fidel Castro was a huge John Lennon fan.

@Gerry Zambonini / Flickr

Castro believed that Lennon was a real revolutionary in his own right. In 2000 he commissioned the construction of a statue of the famous singer of the Beatles in the famous John Lennon Park in Havana.

There were a record number of assassination attempts on Fidel’s life.

@Simone Ramella / Flickr

Fidel Castro probably did more to deserve the epithet ‘’cheater of death’’ than any other person ever has. Cuban officials claim the former leader survived more than 600 attempts – and that definitely wasn’t due to the plotters’ lack of imagination. Explosives, seductive women, cyanide pills, mob hits, a toxic dive suit, and even a poisoned milkshake were not enough to take down the hardcore politician, who proved to be a legendary survivor.

Cubans have very limited access to the Internet.

@Pedro Szekely / Flickr

Only a very small percentage of the country’s population enjoys open Internet access. Most people who do are doctors, engineers, academics or journalists.

Bacardi rum was originally from Cuba

@Graeme Maclean / Flickr

That’s right. The world-renowned brand of rum was made in Cuba, until it moved its facilities to Puerto Rico when Fidel Castro came to power, leaving Havana Club to claim the title of the most popular Cuban rum.


READ: Cuban Youths Are Skateboarding In Record Numbers And Don’t Want To Be Nationally Recognized As A Sport

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Mexico City Could Soon Change Its Name To Better Embrace Its Indigenous Identity

Things That Matter

Mexico City Could Soon Change Its Name To Better Embrace Its Indigenous Identity

Mexico City is the oldest surviving capital city in all of the Americas. It also is one of only two that actually served as capitals of their Indigenous communities – the other being Quito, Ecuador. But much of that incredible history is washed over in history books, tourism advertisements, and the everyday hustle and bustle of a city of 21 million people.

Recently, city residents voted on a non-binding resolution that could see the city’s name changed back to it’s pre-Hispanic origin to help shine a light on its rich Indigenous history.

Mexico City could soon be renamed in honor of its pre-Hispanic identity.

A recent poll shows that 54% of chilangos (as residents of Mexico City are called) are in favor of changing the city’s official name from Ciudad de México to México-Tenochtitlán. In contrast, 42% of respondents said they didn’t support a name change while 4% said they they didn’t know.

Conducted earlier this month as Mexico City gears up to mark the 500th anniversary of the fall of the Aztec empire capital with a series of cultural events, the poll also asked respondents if they identified more as Mexicas, as Aztec people were also known, Spanish or mestizo (mixed indigenous and Spanish blood).

Mestizo was the most popular response, with 55% of respondents saying they identified as such while 37% saw themselves more as Mexicas. Only 4% identified as Spaniards and the same percentage said they didn’t know with whom they identified most.

The poll also touched on the city’s history.

The ancient city of Tenochtitlán.

The same poll also asked people if they thought that the 500th anniversary of the Spanish conquest of Tenochtitlán by Spanish conquistadoresshould be commemorated or forgotten, 80% chose the former option while just 16% opted for the latter.

Three-quarters of respondents said they preferred areas of the the capital where colonial-era architecture predominates, such as the historic center, while 24% said that they favored zones with modern architecture.

There are also numerous examples of pre-Hispanic architecture in Mexico City including the Templo Mayor, Tlatelolco and Cuicuilco archaeological sites.

Tenochtitlán was one of the world’s most advanced cities when the Spanish arrived.

Tenochtitlán, which means “place where prickly pears abound” in Náhuatl, was founded by the Mexica people in 1325 on an island located on Lake Texcoco. The legend goes that they decided to build a city on the island because they saw the omen they were seeking: an eagle devouring a snake while perched on a nopal.

At its peak, it was the largest city in the pre-Columbian Americas. It subsequently became a cabecera of the Viceroyalty of New Spain. Today, the ruins of Tenochtitlán are in the historic center of the Mexican capital. The World Heritage Site of Xochimilco contains what remains of the geography (water, boats, floating gardens) of the Mexica capital.

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In Cuba, Where Food Is Unreliable, Savvy Cooks Have Turned to Facebook to Share Recipes

Culture

In Cuba, Where Food Is Unreliable, Savvy Cooks Have Turned to Facebook to Share Recipes

Photo via Getty Images

COVID-19 hasn’t been easy for Cubans. Not only have Cubans been physically affected by the virus like the rest of the world, but the drop in the island’s gross domestic product has stymied local economic productivity. The island can no longer look to tourism to add to their GDP.

Because of this drop in GDP, food shortages on the island have become more severe than in recent memory. And Cuban cooks are feeling the effects.

Cubans must stand in line for hours at markets with no guarantees that the ingredients that they want will be available.

This way of living is especially hard for Cuban cooks, like 39-year-old Yuliet Colón. For Colón, cooking is both a creative expression and a stress reliever. “The kitchen is my happy place, where I am calmer and I feel better,” she recently revealed to the Associated Press.

Yuliet Colón is one of the creators of a Facebook page called Recetas del Corazón that has changed the cooking game for thousands of Cubans.

Now, thanks to Colón and other curious and generous Cuban cooks like her, Recipes from the Heart is now 12,000 members strong.

The goal of the page is to help struggling Cuban cooks cope with food shortages. Members of the page share creative recipes, tips, and food substitutions. Launched in June of 2020, the page was an instant success. Its success proves that Cubans have been desperate to find ways to adapt their cooking to the post-COVID-era.

To AP News, Yuliet Colón laments about the lack of rice, beans, cheese, fruit, and, most of all, eggs. “What I like the most is making desserts, but now it’s hard to get eggs, milk or flour,” she revealed.

The brightside is, however, that Cuban cooks are finally able to share food-related tips and tricks with each other on a much larger scale than they were before the internet became more widespread in the country.

Now that many Cubans have access to communication apps like Facebook and WhatsApp, they can now connect with one another and make the most of what they have–however little that may be.

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