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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A University Is Releasing A Historic Mexican Cookbook Filled With Recipes You’d Want To Try

Culture

A University Is Releasing A Historic Mexican Cookbook Filled With Recipes You’d Want To Try

UTSA

The University of Texas San Antonio is bringing the history of Mexico into our kitchens. The university is releasing cookbooks that are collections of historic Mexican recipes. Right now, the desserts book is out and online for free. Main dishes and appetizers/drinks are coming soon.

You can now taste historic Mexico thanks to the University of Texas San Antonio.

UTSA has had an ongoing project of preserving, collecting, and digitizing cookbooks from throughout Mexico’s history. Some books date back to the 1700s and offer a look into Mexico’s culinary arts and its evolution.

UTSA has been digitizing Mexican cookbooks for years and the work is now being collected for people in the time of Covid.

Millions of us are still at home and projects like these can be very exciting and exactly what you need. The recipes are a way to distract yourself from the current reality.

“The e-pubs allow home cooks to use the recipes as inspiration in their own kitchens,” Dean Hendrix, the dean of UTSA Libraries, said in UTSA Today. “Our hope is that many more people will not only have access to these wonderful recipes but also interact with them and experience the rich culture and history contained in the collection.”

The free downloads are a way for people to get a very in-depth look into Mexican food history.

The first of three volumes of the cookbooks focuses on desserts so you can learn how to make churros, chestnut flan, buñelos, and rice pudding. What better way to spend your quarantine than learning how to make some of these yummy desserts. We all love sweets, right?

If you want to get better with making your favorite desserts, check out this cookbook and make it happen.

There is nothing better than diving into your history and using food as your guide. Food is so intrinsically engrained in our DNAs and identities. We love the foods and sweets from our childhood because they hold a clue as to who we are and where we come from. This historical collection of recipes throughout history is the perfect way to make that happen.

READ: The Laziest Food Hacks In All Of The Land Would Send Your Abuela To The Chancla

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Here’s Everything You Should Know About The Problematic And Racist Statues Being Torn Down Across The Country

Things That Matter

Here’s Everything You Should Know About The Problematic And Racist Statues Being Torn Down Across The Country

Drew Angerer / Getty Images

So many of the headlines about the recent protests in the wake of George Floyd’s murder have been about “senseless” property destruction. But several of the damaged sites have a perfectly sensible and very visceral connection to the protester’s chief issue: anti-Black racism.

Protests have burned down buildings and toppled statutes that have stood for years as blatant reminders of the country’s history of chattel slavery, racial injustice, and the war that was fought to uphold it.

“In many cases, preserving history was not the true goal of these displays,” former Southern Poverty Law Center president Richard Cohen said of the center’s 2016 report that found at least 1,500 US government-backed tributes to the Confederacy

“Rather, many of them were part of an effort to glorify a cause that was manifestly unjust — a cause that has been whitewashed by revisionist propaganda that began almost as soon as the Civil War ended. Other displays were intended as acts of defiance by white supremacists opposed to equality for African Americans during the civil rights movement.”

So how do you remove a racist monument? This week, the world is witnessing all the satisfyingly destructive ways

All around the country, protesters are removing statutes – but who were these historical figures?

Protesters in Richmond, Virginia, toppled a statue of Jefferson Davis. Earlier in the week, they dragged one of Christopher Columbus into a pond. A bronze monument of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol, England, met a watery demise (it’s since been fished out). An Egyptologist shared step-by-step instructions for how one might pull down an obelisk with ropes and brute force. In Boston, a statue of Columbus was beheaded.

The viral removals of monuments symbolizing racial terror are a push back on a culture that values violence and embeds false narratives about history into its landscapes – especially when it comes to America’s history as a slave-owning nation.

But who or what were these statutes memorializing and why do protesters want them taken down? Below we’ll detail some of the more common statues that are being torn down across the U.S.

Juan de Oñate

Credit: Susan Montoya Bryan / Getty Images

A conquistador and the first Spanish governor of New Mexico, Oñate sought to colonize the Acoma Pueblo, and when spiritual leader Zutacapan learned of the plans, a battle ensued, killing a dozen of Oñate’s men, including his nephew.

Oñate responded by exacting a massacre, leaving 800 dead, 300 of them women and children. Twenty-four men older than 25 had their right feet chopped off, and were enslaved for 20 years, along with many other Acoma, some as young as 12.

Jefferson Davis

In Richmond, Virginia and Minneapolis, MN, statues honoring the Confederate leader, Jefferson Davis, have finally been brought down. Many know about Davis’ history as president of the Confederacy: he lead a rebellion against his own country, owned hundreds of slaves, and fought to preserve his right to do so. He’s long been a target of protesters who have worked in city after city to have monuments built to this man taken down.

Junipero Serra

Credit: David Shmalz / Getty Images

Serra was active in the Spanish Inquisition and later led the first team of Spanish missionaries to California in 1769, which contributed to the killing and enslavement of thousands of native people and stripped many more of their cultural identity.

Part of dealing with current issues of systemic racism, many advocates have said, must include confronting the country’s colonial legacy of slavery and genocide. And it begins with symbols.

Symbols of Spanish colonialism can be found throughout California, largest among them the state’s 21 missions and the many statues dedicated to those who founded them.

Ulysses Grant

Credit: Michell Eberhart / Public Domain / Army.Gov

As president, Grant broke the KKK and fought for Black voting rights with a tenacity few other presidents have rivaled. 

But Grant’s legacy also has less admirable aspects. Grant’s wife had legal ownership of several Black people when he married her, and he himself kept a person in slavery for a year before freeing him at the start of the Civil War.

As president, Grant’s policy towards Native American people could easily be described as cultural genocide. He instigated an illegal and bloody war against the Lakota people of the Black Hills, and used federal force to push Native people onto reservations and to slaughter the buffalo they relied on for food. “American Indians experienced some of the worst massacres and grossest injustices in history while Ulysses S Grant was in office,” Alysa Landry writes at Indian Country Today

Francis Scott Key

Credit: Jose Barrios / Getty Images

Francis Scott Key, the author of America’s national anthem, not only personally enslaved people but also tried to silence the free speech of abolitionists, using his position as district attorney for Washington DC in the 1830s to launch high-profile cases attacking the abolitionist movement.

In San Francisco, protesters dragged the Key statue through the grass and were going to dump it in a nearby fountain, until they were told the fountain was a memorial to the Aids epidemic and stopped, a witness tweeted.

Theodore Roosevelt

Credit: Scott Heins / Getty Images

Theodore Roosevelt is often looked upon fondly by many Americans. He advocated for the preservation of America’s national parks and worked hard to ensure economic prosperity. But to others, the former President symbolizes colonial expansion and racial discrimination.

So, in New York, the American Museum of Natural History will remove a prominent statue of Theodore Roosevelt from its entrance.

“The American Museum of Natural History has asked to remove the Theodore Roosevelt statue because it explicitly depicts Black and Indigenous people as subjugated and racially inferior,” de Blasio said in a written statement. “The City supports the Museum’s request. It is the right decision and the right time to remove this problematic statue.”

Robert Byrd

Credit: White House.gov

Robert Byrd was the longest serving U.S. Senator. But before he kicked off his long political career, he wrote a letter decrying then-President Truman’s efforts to integrate the military. He’d rather see his country crumble, he wrote, than fight “with a negro by my side.”

Perhaps this isn’t surprising from a onetime exalted cyclops of the Ku Klux Klan. Even after he supposedly renounced the Klan, he filibustered the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and was the only senator who voted against the confirmations of the country’s two black Supreme Court justices, Thurgood Marshall and Clarence Thomas.

In his later years, he referred to same-sex marriage as “aberrant behavior” and told an interviewer in 2001, “There are white n***ers. I’ve seen a lot of white n***ers in my time.”

Christoper Columbus

Ok, sure, we all know who Christoper Columbus is and the horrific acts that he committed against Indigenous Americans. But to many, he is still the founder of the “New World” and if often praised for the “discovery” of the Americas. His expeditions are all too often seen as a great triumph as they brought great wealth and riches to Spain and other European countries – through exploiting Indigenous people.

Thankfully, more recent histories of the adventurer have focused on the slave trade in the Americas and the imported European diseases which wiped out Indigenous peoples of the Caribbean region and American continents.

Historians have credited Columbus’ “discovery” of the Americas as the beginning of the slaughter of 3 million people – and his statue in North End Park in Boston, US, was decapitated on June 10.

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