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

Pedro Szekely / Flickr

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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The Little-Known History Of Grace Wisher, The Black Teen Girl Who Helped Craft The American Flag

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The Little-Known History Of Grace Wisher, The Black Teen Girl Who Helped Craft The American Flag

Smithsonian

The United States was built on the forced labor of enslaved Africans. This isn’t hyperbole, either. The strenuous work of Africans who were violently shipped to the US laid the foundation of the country, from laboring on plantations — the mainstay of the early US economy — to building streets and railroads to literally constructing the White House and the US Capitol. Less known: a young Black girl is also behind our Star-Spangled Banner.

Grace Wisher, a 13-year-old indentured servant of Mary Pickersgill, a famed flag-maker credited with designing the US flag that inspired our national anthem, helped sew the original flag, Teen Vogue reports.

According to the news outlet, Wisher was a free girl in Baltimore, Maryland who became a servant after her mother, Jenny, signed a contract with Pickersgill in 1810.

The contract details that Wisher was expected “to learn the art and mystery of housework and plain sewing,” abilities her mother believed would better prepare her for life.

“It seems as though Jenny wanted Grace to be able to learn a trade, especially as a free African-American girl,” Amanda Shores Davis, the executive director of the Star-Spangled Flag House in Baltimore, told Teen Vogue. “It would have been important for her to learn skills that could carry her through the rest of her life.”

Information on Wisher is hard to come by. Not only were the early stories of African Americans intentionally left out of history, as an indentured servant, not a slave, Wisher’s name was not mentioned in Pickersgill’s title for the house or her belongings, like the flag-maker’s enslaved servants were, Sally Johnston, former executive director of the Flag House and a Mary Pickersgill biographer, says.

In recent years, historians have been working to ensure that the young Black girl’s role in the creation of the Star-Spangled Banner is no longer erased. In 2014, the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House in Baltimore started to include the little information they had about Wisher in their exhibitions. Currently, an outline of a young girl representing Wisher sits on a plexiglass covering a popular oil painting depicting the creation of the flag. Additionally, in 2014, an exhibition titled For Whom It Stands and housed at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum, which documents Maryland’s African American history and culture, included Wisher’s story.

“A name like Grace Wisher, unless you’re deep into the story about the Star-Spangled Banner itself, doesn’t often come to the fore,” Wilkinson tells Teen Vogue. “That’s why I think it’s important that there’s not a single narrative. There are things we think we know, but there’s more we need to know. And certainly, Grace Wisher’s life and her contributions should not go unknown. It should be acknowledged and presented in our historical displays about this era.”

Wilkinson, who is now a curator at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMHAAC), believes spreading this hidden history could allow African Americans and other Black Americans to see themselves, perhaps for the first time, as part of the American dream.

“The flag and the anthem are not the same thing. But because they’re related in terms of these symbols of American identity, these are places where people are invested,” she said. “And African-Americans are as invested as any other American and understand the potency of these symbols to call attention to issues that they want to see change in.”

Read: These Surprising Facts Will Explain Why Latinos Ought To Celebrate Juneteenth

Dominicans Are Taking To Social Media To Make Sure That People Stop Trying To Cancel The Dominican Republic

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Dominicans Are Taking To Social Media To Make Sure That People Stop Trying To Cancel The Dominican Republic

sashamerci / flavioalberth / Instagram

The Dominican Republic has been dealing with some really horrible press lately. Hundreds of people are falling ill while visiting the island and 11 tourists from the U.S. have died since last May. A bulk of the deaths occurred in the last couple of months and people are getting concerned. However, some people are trying to make sure the entire country isn’t thrown away because of this news.

The Dominican Republic is facing some really hard press lately and it has people concerned.

Credit: @davidalangrier / Twitter

There are at least 11 Americans who have died while in the Dominican Republic or shortly after coming home from their vacations. Hundreds more have reported falling extremely ill while on vacation. The most notable examples of people falling ill are at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Punta Cana. According to reports, the culprit is the liquor in the minibars in the guest rooms.

The stories have people on edge about possible trips and outings to and in the Dominican Republic.

While everyone is showing legitimate concern or cracking jokes, Dominicans are getting pretty upset about the collective call to cancel the DR. Not only are they bothered that their home country is being treated with such disrespect.

Jokes aside, here are some reasons people want you to stop trying to cancel the Dominican Republic.

Sasha Merci is not here for you and your willingness to just write the whole country off. Her biggest concern about the movement to cancel trips to the DR is the lack of people looking to find solutions for what is happening in the country.

And she’s not alone.

Credit: jacobbergeractor / Instagram

For so many people, the deaths in the Dominican Republic, while horrible, should not keep people scared from traveling to the Caribbean island. According to officials on the island, the deaths in the DR are not abnormal when compared to years before, however, the reaction to the deaths is at a peak.

There are also DR defenders who claim those canceling the island have never even been.

Credit: wiillygaga / Instagram

There are plenty of people telling people to cancel their trips to the island. However, there are other people pushing for people to educate themselves so they can still go to the Dominican Republic, have a good time, and stay healthy.

Those who are already planning a trip to the Caribbean island are staying firm and telling everyone else to calm down.

Credit: ot.does / Instagram

It does seem like a severe reaction to a level of deaths that Dominican officials claim to be normal for this point in the year. People are joking that they just won’t touch the mini bar to guarantee their safety. However, the consumption of alcohol is one of the main factors linking the deaths together.

A couple of social media users are hoping the fear of traveling to the Dominican Republic will lower the cost of plane tickets.

Credit: @jtripnation / Instagram

Low key, who wouldn’t be down for a trip to the DR if the tickets are just $108? It seems like too good of a trip to miss out on. Cheap, international, and a quick trip since it is pretty close to the U.S. According to reports. 6.5 million tourists visited the Dominican Republic in 2016 and 2.2 million of them are from the United States.

Despite the number of people calling for understanding, some people are just ready to write-off the whole nation.

Credit: imkingricky / Instagram

People were quick to defend the island in the face of this comment. A lot of commenters pointed to all of the things happening in the U.S. and asked why there hasn’t been a call to cancel the U.S.

If you are canceling your trip to the Dominican Republic, there are people willing and ready to take your tickets.

Credit: ohhjani / Instagram

The deaths in the Dominican Republic are tragic. No one should be losing their lives while on vacation in a resort. However, while calling for a boycott of a country might feel good and necessary, it does not to address the problem. Fortunately, authorities are starting to investigate the deaths to try and prevent them moving forward.

READ: 11 U.S. Tourists Have Died In The Dominican Republic Of Illnesses Since Last May, What’s Going On In The Dominican Republic?

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