HAVANA — Cuba, at first glance, looks like a huge circus.
Entire crowds moving from one place to another with no apparent direction. Cheers of happiness and passion, which from street corner to street corner seem to blur into one beneath the boiling and tropical summer sun. Hundreds of Cubans, celebrated geniuses of contortion and underdevelopment, double as trapeze artists to squeeze into the buses.
Cubans are much more than this, and even more so if we focus on the Cuban youth who are eager to achieve, and hate as little as possible. A Cuban youth in 2000 is one who rides a bicycle over long distances to get to class," or one who works in the country to help the nation, or one who wants to travel and discover the world.
This very world, throughout its history, has seen Cubans on all five continents, determined to change regimes, replace owners, erase injustices and pursue dreams. Examples are Cubans involvement in the Spanish-American-Cuban War, World War I, the Spanish Civil War, World War II, the Cuban Revolution, the Cuban Missile Crisis, Nicaragua, the medical brigades in Africa and Central America and the case of Elian Gonzalez.
Historians say that Juan de Miralles, a Cuban born in the 18th century, was sent to the U.S. colonies in 1776 as a representative of Spain. Miralles, they say, befriended the U.S. commander, and even George Washington’s wife took care for him in his dying hours. The Cuban flag, to cite another example, was designed in New York in 1849 by exiled Cubans, and was brought to Cuba for the first time from that U.S. city. They even say a Cuban couple made a voyage on the fateful Titanic.
But save a few examples, Cubans’ links with the world almost always have been determined by the tensions between the 90-mile-wide Straits of Florida, which make the gap between Cuba and the United States even wider.
Relations with the "giant to the north" have been mediated by annexation, occupation, intransigence and intolerance. The 20th century witnessed the most visceral hate between the two governments, while the growing distance weakened the desires and efforts toward reconciliation.
But what’s certain is that with the passage of time and with the thawing of the Cold War, the youngest Cubans have slowly forgotten the memory of the secular intolerance and burdens of an increasingly distant past. And everything seems to indicate that on the other shore, U.S. youth have changed similarly.
In recent years, student exchanges have increased between both countries. U.S. youth can — with special permission — travel to Cuba and see for themselves what Cuba is like. Cubans — not as fortunate — receive and welcome them as if nothing had ever happened. Each group is interested in finding out how the other thinks and they’re even surprised when they discover that both listen to the Beatles, Compay Segundo, Frank Sinatra, Benny More, the Backstreet Boys and the Buena Vista Social Club.
Sports seems to also be an expression of cultural exchange. The University of St. Thomas, for example, appears to have discovered a few months ago the uncommon warmth of Cubans and a special desire for profound friendship. And even though the true exchange may not confine itself to the experience with the University of Havana, the most important fact is that the need to continue discovering our cultures was created.
What’s true is that time cures everything, and that the young generations in both countries are not ready to inherit a game whose dice were thrown for the first time more than 100 years ago.
The turbulent waters of the Straits of Florida, it seems, have begun to feel the change. Meanwhile, on the two shores, the people continue moving about from one place to another with no apparent direction, blur beneath the sun, climb the buses, cheer with passion and happiness and begin, finally, to look toward the horizon.
Ernesto Fidel Dominguez Mederos is a journalism student at the University of Havana and was befriended by Jon Guion ’00, third baseman on the St. Thomas baseball team, during the January trip.