Cuban Kindness Not Vanishing Anytime Soon
In my just released book Vanishing Cuba, you won’t find Cuban kindness vanishing anytime soon in Cuba.
That’s because Cubans possess this innate sense of affection, gentleness, patience, humanity, and goodwill that’s been ingrained for centuries.
Some say it comes from their ancestry. A blend of Cuba’s native Ciboney and Taino people, Afro-Cubans– descendant’s of African slaves, and the Spanish, who, besides exhibiting a brutal and ruthless past as conquers of the America’s, are known today for their gentle and kind personas.
After Christopher Columbus landed in Baracoa, Cuba, in 1492, to claim it for Spain, he later wrote, “[The indigenous people] show the most singular loving behavior… and are gentle and always laughing.” Those are very powerful words that resonate with our modern-day experiences with the Cuban people.
Of course, we must not forget that Cubans have lived in relative isolation under communism for the last sixty years, with limited exposure to the modern world. Perhaps a curse, or maybe a blessing in disguise. As much as I like and embrace modernization and technological advancements, I can see the advantages of remaining simple and not influenced or pressured by living in modern-day society. I witness this simple life in many of the developing countries I visit.
As I think back to my experiences and look through my photographs from my 24 trips to Cuba, I am constantly reminded of the kindness that has been shown to me by so many Cubans I’ve come to know, love, and call my friends. But if you know anything about Cuba, it’s no secret that Cubans are known for their kindness and gracious hospitality. Before the 1959 Revolution, Havana was a haven for the rich and famous, partly seduced by the beautiful people of Cuba.
As I wrote in my book’s preface; Falling in love with Cuba, “Two days in Havana, and I had already fallen in love with Cuba and the Cuban people. Any fears or concerns I had evaporated into this beautiful and welcoming culture. Cubanos (as they are called) welcomed me with open arms. We smiled and laughed as we joked about our two countries and their political differences. Many voiced their articulate opinions with an impressive degree of educational background. Their warmth and hospitality were so refreshing and endearing. Their embrace was addicting. I found myself making friends at every corner I turned. And never did I feel a sense of animosity or that I was being judged. Just pure admiration, respect, love, and a genuine desire that my experience in Cuba be nothing short of wonderful!”
Several times I said to myself, “Here I am, carrying camera equipment equal to ten years of their income, and yet I never experience any sense of resentment, anger, envy, or jealousy. My country is responsible for much of the poverty they experience, yet they embrace me, smile, and hug me. How can people be so understanding and welcoming? They live their lives with a glass that’s half empty, yet they see it as half full.”
The photograph I made of the two elementary school girls titled “The Children of Cuba” personifies a culture of love, friendship, and peace. The same is true for my photograph titled “Colorblind,” which features three teenage friends with a different ethnic mix of Afro-Cuban and Spanish-Cuban blood.
Even though there is prejudice at the government level, on the streets, among friends and working-class Cubans, there is acceptance across all Cubans, white or black (as they refer to themselves).
“All Smiles” is another favorite of mine, photographed on a Sunday morning while walking Central Havana. These Cubans were happy to smile and express their love. Glad that I was interested in documenting their lives in a photograph.
My photograph of my dear friend Israel, titled “Robbery in Progress,” is a beautiful story about Cuban kindness. I was walking the streets of rural Trinidad when I noticed this older man climbing through a side window of a small house. I jokingly yelled out, “robbery, robbery!” He laughed and said that he had locked himself out of his house. That was the day I met Israel Gonzalez, 85 years young. I was surprised by how good his English was. He told me stories of his trips to the United States, visiting family, and spoke about when he lived in Havana. Our endearing friendship only grew from there. Whenever I returned to Trinidad, he was eager to prepare lunch and serve me Cuban coffee. He was so poor, yet he would go out of his way to selflessly please me. Israel passed away this past November 10 from Covid. I’ve been heartbroken ever since.
There are hundreds more of these stories and photographs in my book Vanishing Cuba. Three hundred, to be exact. My book is indeed a large-format, 348-page coffee table photo book, but it’s also a beautiful storytelling book, each written in both English and Spanish. My stories speak about a magical Cuba. It is a unique culture that will change and even vanish over time, as all cultures do when they transition into the modern world.
I hope you enjoy my book. It’s only been out now for two weeks, and I’m already very proud of the reviews on our website. Please go to VanishingCuba.com or RedOctopusPublishing.com to read more and order the book. It’s available in the Silver Edition, Deluxe Edition, and the collectors series, Reserve Edition.
Words and photography by Michael Chinnici