Traveling to Cuba
New York is the United States’ most populated city. Many rightly call it the world’s capital. People from all parts of the world live in NYC, more than 170 languages are spoken, its diversity is such that it is said that no ethnic origin predominates over another, although the most important are the Puerto Rican, the Italian, the Antillean, the Dominican and the Chinese.
A few days ago, when I was working in New York, I had just visited the studio of a Cuban visual artist. I hadn’t walked even two blocks when, very close to Washington Square, a couple started walking ahead of me. I couldn’t avoid overhearing them; one said to the other in perfect English: “Do you know that a Cuban chamber music orchestra is playing today in Central Park? I’m not missing it.” And I thought to myself: this city has more than 8.5 million people, unimaginable cultural options, and I hear on the street that they’re talking about Cuban music.
I of course went to the concert, it was full, despite the heat that New Yorkers know how to put up with. Hundreds of persons enjoyed the music in the wonderful stage that is NY’s Central Park. At the end they played an arrangement of the famous El Manisero (The Peanut Vendor). The two or three Cubans who were there could not avoid moving and dancing to the rhythm of the chamber orchestra. We were quickly recognized and several persons approached us. They asked us about Cuba, about the music…they had listened to something extraordinary and they wanted to know more: how do the people live, the climate, the principal places to visit…. Some of them knew several Cuban visual artists. They wanted to know if the changes that were occurring in Cuba were notable. We tried to satisfy their curiosity, but we told them: to get to know Cuba you have to visit it, you have to come into contact with its people, with its culture. Many asked for references, they wanted to travel to Cuba and wanted to do so “before everything changes.”
The following day, President Donald Trump announced in Florida that the individual people-to-people trips to Cuba by U.S. citizens were being restricted. U.S. citizens do not have the right to freely travel to an island that is 90 miles from the southern tip of the country and that has an impressive cultural wealth. Even though it can still be done, it is more difficult than traveling to Saudi Arabia or to China. One thing is certain, the interest in going to Cuba is growing, as the figures show. In 2016, after the relaxing of the travel to Cuba ban by the Obama administration, 284,937 Americans traveled to Cuba, which represented a growth of 74 percent with respect to the previous year, and the tendency has continued in the first months of 2017. As I was going to the airport to return home, the taxi driver found out I was Cuban and said to me: “I want to go to Cuba, and I’m going because it’s my right, even if the government makes it more difficult for me. I’m going and I’ll see the island that bewitched Hemingway.”