“Yuma” – Cuban slang for “Gringo,” aka tourist or American. It didn’t seem like a derogatory term to me, Cubans seem too nice for that, but more of a word with an interesting culture tie to US film. It’s likely that this term for Americans comes from the classic cowboy flick “3:10 to Yuma.” In a nation with restricted access to media, it’s incredible how pop culture makes its way in. Television is not so readily available and pretty pricey for most Cubans, yet so many locals know practically everything there is know about US films, shows, and pop culture. Our guide Lian was constantly quoting and citing American films, some so obscure I didn’t even know. How do they know? By being innovative. Each week a local service distributes a week’s worth of television, commercials and all, for a small fee. Aha! Yet another example of making it work.
After coffees and a fairly standard buffet breakfast in our hotel, we gathered to hear Giulio Ricci, an economist at the University of Havana, explain some of the mysteries of the Cuban economy. Essentially, what we learned, is that it’s a bit complicated.
Fun local anecdote: it was a Cuban mojito that inspired Nancy Pelosi to sit down with diplomats to begin discussions of lifting the embargo. After having a couple, it’s hard not believe it.
We continued with a tour of the National Museum of Art in Havana. It was a beautiful collection and practically organized with traditional colonial art on the top floor and more modern collections with each lower level. It seemed that the group responded most to the contemporary works by Cuban artists, which was incredibly innovative. With a lack of materials, many artists used what they could find and created stunning sculpture. Photography was not allowed in the museum, but we managed to sneak a few photos here and there. Good thing because the gift shop lacked in keepsakes.
An afternoon discussion with architect Miguel Coyula was a great way to put much of what we noticed in the city into context. With no urban planning major offered at the University of Havana, city planning is a bit of a crisis. Beautiful buildings crumbling left and right, but it was comforting to learn that there are brilliant minds thinking about how to address the problems.
With the evening open, a few of us wandered over to the Nacional for cocktails and gazing out at the Malecon. Almost couldn’t believe that we were actually there. Performance and music is around every corner and this evening we learned what it means to move like a Cuban.