I confess, I love the stories behind a revolution. They are exciting, bold, romantic, epic. They also entail struggle, pain, blood and death. Unlike wars between nations, revolutions attempt to throw out an old system and replace it with something fresh, more just, more virtuous. Idealism runs rampant until reality sets in and human nature, with all its foibles, takes over and finds itself once again with a system that is flawed, and often as unjust and cruel as the previous one. Yet through this process, a national fiber is stretched, yanked, distorted, and pounded, until the country re-emerges into a new dawn, and rediscovers who it has been all along.
There is something very distinctive about visiting a country that has lived through a revolution, and even more so when the citizens still remember the event firsthand. The experience of strife and distress tests the human mettle, and makes those who survive stronger and more keenly focused on life’s priorities and their fundamental cultural values. The end result is a distillation of culture that conveys the soul of the place with more potency–a full embrace of authentic cultural identity.
I found this to be true in Cuba, from which I returned a few days ago. The island nation exudes a warmth and passion that have clearly been a part of the national fiber since the beginning, but perhaps have become much more powerful over years of hardship. Here is a people who speak of love freely, who call each other (whether lover, friend or colleague) ‘mi amor,’ who begin to move their bodies the minute they detect a musical beat, and who kiss you on your second encounter. Feelings are not beneath the surface as they are in many cultures.
In Cuba, expressing emotion is the only way to be, to exist, even when conducting business. They pour their heart into all they do and say. There is a sincerity of purpose and pride that struck me as refreshingly pure. Whether it was the sociologist in charge of the Clinic for the Prevention of HIV/AIDS or Papa Tin who founded the Colmenita project to help children with disabilities become happy, well-adjusted teens, I marveled at the amount of heart every Cuban I met put into to their work.
Suffering is no stranger to Cuba–traumatizing events, from the Revolution in 1959 to the Soviet Union’s pull out in 1990, have put this island nation through hell. Yet that national fiber appears stronger than ever and an indomitable spirit endures—one that loves, dances and sings with renewed gusto.