“Cuba Tiene Mi Corazon”: Cuba has My Heart

by Barb Tisi, CUBA

Cuba had been on my bucket list for a long time so when I finally got the chance last year to visit, I was ecstatic! As an African-American, Cuba was to be a unique opportunity to explore an incredibly diverse part of the Americas and gain an insight into the deeply rooted West African traditions that remain firmly embedded within the Afro-Cuban culture.

On our first full day, we got up bright and early since we would be going on a tour to Vedado and along the way would stop in Matanzas. This was the highlight of my trip since I had always wanted to learn more about the history of the Afro-Cuban settlement in Cuba. We were able to find a wonderful tour group, AfroLatino Travels, whose mission to provide historical and contemporary content on Afro-descended regions in America strongly resonated with me. Through this initiative we met other travellers who would be spending the day with us.                                                                                                     On arrival to Matanzas, we visited the Abakuá house to learn about the Afro-Cuban all-male secret fraternity that descended from the Karabali people of Nigeria. In order to escape the slave trade, this group moved to parts of Eastern Cuba such as Matanzas in the early 19th century. They honour their religion by the different dances they perform- a few of which I was fortunate enough to witness- and are believed to be responsible for the famous Rumba dance.

On Saturday night, we decided to check out Fabrica de arte Cubano, a former factory converted into a gallery, theater and nightclub all in one. It is the brainchild of famous Cuban musician X Alfonso, who was inspired to create a space where the old and young could be exposed to the variety of cultures under one roof. The music brought back nostalgic feelings of what I would hear being played in the streets back home in Kenya, and the way in which everyone would just drop what they were doing and throw themselves into the music. It was nothing like the music played in a normal American nightclub. The energy in the room was electrifying and got us all on our feet!

My indelible experiences of Cuba can be attributed to the country’s rich culture, history and charm of its people. The vast population of Afro-Cubans allowed me to connect with the diaspora, and the fact that my blackness enabled me to seamlessly blend in was refreshing to experience. The warmth of Cubans was overwhelming; people you meet for the first time and friends alike are always greeted with a kiss, and it’s customary for a stranger to engage with you in conversation on the street. People delight in the opportunity to chat about music or current events and that was awesome to experience. I would highly recommend Cuba as a holiday destination as it was magical experience! It was everything I expected it to be and more.