Call me sadity but I was a little ambivalent about traveling to Cuba for the second occasion in a two-year period. Granted, it took me years, and I do mean years, of plotting, scheming, pleading and dreaming of traveling to the forbidden red island. However, when you have a wanderlust such as mine, and you’re in a competition against both Uncle Traveling Matt and Carmen San Diego to see who will get the most passport stamps, you’re not trying to double dip in the international travel pot. Considering the fact that this was a trip sponsored by my job, the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute, and that I actually love the work that I do, I quickly got over my indifference and prepared myself for all that Havana and the 11th Biennial, had to offer. Little did I know, this particular Harlem to Havana excursion would turn out to be one of the best, no scratch that – maybe the most FUN trips I’ve ever taken in my life.
1) Turkey boas: The first recommendation upon recreating my life-enhancing trip to Castroland would be to travel with a compañera. Make sure said traveling buddy is smart, a ham and a little on the bourgeoisie side. In my case, my roomie for the trip was an artist I’ve worked with previously (see CCCADI’s Dirty Sensibilities: A 21st Century Exploration of the New American Black South). In addition to being a bad-ass photographer since the age of 12 (no seriously, I installed a series of images she shot as a mid-schooler), she’s also a 3rd Year PhD student in NYU’s American Studies Program. All that aside, Allison Janae Hamilton is pure comedy. Not only did she get the jokes, she co-conspired in the creation of plenty more based on incidents ranging from why a closed mouth don’t get flan to why the Military Scene (see Paris is Burning) doesn’t call for turkey boas.
When traveling to Cuba, make sure you travel with a pack of wise-cracking, former pot smoking, Afrocentric senior citizens. Trust me, the stories, the jokes and the encouragement they’ll give you to get it in with the young Cuban dandies while you’re “on the up side of the mountain” will be well worth the slower walks during tours of Old Havana and the amount of repetition you’ll be forced to perform due to not speaking loud enough in one’s good ear.
3) When in doubt, say you’re from Jamaica (pronounced high-may-ca in a Cuban accent):
The first thing any person in any part of the Diaspora assumes when they see you, the Black American, walking down the street, is basically, that you’re a Black American. Unlike my experience walking through the markets of Cairo where vendors shouted “Obama! Brown Sugar!” every two and a half feet, in Cuba, “America” was their assumption and it was good as gold. Of course, to acknowledge that you are American, albeit Black American (and somehow, the press manages to leave out the fact Black Americans collectively have less wealth than white Americans on average), is to say hey, I have money, so feel free to hustle me. Well, if you have natural hair, whenever they yell this out, just simply say you’re from Jamaica. The immediate response will be, “aaahhh, Hi-may-ca. Bob Marley! Rasta. Bless.” As we say in New Orleans, “get it how you live.” I’d rather be seen as a Rasta woman than a basketball wife any day of the week.
All these shenanigans aside, I worked my butt off (insert technicality here in case my boss happens to read this little candid travel log), saw lots of great art, met some pretty incredible people, and experienced serendipity at is finest. For more info about where to go when you do visit, go to my facebook page. In the meantime, you’ll find me still vibing off those wonderful memories, walking around with a few CUC in my wallet, refusing to stop living la vida loca!