La Guayabera-Part IV
noviembre 12, 2010
By Hilda Luisa Díaz-Perera. 2010, All Rights Reserved.
Interestingly enough, as I was doing research for this piece, I came across several articles written by Cuban researchers living in Cuba who bemoan the fact that younger generations of Cubans raised in the island were not interested in the guayabera, did not wear it and considered it attire only for older men. Coincidentally, then, as the guayabera was becoming more popular among the younger Cuban generations that went into exile, the opposite was true in Cuba, where the use of the guayabera waned, partly because with the revolution, it somehow became tied to the government’s definition of corrupt politics and politicians, and the so-called “decadent” way of life of pre-Castro Cuba.
Probably a better reason is that as the Cuban revolution implemented its communist economic policies, which included the taking over of all of the means of production and distribution, such as the textile industry and all of the existing department stores, the country became immersed in years of scarcity and dearth during which very basic materials like cloth and thread to make guayaberas, were not readily available. Another reason very prevalent in the late 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, probably still valid today, helps explain this rejection of the guayabera among other Cuban patriotic symbols, especially that of national hero José Martí: unhappily, it was probably the only way that the Cuban youth, trapped by a Marxist system, as many believed they were, could quietly reject a revolution which insisted on ramming political indoctrination down their throats disguised as patriotism.
José Aurelio Paz was probably one of the first Cuban writers in the island to identify the negative attitude towards the guayabera evident among Cubans living in Cuba. In his article for Juventud Rebelde, he suggests that they should recapture the pride of wearing the guayabera and shed the shame associated with it, which is understood as the corrupt government bureaucrats and politicians of the pre-Castro era. But, although he identifies shame as one of the reasons for its lack of popularity among the younger generations, he doesn’t define very successfully the source of that shame. He goes on to say that whereas the guayabera came forth from the working classes and was once available at prices easily affordable by the common man, nowadays it is only available in commercial establishments limited to tourists, at prices too high to fit the skinny national salaries.
One supposedly Cuban online store I checked, TurismoenCuba.com uses the slogan “Powered by Amazon.” All of us who have had a business on the internet know what that refers to. Prices go from $24.99 to $55 US dollars, an amount difficult to come up with by a common working class Cuban who, unless he or she is employed in the tourist industry, his salary does not even come close to $20 Cuban pesos a month. But, of course, this Cuban online store, is not for Cubans inside the island who don’t have ready internet access or credit cards to purchase over the internet. Cubans in Cuba who want to buy a guayabera will not be able to do so in any store within their reach. And yet, guayaberas are available in the government-sponsored stores for foreigners (such as Cubans in exile and their families who visit the island), tourists, diplomats and the privileged of the Cuban ruling elite.
The government-sponsored online store that offers Cuban-made products, Mallcubano.com, does not even include a guayabera in its online catalog. Oh! And one note of irony here: “mallcubano”, pronounced in Spanish, sounds like mal cubano which means “bad Cuban”, “Cuban malady” or “Cuban evil”, but none of them good… Um, I wonder who came up with such a name?
In order to rescue the dwindling interest in the guayabera evident inside Cuba, writer Ciro Bianchi Ross along with Carlos Figueroa Crespo and others, suggested the establishment of The Socio-Political Project of The Guayabera within The Provincial Historical Museun of Sancti Spiritus. The Project already includes guayaberas donated by a roster of politically slanted though undoubtedly significant and historically prominent people of the last 50 years. They are the distinguished famous or infamous, depending on which side of the political divide you belong to, or how objective you manage to stay as you read this list, since, of course, donations of guayaberas by the political center and the political right are non-existing. The list includes, Fidel and Raúl Castro; Hugo Chávez, who donated his red guayabera, a gift from Inacio Lula da Silva, President of Brazil; Colombian and Guatemalan writers, the Nobel laureates Gabriel García Márquez and Miguel Ángel Asturias; Shafick Handal (1930-2006) Secretary-General of the Communist Party of El Salvador; the Puertorrican independentists Rafael Cancel Miranda and Filiberto Ojea, and world renowned Cuban ballerina Alicia Alonso, as well as many others of the political left.
It begs the question, are these personalities who have been given the task of “uplifting” the pride and honor of the guayabera, and of redefining one of Cuba’s most endearing symbols by uncoupling it from the pre-Castro imagery of “corrupt politicians” and then re-associating it with their own supposedly pristine Marxist values, up to the challenge? Can they actually sway the minds of thousands who can finally see beyond the party line, but are still not able to purchase a half-way decent guayabera, in their own native Cuba?
One thing is certain: Miami, the capital of the Cuban exile, may or may not have a guayabera museum and although I think it is a terrific idea, the fact is that we could establish one not because we are not interested in the guayabera, but rather because we have made it popular in the most unexpected places and seen it escalate the loftiest of scenarios. There are guayaberas for all tastes and pocket sizes, and we certainly are not ashamed to wear one. National symbols are not responsible for the actions of irresponsible greedy politicians no matter where they fall within the political spectrum. A reminder: the next time you find yourself close to a guayabera, if you are Cuban, do this: run your fingers over the deftly sewn back pleats that together make up the Cuban flag!
Editor’s note: Ramon Puig photos courtesy of Three Guys From Miami™
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