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, 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,, 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!

The author holds a M.A. from the University of Miami. She is a free-lance writer and the editor of and

Editor’s note: Ramon Puig photos courtesy of Three Guys From Miami™


La guayabera por María Argelia Vizcaíno

La guayabera cubana

La guayabera en el Cocodrilo Azul

Verdad y mentira de la guayabera cubana

El origen de la guayabera

Por qué la guayabera es puramente cubana

García Márquez dona guayabera a museo

Chávez dona guayabera que le regaló Lula

Museo cubano atesora guayaberas de personajes famosos

Guayaberas impopulares y escasas en Cuba

T-Shirts, Guayaberas y algo más

¿Por qué se le puso guayabera a esa prenda de vestir?

Contrapunteo Caribe entre el liqui-liqui y la guayabera por Juan Jorge Álvarez Sánchez

La Guayabera por Hilda Anaya Sotelo

Diferencia entre la guayabera yucateca y la guayabera cubana

María Elena Molinat

La diferencia entre la guayabera yucateca y la guayabera cubana


La Guayabera-Part III

septiembre 24, 2010

By Hilda Luisa Díaz-Perera. 2010, All Rights Reserved.

A bit of sewing

Back yoke of the guayabera/

Back yoke of the guayabera

So, the shirt that would become today’s guayabera was probably first made sometime in the XVIII Century. It then developed gradually over the XIX Century, not as a design made by one person, but rather as the result of the many shirt variations existing in the island and the efforts of several seamstresses and tailors who complied with shifts in taste and fashion by adding or deleting features to the original prototype. Someone, we cannot identify who, added the collar. Someone else, who surely possessed very high sewing skills, must have thought of adding the narrow pleats with their miniscule stitches down the front and back of the shirt. Then, at some point during the Cuban wars for independence from 1868 to 1898, the design of the Cuban flag was incorporated onto the back of the guayabera. This idea probably originated from the Cuban insurgents’ habit of wearing Cuban flags, or red and blue handkerchiefs tied together on the backs or fronts of their shirts, along with their religious medals, as a symbol of patriotism. But Spanish authorities declared this practice a form of treason and soon the Spanish soldiers began executing any Cuban insurgent caught wearing a Cuban flag. Some expert hands must have drawn the highly stylized and clever design of the triangle on the shoulder area of the shirt and divided the back into horizontal stripes separated by rows of pleats. A person deft with needle and thread must have sewn the triangle on. One of the angles of this triangle falls very visibly at the top center of the back, as they do on each front canesú or yoke, and on the top of each pocket of an authentic guayabera. Any error in stitching, or failure to align or fold the fabrics properly would cheapen or ruin the piece. It must have been a very patient person who decided to pepper the shirt with its twenty-seven tiny buttons, and was then willing to sew them on and make 27 buttonholes, all by hand! Finally somebody must have noticed the wear and tear the flaps were always under and decided to reinforce the bottom edges and side openings. Most writers agree that the traditional guayabera owes much of its success and beauty, not surprisingly, to shirt makers and seamstresses of the Sancti Spiritus area and of another town nearby called Zaza del Medio. I would like to comment that it is indeed a pity that users who buy guayaberas are unaware of the sewing skills that were required to finally arrive at the design of the guayabera as we know it today. Its early evolution took place in the absence of the precision sewing instruments available to us. I was taught to sew by my grandmother, who learned the craft as a young girl working with her father, a Spanish tailor who established his shop in the city of Havana in the 1920’s. Among many other sewing skills, she taught me how to make tiny buttonholes by hand. It is a painstakingly slow, careful process that of making tiny stitches that must fall one after the other in a horizontal row to secure the fabric underneath. One hand crunches over the small needle and thread; the other must hold the opening still, in order to avoid stretching at the edges of the cut fabric, in this case, fine linen, which, with the well defined warp and woof of natural fibers, ravels easily and would render a sagging and crooked buttonhole. I must say I never qualified, for lack of patience and dexterity, to make twenty-seven of those buttonholes in a row! I’m glad my grandmother also taught me Math!

The final touch came after the guayabera was finished. Experienced pressers where required to press the seams, pleats, buttonholes and folds into place. Later, when the guayabera had to be washed, a home-made starch was concocted from boiling water and grated yucca that was then strained and allowed to cool. The starch was more or less diluted with water depending on the user’s preference. The guayabera would be dipped into the mixture once or twice and then hung to dry. After it dried, the laundress would sprinkle water on the stiff sun-dried shirt and then wrap into a bundle until it was time to press it. I wonder if Ramón Puig uses Niagara starch today… I do!

The Guayabera-Part II

agosto 29, 2010

The insurgent guayabera
By Hilda Luisa Díaz-Perera. 2010, All Rights Reserved.

Ciro Bianchi Ross, writing in the Cuban government-sponsored magazine Juventud Rebelde, points out that this early, and from his point of view “questionable” story about the Sancti Spiritus origins of the guayabera, if nothing else, marks the recognition of the existence of this special shirt and places it within the Cuban historical timetable. He explains that the guayabera or a description of it is not present in Cuban literature of the XIX Century, until the 1890’s when author Nicolás Heredia writes about it in his Cuban novel, Leonela. Furthermore, Bianchi Ross says that the Cuban peasant did not wear the guayabera, but rather normally donned a loose blue or striped shirt over his trousers, a straw hat or sombrero de yarey, boots, a neckerchief to wipe off his sweat and his machete.

La Condesa de Merlín

Condesa de Merlín

When the Countess of Merlin, (Havana 1789– París 1852), a Cuban aristocrat married to a French count, who is considered the first female Cuban writer, visited Havana in 1840, the guayabera was either not popular yet among the Cuban peasantry around the capital, or it was not known by that name. She does not mention it in any of her well-known writings or in the copious journal she kept of the trip. However, the fact that she does not mention the guayabera, does not mean it did not exist, at least as a prototype.

Guadalupe Yaujar in her article La guayabera cubana, quotes chroniclers of the mid-XIX Century who write that the guayabera existed and was already popular when Narciso López first raised the Cuban flag in the city of Cárdenas on May 19th, 1850. In 1856 or ‘57, Juan Cristóbal Nápoles Fajardo, better known in Cuban literature as “El Cucalambé”, published Rumores del hórmigo, a book of poetry that includes a description of the guayabera and calls it by its present name, establishing him as the first writer on record to acknowledge the existence and use of the guayabera. He became the most quoted and most popular poet of the mid- XIX Century in Cuba, probably helping to disseminate awareness of the guayabera throughout the island. “El Cucalambé” was honored in 1953 by the Cuban government which chose his birthday, July 1, as the official Día de la Guayabera (Guayabera Day).

El Cucalambé

Juan Cristóbal Nápoles Fajardo, El Cucalambé

By 1866, in the town of Güines, political reformer and activist Nicolás Azcárate is elected delegate to the Information Council of the Spanish cortes or parliament. His followers organized a victory celebration in his honor and it is noted by eyewitnesses that the peasants of the surrounding countryside showed up wearing their classical guayaberas and jipijapa or straw hats. The operative word here is classical since it implies time, design, tradition and the conscious acceptance by a social group that an item of clothing clearly identifies them. Other writers agree that when Carlos Manuel de Céspedes rang the bell of his sugarmill La Demajagua on October 10th, 1868, calling for Cuban independence from Spain, some of the men who joined him were wearing, not the military shirt known then as the chamarreta, as Ciro Bianchi insists they did, but rather one very similar to what is known now as the guayabera. I differ from Bianchi Ross on this fact because it seems incongruous that a group of colonial men, ready to fight the mother country for the freedom of their land, would go to do so dressed in the enemy’s uniform. I tend to think that if they were indeed not wearing a guayabera, they had to be wearing something very similar, a regular light colored, long sleeve shirt or camisa, the striped peasant shirt, or some early guayabera prototype.

This puts us right in the middle of an ongoing debate as to whether or not the Cuban army used the guayabera during the fight against Spanish colonialism. Many photos still exist showing the Cuban mambí, the name given to the Cuban insurgents in the wars for independence, men like Generals Enrique Loynaz del Castillo, and Máximo Gómez, Commander-in-Chief of the Cuban Army, wearing a shirt that is indeed very similar to the guayabera.

Los mambises

The mambí/mambises (pl) or Cuban insurgents in the wars for independence against Spain.

The Cuban army had no military uniform and dressed in whatever the men could find. At the start of the last War of Independence in 1895, in his Diario de campaña, Cuban national hero, José Martí, mentions the chamarreta, the military shirt, and not the guayabera. Charito Bolaños, the woman who reputedly sewed for many insurgents during the war, among whom were generals of the stature of Mayía Rodríguez and Mario García Menocal, states that she never sent a guayabera to the manigua, as the rough wilderness where the Cuban army fought against the Spaniards was called. But then, men such as those mentioned above, who could have had clothing sewn especially for them, were probably not going to choose to wear a shirt that was so similar to the one used by the common peasant. It must be remembered that Cuban wars for independence were fought for political independence from Spain, not necessarily for social equality. María Elena Molinet, Cuban costume designer in charge of important historical films that cover this period of Cuban history, such as Baraguá and La primera carga al machete (The First Charge of the Machete), after collecting and studying many such photos, asserts that none of the Cuban rebels is wearing a guayabera. It must be said, however, that the chamarreta had many details that coincided with the design of the guayabera, such as the long sleeves, the four large front pockets and the side flaps to ease it over men’s trousers.

The fact though that the controversy does exists, is an indication that the guayabera was probably already competing favorably against very similar shirts used by Cuban men of the XIX Century. It is also possible that as the century unfolded, and the popularity of the guayabera increased, it underwent important changes that improved its design. This in part explains the variations described as well as assertions made by observers of the time, which, as history has it, lend themselves well to unending controversy.

The Guayabera-Part I

agosto 14, 2010

By Hilda Luisa Díaz-Perera. 2010, All Rights Reserved.

Salsa is Cuban. The bolero is Cuban. So is a cigar worthy of the name, the Cuba libre, the mojito and also, believe it or not, the guayabera. I can’t remember life without it. I bought my Chinese-Cuban-American grandson his first guayabera, the tiniest thing, when he was barely a few days old: “Little man” I said, “Welcome to our culture!”

I think most Cuban women are emotionally bound to the guayabera through memories we hold very dear of fathers, grandfathers, and older family patriarchs wearing them. I can remember the day my then young and very conservative grandfather, finally gave in to my grandmother’s pleas to wear long-sleeved guayaberas instead of sitting through his meals fully suited, in the hot, Cuban weather. I recall my dad sweeping me off the floor as a little girl, smelling his clean-shaven face and feeling his crisply pressed guayabera, double-dipped in thick and gooey homemade starch as he carried me in his arms. I cherish the memories of Sunday afternoons at the Yacht Club watching all the elegant men strolling everywhere in – of course – their guayaberas.

As a young girl growing up in Cuba, I instinctively understood there was magic in the guayabera. Women with men wearing them seemed to be more romantic, sensual, feminine and beautiful in their own summer attire, usually made of light summery fabrics that rustled in the sea breeze. I remember very airy organza blouses and guayaberas; white linen dresses and guayaberas; blue polka-dotted dresses and guayaberas; soft, straw wide-rimmed hats and guayaberas; cigars and guayaberas; a well-groomed gray beard and guayaberas; the aromas of sweet lime cologne, café cubano and guayaberas; the mojito, a cubilete game and guayaberas; the smell of the ocean permeating Havana evenings and the guayabera.

The guayabera is solidly etched in the psyche of a Cuban woman of my generation. When I became an adult, and settled in the States, with a husband and young children, I made sure my husband had a guayabera. I think I was probably one of the first young Cuban matrons who pushed for this very special shirt to be worn again by our men. It was a national emblem that lent us a visible identity during our early years in exile when we were all frantically holding on to our values and traditions which we felt were being threatened by the larger Anglo culture surrounding us. The guayabera became the expression of an emotional need deeply buried in our national memory. In Miami, during the early 70’s, the guayabera gradually gained renewed interest among what were then known as the yuccas (young up and coming Cuban Americans), an acronym derived from the name of an edible root, very popular in the Cuban diet.

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Mis abuelas

marzo 29, 2009

Por Hilda Luisa Díaz-Perera. 2009, Derechos Reservados.
Publicado por primera vez en A toda marcha
Naples, Florida, 10 de marzo del 2004.

Las abuelas son ternura inagotable. A veces pienso si no debían ellas ser las madres de sus nietos, por designio o por decreto de la sociedad. Todas las mujeres que hemos sido madres muy jóvenes, hemos sentido frustración e impaciencia con nuestros hijos. ¿Dónde encuentran las abuelas el tiempo y la disposición para convertirse en bálsamo de sus nietos? No recuerdo nunca un “no” de mis abuelas, aunque nunca me malcriaron ni consintieron más allá de lo que yo considero “normal” en una relación como ésta. En mi recuerdo, mis abuelas se levantan como farallones protectores, como ejemplos de valor, determinación y fe, como fuentes de sabiduría y conocimiento. Eran muy distintas mis dos abuelas, y sin embargo las bases que me legaron comprenden valores que considero casi idénticos: el amor a cultivarse como seres humanos y la virtud de no desistir ante la adversidad.

Mi abuela materna, que nació a principios de los 1900, comenzó sus clases de francés en la Alianza Francesa y aprendió a conducir un auto al quedarse viuda a los 47 años. Iba de aquí para allá, toda señorona, por las calles de La Habana, en su Plymouth “cola ‘e pato” rosado y blanco del ’58. Mis hijos hoy dirían que “She was cool!” Recuerdo entrar a sus apartamentos y ver la mesita cuadrada donde estudiaba. Allí siempre estaban su diccionario Larousse abierto, sus lápices de puntas perfectamente afiladas, sus libros de gramática francesa y sus libretas llenas de notas escritas en su letra clara, pequeña y muy femenina, pero de mayúsculas originales y dominantes que delataban su carácter indudable. Yo caminaba de puntillas y me sentaba en su sofá a escucharla, desde la sala, conjugar aquella letanía de verbos interminables. Empezó a estudiar francés como una especie de terapia para su luto, y se convirtió luego en fuente de ingreso para ella cuando llegamos como exilados políticos a EE.UU., ya que en muchas ocasiones tradujo artículos para revistas y periódicos.

Esta abuela mía tocaba la mandolina y al darse cuenta que yo estaba a punto de perder mi curso de solfeo, ofreció ayudarme. Se sentaba en el patio de atrás de la casa, bajo los frondosos framboyanes amarillos, su pequeña mandolina apretada contra el pecho, la púa entre el índice y el pulgar, escogiendo una a una las notas de la melodía que yo debía aprenderme. Gracias a ella, saqué un sobresaliente en teoría y solfeo en ese mi segundo año de piano. Con ella practiqué y aprendí todas las conjugaciones de los verbos y las tablas de multiplicar.

Esta abuela mía me regaló, en mi quinta navidad, un par de agujas de tejer y una bola de estambre grueso. Me montó algunos puntos y me dio la primera clase de tejido, poniendo entre mis manos pequeñas y torpes lo que se convertiría, poco a poco, a través de mi vida, en fuente de entretenimiento y cavilación. Se teje y se piensa y tus pensamientos quedan para siempre envueltos en el estambre de la vida. A medida que me fui haciendo mujer y adulto, refiné con su ayuda mis destrezas como tejedora. Me enseñó, por ejemplo, que la velocidad para tejer depende del uso del índice como polea para alimentar la agua con el hilo, que al tejerse, se convertirá en punto. Con el pasar de los años, tejí para mis padres, para mis hijos, para mis amigos y para mí. De las puntas de mis agujas surgían suéteres, faldas, vestidos y cobijas y mi abuela se deleitaba viendo mis creaciones y las dificultades de este o aquel punto que había escogido. El tejer me enseñó paciencia y acuciosidad, y en momentos en que no llevaba bien la cuenta de los puntos, el tejido me enseño a aceptar que me había equivocado, a buscar el error, a enmendarlo deshaciendo el trabajo que ya había terminado y a volver a empezar desde el principio. Cada punto de cada pieza era prueba de un segundo de mi vida. Mi abuela materna comenzó a sufrir del mal de Parkinson cuando yo era aun adolescente. Cuando mis hijos nacieron ya su enfermedad estaba avanzada y no podía sumarse al jolgorio de mi hogar. Aún así, por mucho tiempo, en el rincón callado de la casa que era su cuarto y desde su reclinable, enseñó a mi hija pequeña a leer en español.

Mi abuela paterna olía a talco. Mi abuela paterna prefería la ciencia y las matemáticas. Yo pasaba todos los fines de semana en su casa, las mañanas usualmente dedicadas a aprender el reloj, (que me dio mucho quehacer, porque no me interesaba), los quebrados, y el sistema métrico. Debe de ser de cuando era muy pequeña el recuerdo que guardo de su frustración y la mía por no entender yo lo que era una decena y que diez de ellas hacían una centena. Pero mi abuela tenía una piscina en su casa de Mulgoba, y yo me plegaba a sus planes de estudio con tal de poder sumergirme en aquella agua límpida y fresca en las tardes veraniegas de fuerte sol cubano. A medida que yo fui creciendo, su casa se fue llenando de la muchachería adolescente del barrio, que como yo, gozaba del abandono propio de la edad. Mi abuela nos dejaba poner el tocadiscos a todo volumen y siempre agasajaba a mis amigos con meriendas y refrescos. Nunca me dijo que no, nunca le oí decir que estaba cansada, nunca dudé que ella se divertía con nosotros.

Mi abuela paterna era hija de sastres y con ella aprendí a coser. Fue maestra exigente, como lo había sido su padre con ella al confiarle los ojales, hechos de tela, de todos los trajes de sus clientes. Las costuras de los vestidos de mi abuela eran derechas y limpias. Las puntadas que daba eran parejas y casi invisibles, hechas por su aguja, que sostenía delicadamente entre el pulgar y el índice, mientras que el dedo del medio, el anular y el meñique quedaban ligeramente arqueados cada uno más arriba del otro y los tres por arriba del índice. El movimiento de sus manos sobre la pieza que cosía era como si la acariciara con el ritmo del entra y sale de la aguja en la tela. Solía decir que la ropa debía ser perfecta por fuera y por dentro; que la terminación de una pieza por dentro señalaba el calibre de la costurera; que si se iba a coser era mejor hacerlo con cuidado y bien.

Mi abuela paterna era la repostera de la familia. Hacía sus tortas como hacía los ojales y cosía mis vestidos: pacientemente, midiendo los ingredientes con exactitud y cuidado, cerciorándose que la temperatura ambiental y la del horno estuvieran precisas. Con sus tortas, mi padre y mi tío celebraron todos sus cumpleaños, mi hermano y yo los nuestros, mis cuatro hijos los suyos. Después de su muerte, las celebraciones perdieron un poco su brillo, ya que ninguna de nosotras las mujeres de la familia pudimos reproducir el sabor y la textura de aquellas tortas legendarias de mi abuela paterna. Mi abuela paterna fue mi otra madre y también la madre de mis hijos.

Mis abuelas ya no están conmigo, pero me acompañan todo el día. A ellas pido consejos cuando no sé qué hacer; a ellas acudo cuando necesito sosiego; con ellas hablo cuando estoy sola, porque nunca están lejos de mí. Las llamo y las siento acercarse en silencio, siempre con una sonrisa para mí, una mano extendida para darme equilibrio. ¡Mis dos queridas e insustituibles madres! ¡Mis dos abuelas: Abuela Hilda, Abuela Rosario!