La Guayabera-Part IV

noviembre 12, 2010

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

Afterword

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!

The author holds a M.A. from the University of Miami. She is a free-lance writer and the editor of http://jose-marti.org and https://unacuartilla.wordpress.com.

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

Sources:

La guayabera por María Argelia Vizcaíno

http://jose-marti.org/jose_marti/simboloscubania/guayabera/laguayabera/01laguayabera.htm

La guayabera cubana

http://www.radiohc.cu/espanol/a_sugerencias/2010/jun/guayabera.htm

La guayabera en el Cocodrilo Azul

http://cocodriloazul.blogcip.cu/2009/10/24/la-guayabera/

Verdad y mentira de la guayabera cubana

http://www.juventudrebelde.cu/columnas/lectura/2010-05-22/verdad-y-mentira-de-la-guayabera/

El origen de la guayabera

http://lecturas.cibercuba.com/lecturas/artes/el_origen_de_la_guayabera.html

Por qué la guayabera es puramente cubana

http://www.autentico.org/oa09148.php

García Márquez dona guayabera a museo

http://www.larepublica.pe/cultural/13/04/2010/garcia-marquez-dona-guayabera-museo-cubano

Chávez dona guayabera que le regaló Lula

http://www.7medios.com/index.php/2009/10/19/chavez-dona-guayabera-que-le-regalo-lula-a-institucion-cultural-cubana/

Museo cubano atesora guayaberas de personajes famosos

http://spanish.china.org.cn/international/txt/2010-04/25/content_19901930.htm

Guayaberas impopulares y escasas en Cuba

http://www.turismoencuba.com/Guayaberas-impopulares-y-escasas-en-Cuba_i718.html

T-Shirts, Guayaberas y algo más

http://www.turismoencuba.com/T-shirts-Guayaberas-Cubanas-y-algo-mas-_i197.html

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

http://www.desdecuba.com/mason/?p=1613

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

http://www.delagracia.de/san_1.htm

La Guayabera por Hilda Anaya Sotelo

http://es.shvoong.com/humanities/1810175-la-guayabera/

Diferencia entre la guayabera yucateca y la guayabera cubana

http://www.guayaberas.com.mx/articulos/la-guayabera-se-origino-en-cuba/

María Elena Molinat

http://www.opushabana.cu/pdf/MA-2008/Maria_Elena_Mollinet.pdf

La diferencia entre la guayabera yucateca y la guayabera cubana

http://www.guayaberas.com.mx/articulos/diferencia-entre-la-guayabera-yucateca-y-la-guayabera-cubana/

Mallcubano.com

https://www.mallcubano.com/men_207categ.html

Anuncios

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 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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