There Are No Foreigners
There Are No Foreigners / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez
Posted on October 13, 2015
14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 12 October 2015 — Pepes,
Yumas and tourists are some of the names we give to those who visit our
country. For many Cubans, these travelers are their main source of
income, through accommodation, transportation, dance and language
classes. Some also share classrooms at the university, or work in a
joint venture. However, in most cases their stay is brief, they are
passing through, for only a few days or months. What happens when they
come to stay?
A painting on a Havana wall addresses the contradiction between the
official discourse that prides itself on the solidarity of a nation, but
one where the immigrant has no place. This drawing of Che Guevara with a
contentious quote – “In the homeland of solidarity there are no
foreigners” – lasted just a few hours in its makeshift place, before the
censor arrived in the form of a blue brushstroke to cover it over. For
the government, when the foreigners arrive on their cruises, stay a few
nights and leave their cold hard cash in the state coffers, everything
seems fine. It is a whole different thing when they decide to come and
stay. Then, the nationalistic hostility that characterizes the Cuban
system shows itself.
Cuban immigration law is perhaps one of the strictest on the planet for
a foreigner who settles in the national territory. For decades, living
here was a privilege allowed only to the “comrades” of Eastern Europe,
apprentice guerrillas, and political refugees from Latin American
dictatorships. Diplomatic personnel and some chosen academics completed
the map of natives of other countries who would stay in Cuba more or
The island ceased to be a country of immigrants, where the crucible of
identity joined together cultures far and near. Chinese, French, Arabs,
Haitians, Spaniards and Poles, among many others, brought their customs,
culinary recipes, and entrepreneurial initiatives to achieve the wonder
of diversity. Today it is rare to see gathered around family tables
people who were not born here.
At the end of 2014, the National Bureau of Statistics announced that the
number of foreign residents in Cuba in 2011 represented just 0.05% of
the population. A figure that contrasts with the 128,392 foreigners –
1.3% of the population – that we shared the island with in 1981. Two
factors explain the sharp drop in foreign residents: the implosion, in
the 1990s, of the socialist camp, whence the “technicals” of yesteryear;
and, above all, because our country long ago ceased to be a nation of
While foreign residents were leaving, temporary visitors were becoming
an economic “lifeline” in the face of an increasing material misery.
These latter were, for a long time, the only ones with hard currency,
and with it the ability to buy shampoo in the “diplotiendas” (diplomat
stores), and to experience the enormous luxury of enjoying a cold beer
in a hotel bar. The tourist became the Prince Charming of many young
Cuban women’s dreams, the son-in-law that every father-in-law wanted,
and the preferred tenant of rooms for rent.
Even today foreigners are seen by many Cubans as wallets with legs who
walk the streets, which must be emptied of every coin. It is difficult
for a foreigner in Cuba to determine to what extent the friendliness
they come across in the streets is the natural kindness of our people,
versus a histrionic performance the objective of which is to get one’s
hand in their pocket.
Cubans have lost the habit of living – equal to equal – with “the
other.” Sharing jobs with immigrants, accepting that people speak
different languages on a public bus. Our kitchens have been impoverished
by lack of contact with other gastronomic experiences, we have become
less universal and markedly more “islanders” in the worst sense of the
word. We have lost the capacity to tolerate and welcome other ways of
doing, speaking and living.
How will we react when our country becomes a destination for immigrants?
Will they be condemned to the worst jobs? Will xenophobic groups emerge
that reject those who come from overseas? Will there be NGOs to protect
them? Programs to help them integrate? Politicians who don’t fear them?
All these questions need to be answered in a shorter time frame than we
think. Cuba could again be, very soon, a nation of people who come from
Source: There Are No Foreigners / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez | Translating