But Are They Happy?

Since my return, many people have asked me if Cubans are happy.  Some ask without judgment, while others convey that they believe Cubans are silently outraged or depressed, yet others still assume that they live happy, simple, carefree lives.

I have a hard time answering this question.  No, they’re not depressed about being from Cuba.  They’re proud of it, and they’re proud that their country has succeeded, despite America’s best efforts.  They’re proud of Cuba being their own man, so to speak.  They’re proud of the music, artes plasticos, films and athletes that come from their island.

But I don’t want to infantilize them, either.  They’re not living some blissfully ignorant life.  Many people have commented to me flippantly that if only they knew what we have, they would be sad or jealous or want to be Good Capitalists, instead of Good Communists.  But that it isn’t so. They’ve seen House and Grey’s Anatomy and Gilmore Girls.  They have the internet, albeit slow, and American radio.  They are not ignorant of our way of life, yet many of them do not covet it. There are many who do, of course.  Some want to not be discriminated against because of the color of their skin.  Some want to be able to make a decent living.  These are the ones who I think are the most deluded, the ones who are fooling themselves in thinking they can get these things in America.

I think there’s something to be said for sticking around with your family and friends.  Not that I hold anything against the so-called guzanos or those who want to Jump Ship, I just mean that I respect someone who has seen the “streets paved with gold” and had the intelligence to see past the illusion or the heart not to give up their Home for it.

Cubans are happy: they dance, sing, drink and tell stories.  But they’re not ignorant.  They’re not these sad little simpletons who don’t know they’re poor, or this entire island of people too terrified to speak their mind.  Cubans are pretty opinionated, and definitely long-winded.  I think most of them want more from their government, but who doesn’t?  Even Libertarians want something more, it just happens to be that that something more is for their government to exist less.

I think Cubans are optimists.  I think that they choose not to dwell on the bad parts: to tell you about the domino game on the roof, instead of the valuables lost, when the floods come waist high in their houses.  I think they want the revolution to continue in new, ever-changing, ever-evolving forms–not capitalism.  I think communist values are inherently good and worthwhile, and it would be as hard to remove them from Cubans as it would be to ingrain them in Americans.

So try not to think of a country in such simple, blanket terms.  Are Americans happy?  Are Americans any one thing?  Rarely can you say yes, unless that one thing is “complaining” or “individualistic.”  I think many more Cubans are happy than you think, but I don’t believe it’s for any lack of intelligence or awareness.  I think they actively decide to be happy; I think it’s a cultural value the way we value cynicism and sarcasm.

I think happiness is a state of mind and a decision, and that theirs, which is more or less collective, and is a greater measure of their culture than of their government or GDP.

One thought on “But Are They Happy?”

  1. Hey Delia,
    I really like this post and I get that question a lot as well. I think you described the situation really well especially emphasizing that they are not ignorant by any means. I actually see it a little bit differently in that I believe Cubans are “happy” out of necessity. They have to be optimistic because they are stuck in a situation that they cannot get out of or do anything about. Because everyday is full of struggles, of worrying about how to get some food or wishing you could go out to a club or buy a gift for your kid but your full-time job doesn’t pay enough, you have to have an “asi es la vida” perspective otherwise you won’t survive. So they take what they have and appreciate the little things (did you ever find yourself in a half-hour long convo about something completely normal to us like auto- flushing toilets or a decent sized meal?) and siguen a delante because that’s their only choice. I don’t know that I would call it happiness though. I think maybe they find a way to be content with what they have and they value friendship and family and vecinos more because that’s what gets them by, but they still go to bed thinking about what they wish they could do, what they wish they could be, but those are dreams that will probably never be fulfilled.
    I used to ask Jose this question and he would tell me, “Estoy feliz afuera. Tu me veras reiendome, bailando, con una sonrisa…pero siempre adentro tengo mis problemas. Siempre estoy preocupada por mi, por mi familia. No es facil.”
    Anyways, i think it’s a really interesting question and of course everyone experiences their lives differently no matter where they live.


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