The aspect of habanero culture that has shocked me the most is the sense of community in the city. Before coming here I thought the years of intense defense of socialism and an intrusive state would have fostered a sense of paranoia throughout the island. But the exact opposite has proven to be true. The city contains upwards of 3 million people, but when I walk around with Cubans they seem to know at least three people on every street block, and they greet almost every acquaintance like a brother or sister.
On top of this, in almost all parts of the city (the exception being the more upper class areas), Cubans leave their doors wide open even when they go out into the street, and it’s possible to see throughout most house just by looking in from the sidewalk. This can’t just be because there are less distractions indoors. It’s more of a cultural phenomenon that allows people’s lives to spill out on to the street.
I’ve been told that some of this stems from the creation of neighborhood CDR’s (Committees for the Defense of the Revolution), which uphold and protect the values of the revolution, but also work to strengthen ties within communities. But the CDR’s are only part of the explanation. The general socialist project that Cuba undertook many years ago has left the majority of the population with a strong sense of connection to the rest of society and reinforced social ties that have weakened in many other parts of the world. In fact, in Cuba it’s a ticketable offense not to stop by the side of the road if you see someone whose car has broken down. This may seem a little silly, but imagine if that spirit of social duty existed in the United States.
And of course there’s the issue of safety. In Cuba there is little violent crime, and when incidences do occur there aren’t readily reported and sensationalized by the press. This allows most Cubans to be less preoccupied about being assaulted at random
Though this state of security was achieved through a massive crackdown on crime by a centralized government, the amount of trust that many Cubans have for their neighbors certainly makes their already difficult daily lives less stressful.
Unfortunately, hard times and necessary changes have altered, and are continuing to alter, many aspects of Cuban culture and society. Let’s just hope that an improved economy doesn’t mean a loss of such incredible social connection.