The People of Cuba

Submitted 8 years 6 months ago by CultureWhiz.

Cuba has 11 million people. Its population derives from a mix of Amerindian, Spanish, African, and other influences. Today, Cubans often have mixed descent. Socioeconomic status, as in many nearby countries, privileges people with fairer features. However, the people have a sense of unity across the country.

Cubans have a mix of Amerindian, Spanish, African, and other ethnic composition. Due to complexities arising from Cuba's history, disagreement leads to widely varying estimates of ethnic composition. Depending on the measurement, people of African descent make up anywhere from one fifth to two thirds of the population. A recent autosomal study measured Cuban genetic ancestry as 72% European, 20% African, 8% Amerindian. Additionally, there remain a small but significant number of Asians, mostly of Chinese descent.

Cuban guys are very strong physically. Some people throughout Latin America and elsewhere perceive Cuban guys as players, obsessively pursuing girls but not serious about work or other responsibilities.

They are quite petite and the average height is 1.560 m (5 ft 1 1⁄2 in). The women have great physical assets and curvaceous bodies. The majority of girls seem quite open physically, and even sexually. If she wants to go with you, she will likely ask about where you are staying more than once. Note that professional sex is extremely common in Cuba.

Cuban men tend toward macho behavior as in other heavily Latin cultures. Compared to other Latin countries, however, Cuba has a lot higher rates of divorce and abortion, in a much more radical society. With huge wealth disparities between locals and tourists, prostitution often appears where tourists visit. Many Cubans also marry people of other nationalities and move abroad.
While the revolutionary government gave men and women legal equality, in practice men still have more rights in most areas than women. Cuban families often live together, including extended families. Elders contribute to raising new generations.

Family Life
Extended families often live together for traditional and economic reasons. Often one or more grandparent lives with a married couple and their children. For economic reasons, children also tend to live at home until they marry.

The Revolution of 1959 sparked a turning point in Cuban family life by promoting women's equality. New laws and policies resulted in women being educated, employed, and increasing their civil/human rights. Women are expected to work outside the home and are also expected to cook, clean, and take care of the home. Their names are composed of three parts: first (given) name, father's surname, and mother's maiden name; for example, Jose Garcia Fernandez.

Social Groups
Cubans live in extended families, with all Cubans nominally being equal members of the communist nation. In practice, some ethnic and social groups have greater rights and privileges than other groups. The main active social groupings in Cuba include the ethnic divisions and mixtures of European, African, and American descent, and politically connected economic classes.

Ethnic Groups
The Spanish conquest mostly eliminated the indigenous people in Cuba, but introduced African slaves from the Congo, Guinea, and Nigeria. In the 19th century, Chinese indentured laborers were brought into the country. In the 20th century, immigrants from the United States, Spain, and the USSR added to the ethnic mix.

Today about two-fifths of Cuba's population is made up of whites, and one-tenth is black. However, many people who report themselves as white have mixed ancestry. Almost all of the people are Island-born. Since 1959, racial distinctions have blurred as the Castro government has worked to eliminate race and class prejudices.

Classes and Castes
Prior to 1959, Cuba had sharp class divisions. The largest class was the peasants, who could barely support their families on the small plots of land they farmed. At the opposite end of the social scale was the handful of sugar mill owners, who enjoyed all the advantages of great wealth. Unlike most other Latin American countries, however, Cuba had a substantial middle class of lawyers, doctors, social workers, and other professionals. Industrial workers organized into very active unions, and they had a higher living standard than many workers in other Latin American countries. There was also a large group of fairly prosperous colonos, sharecroppers and tenant farmers, who grew sugarcane for the large mills under government protection. While Cuba's social hierarchy allowed for some racial fluidity, the vast numbers of poor and uneducated people were people of color. Among these, the poorest were women of color.

At least 50 percent of the population is classified as mulatto (mixed African and European descent), although the cultural privilege assigned to whiteness probably causes many mulattos to minimize their African heritage.

Under Castro's government, class divisions and social differentiations, such as elite education and membership in country clubs, disappeared. More equitable salaries, guaranteed housing, nationalized medicine and education, and employment for all, leveled the social and economic hierarchy formed between 1902 and 1958. In protest, middle- and upper-class professionals left Cuba in large numbers between 1959 and 1962, which hastened the advent of a more socially level society.

However, the revolution did not eradicate all forms of privilege. Under the Castro government, people involved in the government, military, and the Communist Party formed a new privileged group. Although their salaries were maintained at a moderate level, they had access to better hospitals, homes, cars, and commodities. Moreover, Cubans who work in the tourism industry, and thus have more direct access to foreigners with a lot of money, often make much more money than other Cubans. There is still a strong ethnic-class correlation in Cuba.


As a former colony of Spain, Spanish is spoken in Cuba, although with notably rhythmic speech patterns and visible hand gestures. After the Cuban Revolution, the term "compañero/compañera", meaning comrade, came to gradually replace the traditional "señor/señora" as the universal polite title of address for strangers. A significant number of Afro-Cubans as well as the biracial Cubans speak Haitian Creole. Haitian Creole is the second most spoken language as well as a recognized one in Cuba with approximately 300,000 speakers. That is about 4% of the population. Haiti was a French colony, and the final years of the 1791–1804 Haitian Revolution brought a wave of French settlers fleeing with their Haitian slaves to Cuba.

When speaking to the elderly, or to strangers, Cubans speak more formally as a sign of respect. They shake hands upon greeting someone and farewelling them. Men often exchange friendly hugs (abrazos), and it is also common for both men and women to greet friends and family with a hug and a kiss on the cheek. Informalities like addressing a stranger with "mi corazón" (my heart), "mi vida" (my life), or "cariño" (dear) are common.

As a communist country, Cuba has officially restricted participation in religion, while now taking a somewhat softer stance. Nonetheless, many Cubans maintain a Catholic tradition, although they do so secretly for fear of punishment. Much more openly practiced is Santeria, an African-based religion introduced into Cuba by slaves brought in from Africa in the late 1700s. The rough equivalent of a priest in Santeria is known as a babalao. When one is initiated into Santeria, he or she dresses completely in white clothing for one year.

People normally wear casual Western-style clothing. As in so many parts of the world, blue jeans from the United States are a popular commodity. The guayabera, an embroidered man's shirt, is a traditional and elegant article of clothing that is still worn today for both formal and informal occasions.

Cuban culture blends Spanish, African, and to some extent Amerindian traditions. The unique blend of African and regional cultural elements goes by the name "afrocubanismo". The communist government controls much cultural activity, limiting many political expressions while supporting sports and the arts.

Everyday Life
Although average income is only US$ 15, Cubans are not technically "poor" as their basic needs are covered by the government. They pay their monthly bills of subsidized electricity and water with around US$ 5, receive free education from elementary school to university, can see doctors for free and receive medicine for free. The social system cares for people out of job and provides them with a home and money for food. Life is not easy but everyone can survive.

Cuba has a relaxed attitude, with parties and festivals. A Cuban party often involves pork and drinks and salsa music. Rum and beer are particularly popular. Drinking and eating and dancing unleash the lifeblood of the Cuban nation.
People dress casually, the women more showily. Havana has a number of musical festivals, particularly the seaside carnival celebrating Afrocuban culture.

Cubans are accustomed to being in close quarters both at home and in public; the culture does not value privacy and private space as highly as does United States culture. Socializing often takes place on the street or in line for food and goods. Cubans are not defensive even of bodily space: physical affection is commonly displayed, and physical contact among strangers is not problematic. Being in constant relation with others, socializing in groups, and sharing both social space and body space are the norm. In this way, the socialist preference of collectivity and community over individuality and privacy coincides with the Latin American tendency toward group cohesion and commitment.

Sports are a very important part of Cuban life and identity. "Sports is a right of the people," reads a banner inside the arena in the athletic complex in Havana. Castro, himself an athlete and sports enthusiast, was once offered a contract to pitch on a baseball team in the United States. At the age of eight or nine, outstanding young Cuban athletes are selected to attend a boarding school where they take academic courses and play various sports.

Cuba has been referred to as "the best little sports machine in the world," consistently turning out champion Olympic athletes. In 1992, Cuba won more Olympic medals per capita than any other country. Cubans excel in baseball, boxing, track and field, and volleyball. Top Cuban athletes are heroes in their society, but unlike the highly paid athletes in the United States, they only earn about two to four times the salary of the average Cuban.

Music is probably the most important aspect of Cuba's popular culture. Cuban music combines Spanish and African influences. Typical music styles include charanga, son, rumba, mambo, cha-cha-cha, and danzon. From a blend of these rhythms evolved salsa, which literally means "sauce." Celia Cruz, known all over the world as the Queen of Salsa, began her career in Havana in the late 1940s with a group named Sonora Matanzera. In addition to traditional music, Cuban teenagers enjoy rock and roll, both Cuban and American versions.

Like other aspects of Cuban culture, traditional Cuban foods are rich in both Spanish and African influences. Pork, the meat of choice in a traditional meal, is almost always accompanied by rice and beans. When white rice and black beans are cooked together, they are called "arroz congri", which literally means "rice with gray." Black beans, prepared many different ways, are a Cuban specialty. A mainstay dish is "Moros y Cristianos" (literally Moors and Christians), which consists of black beans and rice.
Fried green plantains, called tostones or mariquitas, and ripe plantains, or maduros, round out the meal. Yuca (cassava), malanga (taro), and boniato (sweet potato) are also commonly served in traditional meals. Typical fruits include avocados, mangoes, guavas, and papayas. Customary beverages include guarapo (sugarcane juice) and rum.

Education is free and compulsory up to the age of seventeen. There are more than four hundred schools and colleges in rural areas, where students divide their time between working in agriculture and the classroom. Shortages have made it necessary for textbooks to be shared and workbooks to be erased and passed along to the next class. Higher education is also free. Scientific and technical fields are emphasized, especially medicine. The University of Havana, founded in 1728, is the leading institution of higher education on the island. Cuba's government initiated a campaign to wipe out illiteracy in 1961, and now has one of the highest literacy rates, at 94 percent, in all of Latin America.

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Cuba, Cubans