The conversation was centered on my graduate capstone project, and I am explaining… ”not a thesis but something different. The project is meant to be a want-to-do, feel good, indie type of thing. Field Research Study Abroad – Cuba Winter 2012. Blah, blah, blah, chitty chat, chitty chat.” He is getting the full spiel :
- Social Life: Cultural immersion
- Language: ESL
- Accommodations: Family living residential setting – Casa Particular.
- Research Objectives: Public Space, Internet access and Food sovereignty.
- Location: Centro Havana
- Budget: CUC versus CUP
- Communications: Wifi-ETECSA, Mobile- CUBACEL
- Transportation: Maquina
Which is when the conversation spikes up because the Professor gets a big kick out of knowing the significance of me riding around town, quietly passing for a Cubana in Havana. Viewed from outside the parameters of Nella Larsen’s novel “Passing” about the valuation of whiteness, he called my passing in Cuba a new twist, which really cracked him up. Much to his chagrin he was taken aback that a morena could benefit from passing. The idea of a beneficial valuation for African-ness thoroughly amused him so much that he had to make an effort to stop himself from laughing. It was all very polite, of course. Nevertheless when the irony of ethnic and national identity in Cuba society, confronts the legacy and sensibilities of U.S. homegrown Jim Crow, the combination does a number, twists the mind and never ceases to amaze the American psyche.
He kept giggling and since this professor is a volatile salty fellow, I smiled along with him. In spite of how special his ass is, it was due to his planning and past experiences that led me to finally be in the position to make my first trip to Cuba. Hands down an epic experience, my first visit was Rich…covered hundreds of kilometers, included multiple encounters and thousands of pictures. It was a journey of a lifetime that is still being mentally processed until today; two subsequent visits and nearly one year later.
So yeah I passed as much as I could and did so very successfully. When the foreigner status was appropriate, you know how it goes, I acted accordingly. Meantime as long as I did not speak up too much, I was able to fly under the radar, but trust me as soon as it was known that I was a Gringa–*
In the final analysis: Standing in a space between who you are inside and how you appear on the outside, requires good balance, and an acceptance of the divine order.