My Cuban Diary: June 2023

Cubanas-Ana-and-Leydis-producer-LA-Joya-in-Cuba-2023--1400x1400, My Cuban Diary: June 2023, World News & Views
Cubanas Ana and Leydis, along with Cuban super-producer LA Joya, were standing in front of Ana’s small motorcycle-car in Havana Cuba.

by JR Valrey, Editor in Chief of the San Francisco Bay View newspaper

June 25 is the national day to protest against the U.S. government placing Cuba on the list of State Sponsors of Terror. I urge all people reading this to write to their national government officials and urge them to support this cause as well as ending the blockade against the Cuban nation. 

The U.S. government has had a blockade – or embargo – against Cuba since 1958, when the Cuban revolutionaries under the leadership of Fidel Castro overthrew the U.S. imperialist puppet Fulgencio Batista. The intention of the embargo/blockade was/is to starve the people of Cuba into changing their political preference of governance from socialism to capitalism. That strategy did not work then and, 65 years later, the Cuban people still have not capitulated. 

In early June, I took a trip to Cuba to see for myself what was going on within their revolutionary process. I had been to Cuba before in 1997, during the Youth Festival, which is where I met Black Liberation Movement giants and political exiles Assata Shakur and the late Nehanda Abiodun. This was way before Bush put a $1,000,000 bounty on the head of Assata Shakur, and Obama increased the bounty to $2,000,000. 

Assata and Nehanda were working as Cuban delegates to the Black U.S. delegates at the festival. It was definitely a life changing time for me, because within a week of returning I was a part of organizing “Free Geronimo Day!” in Lowell Park in West Oakland in celebration of our prisoner of war, Geronimo Ji Jaga, being freed from 27 years in prison with people power. 

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Ever since that time when I was a teenager, I wanted to return to what many who listen to U.S. propaganda consider the forbidden island. I remembered how intellectually smart the Cubans were, having been educated to critically think instead of just to be workers in the endless supply chain of capitalism like public school students in the United States. 

Cuban-sisters-Ana-and-Leydis-Havana-Centro-2023, My Cuban Diary: June 2023, World News & Views
Cuban sisters Ana and Leydis sharing some happiness in Havana-Centro.

On this trip, just as I expected, I met a number of average Black Cubans not affiliated with the government who could talk about international politics, current events, ideologies, world music, international sports and more. It felt good to talk to people who could hold an in-depth conversation on a number of topics. 

I had connections in Havana that helped me with my living situation, housing and getting around. Shout out to international filmmaker Eli Fauntauzzi for his help. The first studio I went to was Dj Jigues’. He surprised me when I walked in because he was listening to Louis Armstrong, with Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” on the wall, and Stevie Wonder’s “Songs in the Key of Life,” and a Donna Summers record sitting right by the chair I was sitting in. Later on at a community party for his wife’s birthday, he broke out the Earth, Wind, and Fire and Lionel Richie. I felt right at home, because this was my parents’ music when I was growing up. 

The first big thing that hit me about Cuba was that for $100 US, it changed over into $19,500 Cuban pesos. I learned fast that I needed to get big denomination bills like $1,000 bills so that I could have room in one of my two pockets for things other than money. The inflation was crazy. 

I hooked up with the Cuban producer La Joya (pronounced La Hoya) who embraced me, right along with his family. La Joya is a music fanatic, who is able to make music in a number of different genres. I watched him make some Rumba-Hip Hop, Cuban Trap Hip Hop, regular Trap, RnB, Tropical, Salsa, traditional Cuban music, and more instrumentals. He has his own studio in Havana-Centro that is frequented by some of Havana’s musical elite.  

While out there, I made sure to relax and just observe life from a different place in the world, where America’s corporations are not the gods in the society like they are in the U.S. They dictate what we eat, listen to, learn in school, how we are treated when we are sick and more. They even dictate U.S. foreign policy. 

IMG_20230613_163059_976, My Cuban Diary: June 2023, World News & Views
Maria, my Spanish teacher and friend, on the ground in Havana.

It was refreshing for me to just go days without seeing McDonalds, Taco Bell, or hearing Drake, trap music, or drill rap. It was easing to the mind to be in a society where violence, death, and drugs are not glorified every second. I was able to drink a lot of freshly pressed guava juice, mango juice, pineapple juice and lemonade. Due to the limitations created by the embargo, Cuba’s agriculture is organic, and you can definitely taste the difference in food quality. In comparison to the fruit, vegetables, and fish in Cuba, food in the U.S. tasted like cardboard. 

I ate a number of fish I had never heard of that were native to the Caribbean. I ate at a number of restaurants in Havana-Viaje, and the food was banging. Walking down the street in a plaza near the Museum of the Revolution, I passed by the legendary Cuban filmmaker Gloria Relondo. I shouted her name. She stopped and was a little surprised, so I told her how I saw her film on our beloved freedom fighter Assata Shakur called “Eyes of the Rainbow” in the U.S. a number of times when she came over the past two decades. 

Editor-in-chief-JR-Valrey-and-Cuban-filmmaker-Gloria-Relondo-Havana-2023-1400x1400, My Cuban Diary: June 2023, World News & Views
JR Valrey, the Editor in Chief of the SF Bay View, ran into the legendary Cuban filmmaker Gloria Relondo on a street in Havana. She made the doc on Black Liberation Army exile Assata Shakur, who still resides in Cuba. The name of the classic film is “Eyes of the Rainbow.”

Halfway through the trip, I went to the beach and met Maria, who became my Spanish teacher, translator, political debater and overall roll dawg. Shout out to my sister Dj Leydis who made a lot possible in Cuba. Without her, it would have been a totally different trip. 

The things I loved most about Cuba were the old cars and old buildings, which gave me the feeling that I was living in a historic time. At times it felt like a Hollywood set that was never ending. It was amazing how the Cubans preserved their 1950s era cars for so long without being able to import parts because of the embargo. But somehow and some way, the streets of Cuba are littered with these classics. 

Classic-1950s-Cars-Havana-Cuba-2023-1, My Cuban Diary: June 2023, World News & Views
Classic cars from the 1950s litter the streets of Havana, because the U.S. embargo does not allow for Cuba to import newer cars or even parts for the cars already in Cuba. They must invent aka create their own parts. 

The saddest part of the trip was that I saw how hard people had to struggle because of how the 65-year-old embargo was choking out their economy. Most people would rather hustle than hold a job, because jobs are not paying enough to feed people’s families and some Cubans feel like at least hustling, people could make enough money off of tourists in a day to outweigh what their jobs pay in a month. 

As Black people from the United States, it is our responsibility as a community to be aware of what is happening outside of our borders and to assist the side of righteousness and anti-imperialist struggle every time it is possible. 

I see it as my role as the editor in chief of a major Black newspaper to expose the hood to the world outside of our respective ghettos. We are not just citizens of Deep East Oakland or Bayview Hunters Point or the Country Club Crest, we are international citizens, where the earth is our turf, and we have to stand on that. Hands off Assata! End the Embargo! Take Cuba off the list of state sponsors of terror!

To see exclusive photos from Cuba that are not included in the website, go out the SF Bay View’s Instagram page.

JR Valrey, journalist, author, filmmaker and founder of Black New World Media, is also the editor in chief of the San Francisco Bay View newspaper. He teaches the Community Journalism class twice a week at the San Francisco Bay View newspaper office.