Life in Beautiful Guantanamo, Cuba: Yes, that Guantanamo

Life in Beautiful Guantanamo, Cuba: Yes, that Guantanamo

A Long Journey to An Interview with a Cuban guitarist

We met back in September, inside the funky Batavia music store, Kiss the Sky. He didn’t know English. My high school Spanish failed me. But Jesus and I connected, through the universal language of music.

Cuban music.

Jesus is a 50ish man who masterfully plays the Cuban laud, a 12 string, almond-shaped guitar.

Here is a little bit about this stunning instrument:

Jesus was on tour in the United States, being hosted by Knox College and fellow musician/university professor William Hope. After introducing me to Jesus, William  agreed to act as our intermediary and translator for this interview. It’s taken several months for it all to come together but Jesus’s answers were worth waiting for.

Words can’t express how grateful I am to both men for working me into their busy lives.

Jesus: Life in Guantanamo

photo by pixabay

It wasn’t until I got Jesus’s translated answers back that I realized he is from Guantanamo, Cuba. Yes, that Guantanamo.  Had I known, I would certainly have asked Jesus his thoughts on living in the shadow of that controversial American prison and why Cuba tolerates its presence there.

Instead, I saw only the picture Jesus painted of his Cuban hometown. A lush landscape, a vibrant people, who are still proudly singing the song that has become a protest song in America: ‘Guajira Guantanamera.’ For residents of Guantanamo, it is a beloved anthem whose title means, loosely translated, “The Girl from Guantanamo.” 

Sadly, Jesus did not include photos in his response. All photos were found by me through the public domain site, Pixabay.

My Interview with Jesus

(For Spanish speakers, I have included Jesus’s untranslated answers) 

Please look out a window in your home and tell me what you see.

I live in the outskirts of the city of Guantánamo. My house is surrounded by fields and you can see nearby small mountains that encircle the valley of Guantánamo. It’s a beautiful landscape.

(Por favor, describe lo que ves de una ventana de tu casa. Vivo en las afueras de la ciudad de Guantánamo, mi casa está rodeada de sembrados y se aprecian muy cerca las pequeñas montañas que circundan el valle de guantanamo, hermoso paisaje.)

If I were to come to your home for dinner, what would you serve me?

Typical Cuban food: roasted pork, congrí oriental (a mix a black beans and rice), and boiled yucca in a garlic sauce.

(Si yo fuera a cenar contigo, ¿qué me servirías? La comida típica cubana:Lechón asado, congrí oriental y yuca hervida con mojo de ajo.)

What do you eat at your first meal of the day?  

I drink a strong coffee, always very early in the morning.

(Generalmente, ¿cuál es tu primera comida del día? Tomo café fuerte, siempre bien temprano en la mañana.)

What is your greatest fear?


(Cuál es tu miedo más grande? Yo mismo.)

What brings you joy?

My children.

(¿Qué te trae la alegría? Mis hijos.)

What is a surprising fact about Cuba that you’d like Americans to know? 

Surviving so many years with an interminable economic blockade without having lost the hope of a better world for everyone.

(¿Hay un hecho sorprendente sobre Cuba que quieres que los norteamericanos sepan? Sobrevivir tantos años con un bloqueo interminable sin que hayamos perdido la esperanza de un mundo mejor para todos.)

If I were to come to your village/city, where is the first place you would take me? Why?

I would take you to my house because there I have humility, love and peace…there is no better place for me.

(Si yo visitara a tu ciudad, ¿adónde me llevarías primero y por qué? Te llevaría a mi casa porque allí tengo humildad, amor y paz… no hay mejor sitio para mí.)

What, in your opinion, does your country do well? What do you wish it did better?

The right for everyone to have free healthcare, education, science, culture and sports…I would wish that everyone would make the most of those rights and contribute to making the county prosperous and sustainable.

(En tu opinion, ¿qué es lo que hace muy bien tu país?  ¿qué desearías que pudiera hacer major? El derecho de todos a la salud, educación, ciencia, cultura y deportes gratis… Desearía que todos aprovechen ésos derechos y contribuyan para hacer un pais próspero y sostenible.)

You are such a gifted musician and I loved listening to you play traditional Cuban music.  For readers who haven’t heard your music, can you tell us a song that is typical of Cuba and embodies your culture?   

The ‘Guajira Guantanamera’ is a magnificent example of Cuban music.

(Tú eres un música tan talentoso y me encantó escuchar cuando tocaste la música cubana tradicional.  Para los que no han escuchado tu música, ¿habrá una canción en particular que es típica de Cuba y que representa tu cultura? La guajira Guantanamera es un magnífico ejemplo de música cubana.)

Is there a book, film, or poem that you think best represents your culture?

Nicolás Guillen’s book, “Motivos de Son.”

(¿Habrá un libro, una película o un poema que representa lo mejor de tu cultura? El libro de Nicolás Guillen “Motivos de son “.)

What is your opinion of the United States? Chicago?

It’s my first view, I met people who were friendly and polite, I appreciate the interest the students had in learning.  

The massacre in Las Vegas impacted me negatively. It’s very sad/ terrible.

Chicago is an impressive city. It was a great experience visiting it.  I would like to know it better.

(¿Cuál es tu opinion de los estados unidos? ¿Y de Chicago? Es mi primera vista, conocí personas muy amables y educadas, aprecio el interés de los estudiantes en aprender. Me impactó negativamente la masacre de las vegas, es lamentable. Chicago es una ciudad impresionante, fue una gran experiencia visitarla. Me gustaría poder conocerla mejor.)

What is your favorite time of year in Cuba and why?

Spring. It always makes me remember my childhood in the countryside. I love to bathe [to play, to be] in the rain.

(¿Cuál es tu estación favorita en Cuba y por qué? La primavera, siempre me hace recordar mi infancia en el campo, adoro bañarme bajo la lluvia.)

What would you like to say to the American people?

We should do everything possible to reach out our hands, joining together in an embrace, sharing like brothers and sisters the luck of being alive.

(¿Qué te gustaría decirle al pueblo norteamericano? Debemos hacer todo lo posible por estrecharnos las manos, fundidos en un abrazo, compartir como hermanos la suerte de estar vivos.)

What makes you proudest to be a citizen of Cuba?

Being Cuban is my pride. Cuba is the country of my parents, my brothers and sisters, and my children. Here I have the pleasure of offering my hand to any brother or sister in the world.

(¿Cuál es tu orgullo más grande de ser ciudadano Cubano? Ser cubano es mi orgullo, Cuba es el país de mis padres, mis hermanos y mis hijos, aquí tengo el placer de ofrecer mi mano a cualquier hermano del mundo.)

What ONE word best describes your country.

There are three words: Friendship, Sacrifice, and Happiness.

(¿Cuál es la palabra que describe mejor tu país? Son tres palabras: Amistad, Sacrificio y Alegría.)



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