Monday, July 11, 2011

No Reservations - Cuba, Reflections from a Cuban American

What it's all about... Family. Here cousins meeting for the first time in Santiago de las Vegas
Okay. So right off the bat, kudos to Bourdain for being one of the first shows EVER about Cuba where the embargo wasn't mentioned even once.
I watched the episode tonight with a group of friends. In the room, 2 other guys who went with me on our 2009 trip. I liked the episode. I liked it, because I love this show and I love Cuba. I thought Bourdain handled it with a lot of class. I believed him when he said those wonderful things about the Cuban people, and once again as always, he has proven himself to be a pretty honest guy. My hats off to Anthony from this Cuban-American for a job well done.
I met with my buddies on the back porch for some cigars following the show. Among the group were 3 Cuban-Americans including myself, and 3 Gringos. As we puffed on our Nicaraguan and Dominican cigars, drank Chilean beer and Australian Port (yes... Australian), we thought about what we had just seen. The baseball. The restaurants. The cars. The baseball. The buildings. The baseball.
And we all concluded the same thing. The show didn't tell us much about Cuba. It was like "the baseball episode" or something. Something was missing, or better said, some things were allowed to be shown while others weren't. But that's the way Cuba is, and it's definitely not a reflection on the guys bringing us No Reservations. Even when you go, when you are right there on the island smelling the air and walking around Havana, there is a cloud that obfuscates everything. That's the way it is. You only see what you are allowed to see. You only do what you are allowed to do. And (I believe) if you are filming for international television, you only speak with those you are allowed to speak with.
This is the point where some naysayers would scoff and say "It's not like that. Cuba has changed and it never really was that bad anyway."
Well, they are wrong. I was there. I was there in 2009 from the outside looking in. I can tell you with no reservations (yeah I said it) that it is indeed that way. If it was like that for a ragtag church group trying to do missions work, I can't imagine how it would be for a high profile TV show. There is only so much you can do in Cuba. I'm sure there is only so much you can film in Cuba.
Understanding this, I look back on the No Reservations Cuba episode and I'm satisfied knowing that it's the best one can do considering the circumstances there. I'm also thankful that this kind of exposure was given, and that Anthony handled it with as much compassion as one can when writing a show from an oppressed country. The exposure he gave was this... the current regime isn't fooling anyone anymore. And he asked questions that frankly, I think took some cojones to ask. Could he have asked harder questions? Maybe. But you ask those when the Khmer Rouge has vacated the premises, not when they're still there or may still be lingering about. It's not safe.
Best line in the episode for me was while at the baseball game... the one about "the brutal dicatorship" not allowing beer to be served at the games... that was classic.
But I digress. There's also the other side; the ones who believe Bourdain should not have gone to Cuba, should not have eaten in restaurants, should not have done this episode. I respect their opinions. I respect it, because as Bourdain noted there are a lot of feelings surrounding Cuba. It's hard for people like my parents to look at something like this and feel okay with it. It's not okay, because again, something happened in 1959 that resulted in them having to leave the country they loved. For many, there is nothing Anthony Bourdain could have done that would have made this episode right, except not to do it. I agree with this group, and I respect that view as I respect and love my parents.
At the same time, I respect Bourdain for being respectful of these sentiments. You will never do it "right", you can only do it as best you can, and I believe he did. I understand Bourdain's desire to go to Cuba even more than he does, because my parents have lived and continue to live Cuba for me since childhood. Some choose not to go. I had to go. Not for the buildings and the cars of course, but for roots. To fill the void of a place that existed only in my head. Thankfully, I went to Cuba and found that the Cuba I loved had already been given to me by my parents. I'm eternally grateful to them for that.
I could say a lot more but I won't.
So again, this Cuban-American will not be black-listing No Reservations, and I will continue to record each episode on my DVR in an expression of solidarity with Mr. Bourdain. Actually, let me not make THAT big a deal out of it... IT'S JUST A TV SHOW. I'll keep recording it because I like it a lot.
And yes, that 7 year rum is that good.


mora68 said...

I liked the show. I think he did a good job. I don't think he glamorized Cuba whatsoever...he did not mislead us. He even gave a nod to the fact that certain restaurants were meant for tourists, that the locals couldn't afford such fare...and that they were gov't owned businesses. And then he acknowledged the woman who served food from her home, more for the locals...and he noted that she had to give quite a percentage to the gov't. I think he made it clear that people were cautious with their words. I love that we can see a glimpse of our family history...a very small glimpse. I can only imagine how difficult it is for our parents to watch it and reflect upon it. Both blogs were great are quite the writer.

Marquito said...

Thanks prima!