Life, Culture and Travels from the perspective of a Cuban
Religion for a Cuban born in 1981
Categories: Cuba Inside Out

There are not plenty of stories I can recall from the Cuban 80’s regarding religion. Being in primary school I was growing up to be a complete atheist, never baptized, never introduced to religion at home or at school. The vague idea of the existence of God I had was brought to me by very few people believing in something beyond death and that what eyes could see, using crosses or talking about malign spirits visiting rooms. The only vision of God I had were churches all over the city. I had no idea what to do or what I could find inside one of those constructions.

Then I began to be curious. Really curious. I realized that my great grandmas believed in God and were Catholics. I started asking what protestan meant since I heard that my great grandfather who has lived in the United States during his youth was a Protestant. My grandmas went to church rarely. Never with me, obviously. They never mentioned San Lazaro but I could see a little statue with his dogs when visiting one of them. My other great grandma had a Virgen Mary by her bed. They both died of a very old age but I never learnt about religion from them.

I understood quickly that being “religious” was not a good thing in Comunist Cuba, or at least it was not something that citizens would practice in public light. I also met a couple of family friends that practiced Santeria and other African religions and the book “The Orishas in Cuba” fell into my hands. At this point I think I was twelve years old and by then I knew who Eleggua, Chango, Ochun and Obbatala were. I even knew about “sincretismo” because of popular songs on the radio that started to give me the “light”. I will never forget Adalberto Alvarez y su Son theme “Y que tu quieres que te den” where he sang: “Obbatala is las Mercedes, Ochun is la Caridad, Santa Barbara is Chango and Virgen de Regla is Yemaya”. I naturally mixed religions while discovering them and there was nothing wrong with that.

Then I decided to go to church and my parents never opposed to it. They took it as if I was going to the movie. I felt really free to read the bible, attend to mass sometimes and later prepared myself to be baptized. I noticed that Catholics were not too happy about people practicing and blending both African and Christian beliefs, many Cubans seemed to actively participate in both communities, they would go to church and to Toque de Santo, which is a common celebration devoted to Orishas. I used to go to both and go with the flow, but most of the times I would just go to the nearest church.

Religion became more openly practiced and when the Pope John Paul II visited Cuba Christmas became officialy celebrated. Nowadays religion is everywhere,  things are very different, way different but you never hear of a lot of people going to mass every Sunday.

It surprises me how I lost interest in going to mass once I started university. Sometimes I think that religion was a way to be a rebel in my teenage years, a very subtle and nice way to be a rebel, perhaps, luckily for my parents. It was a great mistery to me and a way to develop my spirituality in a direction that seemed to be the way it was done since the year zero. The presence of a God made me feel safe and gave me peace. That was all. No rule changed my life, I was not following anything with fanatism. I always preferred to go to a concert or a party with friends. I just wanted to know that everything was going to be fine and that there was a bright destiny waiting for me.

In the present I have many doubts. More questions about religion arouse with age. Most of the people I know and that are very close to me are atheist, but when I get close to the sea I think of Yemaya, I cannot help it, I am a Cuban after all and these things managed to crawl in.

The reason I thought of religion is because Virgen de La Caridad is travelling across Cuba and today she was in my neighbourhood church in Havana (San Juan de Letran). I know I would have visited the church in this occasion if I was there.

Living outside Cuba has made me even more confused about religion and it gets harder to explain to Catholics how religion is treated in Cuba. Imagine if I mention the Afro – Cuban heritage and how relaxed people can be, considering themselves Catholics…




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