Why I am not urging to “go to Cuba before Americans ruin it”

17 Apr

 

 

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Pretty much the mentality that fuels the “see Cuba before it’s ruined” idea. Source: https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/bitstream/handle/10036/119586/YakushijiH.pdf?sequence=2

 

In the last year, as Obama has lifted the trade embargo on Cuba, it’s looking like it is going to become more and more open to American tourism. And it’s a big deal for American tourists, but more importantly for the Cuban people themselves. After ages of being closed off from a nearby economic giant whose southernmost major city on the mainland is only a 50 minute flight away, Cuba is open for business!

It’s exciting for many locals and visitors alike. And certainly, I have great hopes that Cuba’s tourism industry will benefit its own people in the future. At some point, I will probably want to visit Cuba.

But in the past year, I’ve become far more interested in the social and cultural of the tourism industry as a whole. They aren’t always pretty. Tourism does great things for many towns in poorer countries when it is managed well, and when tourists spend their money ethically. But this isn’t the case in all places.  I find it upsetting is when people tell me “I know you love to travel, right? I bet you are very interested to see Cuba before Americans ruin its authenticity!”

As I’ve written about before, the idea that a country can lose its “authenticity” is largely a construct that exists in the orientalist mindset, and rests on the assumption that all modernization is inherently culturally destructive, and is all a version of westernization or americanization.

To argue that Cuba is better to visit while it stays the way it is depends on this construct of authenticity. The idea that when the first McDonalds opens in Cuba, that the culture is irreparably damaged is a logical idea to come out of this mindset. And more importantly, many Cubans want to move on from their older communist system.

If travelers want to respect Cuban culture, we should start by respecting the wishes of the Cubans themselves. Their country does not exist solely to be a time capsule for American tourists. It’s great to learn about the culture, but to visit Cuba “before it’s ruined” is an orientalist mentality. And it is also wrong to equate modernization of countries with, or to equate Americanization of countries with their own cultural roots being completely lost. Let’s remember that next time we hear someone talking about how “people should visit Cuba before it becomes just like everywhere else.”

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