Thursday, April 2, 2009

Regla, Santería

This Thursday, we started by visiting another pre-school. Typically, such schools service working parents; they're open from 6:00 AM to 7:00 PM Monday through Saturday, and they serve snacks and lunch. The kids are from age 1 to 5 (or 6), and if needed they attend until they transfer to first grade.

I was really struck, again, by how much the teachers do with so very little, and, in this particular pre-school, I was glad to see many pictures and artifacts--sitting side-by-side--representing both the revolution (Che, Fidel and Raul) and Disney and capitalism--glad because to me that signals a deliberate attempt to foster critical thinking from the very start.

At another pre-school we visited (picture of kids in front of old computers by Vicky), I was saddened by the ancient computers available to kids--and, of course, by the fact that they don't have access to the internet.

Nonetheless, Cuba has the highest literacy rate for both females and males (99.8%) and highest number of highly educated professionals in all of Latin America.

Actually, Cuba has the highest literacy rate in the entire world, higher than in the United States (which stands at 99%).

(Check out the statistics from the UN's 2007/2008 Human Development Report.) Admittedly, Cuba has a long history of high literacy rates, even pre-revolution (when it was 76%), but to me, 99.8% is indeed a triumph of Castro's revolution.

On the way to take the ferry across Havana Harbor from Habana Vieja to Regla, we saw this splendid building, the Russian Orthodox Church.

I really like this picture of the Harbor entrance/exit; the light at the moment I took the picture was perfect and all of my favorite blues show clearly. Havana Harbor is a major port and leading commercial center; it's been a key component of Cuba's long record as a trading center. Sugar and slaves passed through this harbor. Now there's still sugar, but trading is also dependent on tourism, the meat-packing and food-processing industry, production of alcoholic beverages, tobacco, chemicals and pharmaceuticals. Fifty per cent of Cuban imports and exports go through Habana Harbor.

This harbor is where the USS Battleship Maine was blown up on 15 February 1898; 260 people died. The Maine had been sent to supposedly protect American citizens in Cuba during struggles between Cubans and Spaniards. It's not certain who did the blowing up, but that event served as the catalyst for American involvement in the struggle. That following 25 April the US Congress declared war on Spain. As a result, Spain lost all her possessions in the new world, and the US emerged as a world power. (Here's an old picture of the Maine.)

We took the ferry across Havana Harbor to Regla, the town, and to the Afrocuban/Santería church of Regla, where the Virgen de Regla is the patron saint; she's syncretic with Yemayá, the goddess/deity of the sea, and mother of all living things, in Yoruba religion. Her number is seven (because of the 7 seas), and her colors blue and white. While there, I remembered that in the early 1990s, New Yorkricans Louie Vega and La India recorded a song called "Love & Happiness (Yemayá Y Ochún)" which includes an Afro-Cuban chant. It's now remixed as a housedance number. Listen to it. Okay, just one more song: this one's from the 1950s, I think; it's called "Yemayá" and it's sung by all-time salsera Celia Cruz.

The town of Regla, known for its rich colonial history, is fascinating. It's an industrial suburb with shipyards, docks, refineries and foundries. Nuestra Señora de Regla (aka Virgen the Regla), a Spanish import, has been the town's centerpiece since its official founding in 1765. (Interesting... Regla's sister city is Richmond, California, not far from where I live!)
While in Regla, we visited a museum dedicated to Santería. That was exciting to me, since I first heard of the religion while growing up in the Bronx. I remember once, when I was a teenager, going to a Santería ceremony, because my neighbor was being "crowned" as a high priest. Hmmm... crown is not the right word; maybe it's "annointed." There was a lot of conga and guiro playing, chanting, fierce dancing, animal sacrifices, eating and drinking--and running back and forth for supplies at the nearby Botanica. Check this out (you can find anything on youtube...): here's a video of one of those sorts of Santería ceremonies dedicated to Yemayá.

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