Cuba Blog Post 2: Quincinieras

by tuftsigl
Jan 29

Emily Bartlett is a senior majoring in International Relations and Nicola Pardy is a senior majoring in Political Science.

Ernesto picked us up at Casa Vladimir around 4 to take us to the neighborhood outside Havana where Carmen lives. The soviet style housing blocks, he explained, were built in the 70s in an effort to relocate residential areas outside the capital. Today mostly working class families reside in the blocks.

We met Carmen, a soft-spoken 15-year-old with wide green eyes, in the home she shares with her mother, father, and little brother. The first thing she showed us was a photo book of her Quinciniera birthday party. It’s customary for girls in their community to have a large celebration on their 15th birthday, complete with chiffon ball gowns, hired cars, photographers, and choreographers. Ernesto told us that families will save up for years in order to make this celebration special.  

Carmen then took us to meet a friend living in another apartment block only minutes away: an outgoing and much more talkative young woman named Gabriela. Upon arrival, the two girls quickly ran into Gabriela’s room, leaving us sitting in the living room slightly unsure of what to expect. The girls remerged with various materials depicting Gabriela’s Quinciniera, and soon we were watching an hour long DVD of this lavish fiesta. 

Gabriela’s mother graciously offered us guava smoothies, and she soon joined us in watching the DVD. Soon, both mother and daughter were in tears, re-living what was obviously a very important moment in Gabriela’s life. The girls had relaxed a little and started to discuss school, friends and boys with us—and when the power went out suddenly, Gabriela ran to her room to show us yet another girls Quinciniera on her battery-powered digital camera. 

We returned home late in the evening in a vintage car from the 1950s, sitting side by side in the front seat. We sang along with Bob Marley’s “Is This Love” as we drove through the rain, and went to bed early, exhausted from the day’s events. 

Today, we are having dinner with Ernesto and his family, and will speak to women of an older generation about their experiences as young girls. More updates to come concerning Carmen and her friends—we are hoping to spend the next two evenings with her, and are hoping to go to school with her if all goes well.