Filled with an assortment of overlapping cultures and customs, Cuba’s history and culture is the essence of vibrance. With influences ranging from Spanish-Moorish architecture to French customs and to Caribbean and African cuisine, Cuba is nothing less than revolutionary.
Cuba was initially inhabited by Caribbean natives until Christopher Columbus’ exploration brought him to the shores of the island in 1492. For the next few centuries, the island became inhabited by the Spanish-Moorish population where agriculture, pastoral missionary work, and slave trade became the focus of the island’s use (3). However, due to the American acquisition of the Louisiana Purchase and the uprisings in San Domingo, many French plantation owners and Creole peoples moved to Cuba in the late 1700s and early 1800s (6).
By the mid 1800s, Cuba was a mix of French, Spanish-Moorish, African, and Indigenous cultures that constructed the heart of Cuban architecture and culture. Much of the buildings and plazas have patios and fountains from the Spanish-Moorish architectural custom that dominated much of Cuba until the late 16th century (8). Stained-glass panes above doorways allowed for extra sunlight and decorative tiles often illuminated homes to reflect the tropical climate of Cuba. French culture introduced more Neoclassical styles and promoted pastel colors to brighten the streets (6). Other architectural influences included that of Arabic, Byzantium, and even Hindu designs.
Cuban entertainment also nearly reached its full array by the late 1800s (8). Mostly African and Spanish customs presided over Cuban music and dance. Some of the more common dance styles still practiced in Cuba are the Mambo, Cha-Cha-Cha, Charanga, Danzon, Rumba, and Salsa. As for the Cuban cuisine, all of the mixed cultures participated in enriching many staple dishes. With pork and beef as the traditional meats and the staple crops of lettuce, tomato, and black beans and rice, or known as arroz congri, Cuban cuisine truly reflected its Caribbean, Spanish, and African roots (7).
Upon the rise of the 19th century, Cuba’s economy boomed with the rise in agriculture and slave trade essentially causing Spain to gain an increased interest in Cuba’s profit (3). This increased interest, however, also caused some rising tensions; in 1868, Cuba and Spain went to war. After the Ten Years’ War – ending in 1878 – and the Spanish American War – ending in 1898 – Cuba finally gained its independence from Spain and remained under the watchful eye of America (5).
As the start of the 1900s, uprisings began and the United States became involved with Cuban military and political affairs. During this time, Fulgencio Batista ruled as a dictator over Cuba for the majority of the mid 1900s until Fidel Castro seized power on February 16th, 1959 (1). Just two years later, America broke its ties with Cuba, Castro declared Cuba as a Communist State, and became isolated from the United States (5).
Today, Cuba and the United States have restored their diplomatic ties. Americans and Cubans now travel back and forth and Cuba is known for its energetic atmosphere, delicious coffee and rum, famous cigars, and beloved Salsa Queen, Celia Cruz, who popularized the salsa dance style in the 1940s (2,7). Presently, many of the younger Cubans are fans of Rock n’ Roll and the Cuban National Ballet is internationally acclaimed. Now, Cuban culture is widely celebrated in America and other Latino and Caribbean countries for its fun-loving and dynamic environment (7).
Written by Lana Freitas