One of the most exciting experiences we had on this trip to Cuba was watching the new entrepreneurial fever that you see in all aspects of Cuban life. We visited the first privately owned restaurant in Havana circa 1995. We met the beautiful owner, some of her children and all of her staff. Granted, they still have ties to the government but all of our businesses in the United States have ties, rules and regulations. The next morning, after leaving Kid Chocolate, we came across the very first government bakery in Old Havana. It was an amazing sight to be seen. The interesting part is that they sell out every day- every roll, every piece of bread is always sold out and then they start again for the next day. You have to love and respect the work ethic of the Cuban people.
All cuban people make the same amount of money, whether you’re a doctor, a lawyer, a truck driver or an English teacher- that is $28 a month. Yes the education is free, yes the medical is free, yes there are equal food rations. In many ways, to a certain majority of people, that’s a very good thing. We as Americans have a difficult time understanding that. It’s not uncommon for a doctor to moonlight as a taxi driver or a guide and they can make that $28 in a day, which again does not seem like a lot of money to us but it is. It is a windfall for the Cuban people.
We also went to a small bar on the corner of the square- the service was great, the drinks were great, and the coffee was great. When asked how long they were open, they were proud to say that they opened in late August of 2016. Again, keep in mind that this is the beginning of capitalism. It is privately owned, sanctioned by the Cuban government, but the key is that it is privately owned and they can openly market their product by word of mouth. They put a tremendous amount of effort into their product. Entrepreneurs are looking to the future, and who do they emulate more than anyone else? Americans. I would be remiss to say (remember, no talk politics!) they’re very concerned about the changes that will happen after January 20th, 2017. I hope that the change in the government will not drive these people back 60+ years. All you can do is hope.
In all my previous trips to Cuba, we never put boxing on our people-to-people trips or our humanitarian trips. On this VIP trip (Joe and JoAnne) Havana was seen up close and personal. I asked where the boxing gym was and they all said Kid Chocolate. Not wanting to be argumentative, I said, “Si!” Of course I know Kid Chocolate as Peter Quillin, a middle weight from Chicago. Well, there was another Kid Chocolate and that Kid Chocolate had a total of 152 fights and 136 wins. Kid Chocolate is now the name of the boxing gym in Old Havana. Of course, not doing my research properly, I showed up at the gym on a Sunday. I go to Gleason’s on Sundays all the time… well Kid Chocolate is not open on Sundays, so two security people who spoke a little English said to come back mañana. Sure enough we returned mañana and the security people, recognizing us from the day before, took us through the back door. I have to tell you, this was the smallest, darkest, and most cramped boxing gym I’ve ever been in- and I’ve been in a lot of gyms, some in bars and even in private homes. They didn’t have a ring! I spoke to the manager of the gym. We talked a little bit and I gifted him a few of my boxing photographs. We also met all of the boxers that were going to work out that day (all boxing in Cuba is amateur and amateur only- it wasn’t that way in the 20s, 30s and 40s, but it is that way now). My initial reaction was, ”Wow, this venue is impossible to make a good photograph in.” As one of my old friends would say, it was “o’dark 30.” JoAnne stuck her head in and said she’d sit outside. Well, we walked two miles to the gym and I wasn’t ready to walk two miles back so I said, “Let’s make a few frames.” I switched to black and white, went to jpeg fine and shot everything with a 24mm lens. I looked at a few of the images and they seemed to be acceptable. When I went out to get a breath of fresh air, JoAnne was meditating; I asked her if she would like to come back in and she did. Being the seasoned pro that JoAnne is, she made sure she knew exactly where I was shooting and made sure to stay out of my frame as I made sure to stay out of her frame. The two of us danced around this extremely small, extremely hot, extremelydark gym and guess what? The photos turned out to be just fine. Fast forward a week later (the first time we got to a computer) and I looked at JoAnne’s work and I have to tell you it was amazingly great.I loved her images, which shouldn’t surprise me. I’d like to share these images with you as well. There’s no doubt we are going to go back. As a matter of fact, I may look for an angel or two to see if we can go back and make a documentary on Cuban boxing. The number one trainer is Carlos Manuel Miranda La O and the associate trainer is Michell.
Please take some time to read this Wikapedia page on the real Kid Chocolate from the 1930s.
Please see paragraph from Merri Ansara Director at Common Ground Travel Agency.
Dear Joe and JoAnne,
First of all, Congratulations to us all for President Obama’s announcement today to begin normalizing relations with Cuba. It has been visits like yours that have helped change the view of ordinary U.S. Americans towards Cuba and our relations with Cuba.
Now I’d like to offer all my personal thank you to all of our friends who went to Cuba with us under our People to People license. You had first-hand experience in making this happen.
A People to People Photo Expedition: Cuba from Miami January 14 to 21, 2014 with the Center for Cuban Studies, Photographers Joe DiMaggio & JoAnne Kalish and in Cuba, Photographer Rolando Pujól Please contact me for additional information.