Ever since Cuba became the Latin American equivalent of a hot Brooklyn neighborhood, there’s been a lot of talk about “seeing it before it changes.” According to this line of thinking, the island’s crumbling infrastructure and empty storefronts possess some mystical power capable of momentarily liberating American tourists from the overwhelming banality of consumer capitalism. Unfortunately for those who buy into this mentality, it may be too late. Cuba has changed.
But in practice it’s still not clear exactly what that might mean on the ground, and even Cubans are still scratching their heads and wondering how it’s all going to play out. Without a doubt some of the country’s more hardline elements resent the appearance of a nascent free-market on the island, while more than a few jaded citizens probably dream of become something like America’s 51st state. Yet in between these two extremes there’s no shortage of Cubans that acknowledge the need for serious reforms, while still celebrating some of the positive aspects of their society.
Take, for example, a self-described “neo-hippie communist” named Che. The subject of a short documentary on Vimeo titled The New Ché of Havana, Che runs an illegal tattoo parlor and cruises the streets of the capital on a longboard. He learned English thanks to an illegal antennae hookup that beamed Miami classic rock stations into his living room, and has to pay off government inspectors every now and then to ensure they don’t shut down his shop. In short, he embodies many of the contradictions and complexities of contemporary Cuban society.
Directed by Bryan Chang and Alex Mallis, The New Ché of Havana follows this 21st-century revolutionary on his daily routine as he moves through a number of Havana neighborhoods, visiting friends or just cruising the streets, all while he reflects on the state of Cuba in the midst of profound transformation. Like all societies, he insists, Cuba’s government seeks to control its population, but he doesn’t buy into the utopian image of the United States as a free and open society either. So what does the new Che’s ideal Cuba look like? “A society where difference is tolerated, and where people are allowed to choose there own destiny.” And that’s not the society we’re living in right now.