Cubans are Hispanics, of course, and 40 years of socialism have not completely erased the traditional Hispanic values that Cubans have always held. In fact, there is evidence that the Cuban brand of socialism has been tailored somewhat to complement, or at least not to confront directly, the traditional values. Cuban Hispanics, however, has always been tempered by influences from its Black community, and many of these influences have been given pride of place by the socialist government in fulfillment of its aim to equalize the citizenry of Cuba. In short, Cubans can t, and should not, be thought of as another group of undifferentiated Hispanics. There are differences within any national Hispanic group and significant differences between any two Hispanic groups; and Cubans, by virtue of their history and the social system they have lived in, are significantly different from all.
Cuban values stress collective wealth and collective political awareness. People who have lived in the Cuban social system may be struck negatively by the materialism, winner-take-all capitalism, individualism, competition, crime, and racism of the United States. It may be difficult for them to see positive aspects of American culture. Their negative view may be amplified by their economic situation. They may be living in poor areas, going to poorer schools, and at the same time being bombarded by advertising and an unbelievable array of consumer goods.
Cuba is traditionally a Catholic country, but its Catholicism is much modified and influenced. A much stronger religious force is Santeria. Santeria developed out of the traditions of the Yoruba, one of the African peoples who were imported to Cuba during the 16th through 19th centuries to work on the sugar plantations. Santeria blends elements of Christianity and West African beliefs and as such made it possible for the slaves to retain their traditional beliefs while appearing to practice Catholicism. Santeria’s believe in one God, but also in saints or spirits known as orishas. These orishas are believed to be able to intervene on one’s behalf as Catholic saints can. Santeria’s also believe that ritual devotions involving musical rhythms, offerings of food and animal sacrifice, divination with fetishes made of bones or shells, trance like seizures, and other rites can reveal the sources of day-to-day problems and suggest solutions to them.
The Cuban government has been formally supportive of organized religion. Religious freedom was guaranteed in the 1976 constitution, but it is very difficult to practice one’s religion openly and succeed in Cuban society. Until very recently, for example, higher education was not accessible to young people who openly professed a religion.
Equality of the sexes is the official socialist ideal, although sexism is still prevalent, and women still do most of the domestic work. The Family Code of 1974 established the official goal of equal participation in the home, but in fact, these habits and values have changed very slowly. Publicly, a man is considered the head of household although within the home, the woman usually has control.
One very important aspect of sexual equality has been dealt with to a great extent for example girls participate equally in the education system. Perhaps as a result of this education, more Cuban women publicly stand up for their rights than one might expect.
While the extended family remains strong in terms of housing, the families often live together, partly because of the housing shortage. A reliance on day care centers and other public institutions have substantially replaced the traditional Hispanic family pattern, in which children are almost totally cared for by parents or grandparents. The community, neighborhood, church, schools and production cooperative also serve as something of an extended family, helping to reinforce social values and emotional security.
The government provides day care both as a means of freeing women up to work, and also as a way to start education in socialist values early. At first there were both alternative and mainstream centers. The alternative centers based on the Swedish model emphasized free play, inter-age groupings, flexibility, and exploration, and the mainstream centers focused on cleanliness, structured learning, achievement, and fixed schedules. In 1971, all programs were centralized and only the mainstream approach was continued. Centers emphasize group play, and children are overtly taught that they should be part of a group. One observer has found that day care centers try to break down sexist attitudes. Boys play with dolls or pretend to be nurses, while girls pretend to be the household providers or doctors.