Tag Archives: cuba

“Why are there no swimming pools in Cuba? Because everyone who knows how to swim has already left the island.”

Context:  My informant is a 29 year-old man who is of Cuban descent. He grew up in San Diego and still lives there. He described a joke that was told to him by his grandfather. Although he does not personally relate to the joke, he still finds it funny because his grandfather laughed so much when he said it.


Informant: So the joke goes, ‘Why are there no swimming pools in Cuba?

Because everyone who knows how to swim has already left the island.’ My grandfather told me that joke when I was pretty little and I definitely did not get it at first. But as time went on and my grandparents told me their escape stories I began to understand more. During the Bay of Pigs, both my grandparents had to escape and it was a very traumatic and devastating experience for them. They did not know if they would ever see their family again, their house, if they would even make it out alive, where they were going to end up. All of these experiences added a level of grit to them, but over the years I guess they have been able to learn to joke about certain things surrounding their escape. Don’t get me wrong, they both get a little teary when they talk about being separated from their families, but they can also joke about certain aspects of it, ya know? Um… this is something that has taught me to not take everything so intensely and so personally, it is essential to… keep things light and find the funny part of every experience.”


As the informant and I shared the same grandparents, I resonated with the story a lot. The joke is alluding to how most Cubans found their way out of Cuba someway after the country started to become more corrupt and became very unsafe. The punchline points a finger at some Cubans who actually attempted to swim from the coast of Cuba to Key West or Miami. 

It is refreshing to see how people, especially Cubans in my experience, can take something heavy and dark and find the light in it. Using jokes to do this is an effective strategy and as long as it is not offensive to anyone and thoughtful, is usually a great way to do so.

Where The Hell Is Cuba On The Map?

Sara comes from a traditionally American family. However she told me about the time when she spent new years with her Cuban friend:

“It was very strange Alex. They filled champagne glasses with grapes! They ate them real fast. Then her grandmother walked up to everyone with a suit case. They each out an item in and then she walked around the block. When she came back she took a bucket of water and throw it out the door. What the hell!”

She later asked her friend who explained everything.

One, her friends grandmother was a bit crazy and slightly out of her mind. Two, they were old Cuban traditions – of course she was going to find it weird.

Analysis: Culture shock anyone! The twelve grapes each represent one months in the calendar. By eating them real fast after midnight, you’re hoping that good luck will come for each of the months that are to come.

The grandmother walked around asking for one valuable item from each of them. She put them in the luggage case and walked around the block to signify that the important things in life will only come with a little bit of effort and lot of hard work. To remember that the important things in life you earned and you need to continue working to keep them. Lastly the odd bucket of water is meant to symbolize all the sins from the past year. By throwing it out of the door she is asking for the families forgiveness and getting rid of all their demons.

Spanish Proverb

estomago lleno, corazón contento

In English, this translates into “Full stomach, happy heart”.

The source learned this saying from his host family when he studied abroad in Spain. His host family was Cuban, so he’s not sure if this saying comes from Spain or Cuba.

This proverb reflects the Spanish culture’s deep appreciation for good food, and the importance of family. The fact the the host family taught this to him, to me means that they wanted to make him feel at home, and feel happy.

“Más vale un pájaro en la mano que cinco en vuelo.”

Más vale un pájaro en la mano que cinco en vuelo.

A bird in hand is worth more than five in flight.


My informant, who is bi-lingual, remembers hearing this proverb from her grandmother, born in 1915, and who moved to the United States from Cuba in 1976. (My informant’s mother came to the United States at the same time in 1976).

My informant said that her mother and grandmother are the ones who say these proverbs, she claims that her generation does not repeat them as much.

For this particular proverb, my informant could not recall the context in which she heard it,  just that she thought it was clever. It refers to the value of money today as opposed to possibilities of money in the future.

This proverb appears in many different regions, so therefore the uniqueness of this variant is the comparison of a bird in hand to five in flight. Other variants have the birds in a bush, not in flight. Therefore, the Cuban influence on this proverb is evident through the influence of Cuba’s aviary wildlife.


Annotation: This proverb, (worded as “a bird in hand is worth a thousand flying”) and its comparison to a western variant are mentioned in the article, “Capital Financing, An Old Approach Reapplied” by Ronald W. Chapman Public Productivity Review, Vol. 7, No. 4. (Dec., 1983), pp. 378-387.

El que madruga, Dios le ayuda.

El que madruga, Dios le ayuda.

The one that rises early, God aids.

(Similar Proverb: Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.)

My informant, who is bilingual, remembers hearing this proverb from her grandmother, born in 1915, and who moved to the United States from Cuba in 1976. (My informant’s mother came to the United States at the same time in 1976).

My informant said that her grandmother would say this to her while she was growing up in reference to her sleeping habits most of all and how they differed from her grandmother’s sleeping habits. (My informant said that she usually goes to bed at 2 AM and sleeps in until 12 noon).

The use of “Dios,” or God in the proverb might imply the influence of the religion and belief of my informant, although of all the proverbs my informant provided me, numbering at around 14 or so, this is only one that references God. And when my informant translated, she referenced the similar proverb noted above, not a direct translation. The influence of her American upbringing explains why she would not use a direct translation and the proverb variant in America seems to be the product of capitalism by mentioning wealth, whereas the Spanish proverb does not mention wealth as a reward for rising early.