“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.