Cuban Nostalgia for Soviet Products

RuJ15 ProdRuso NEW PPP

I understand this type of nostalgia, which is tied to objects (and food!); on my first research trip to Cuba, I fell in love with those beautiful bright red Russian phones that were common in many offices and toyed with the idea of bringing one home (don’t worry, I didn’t). Those perky Ladas were very attractive too [see photo below].

Lada-Cuba-2010b

In her Miami Herald article “Cubans finding comfort, nostalgia in Russian products,” Nora Gámez-Torres writes about how Cubans who fled the island find comfort in the same Soviet products that they once may have resented, underlining that “not all memories have a bitter taste.” The article spans an array of products from Russian canned beef to Soviet-era cartoons, los muñequitos rusos. Gámez-Torres quotes Maria Antonia Cabrera Arus, author of a blog called Cuba Material, who says that ostalgia (the longing for Soviet culture) in Cuba also has to do with the deterioration of the standard of living after the demise of the USSR, “when Cuba lost 80 percent of its commerce and its gross domestic product fell 35 percent. ‘What came after, in terms of materials, was much worse, more precarious and characterized by scarcity,’ said Cabrera Arus. ‘Childhood nostalgia was matched by nostalgia for those items that stopped existing all together.’” [. . .] Here are more excerpts:

For those who grew up during the 1970s and ’80s, childhood memories sometimes trigger cravings for carne rusa — Russian beef packed into a can — a dab of eau de toilette from Moscow or entertainment in the form of Russian cartoons.

All of these items were common before the collapse of the former Soviet Union in 1991, when Cuba was heavily subsidized by the giant communist nation formally known as the Union of Soviet Socialists Republics (U.S.S.R). Miami Cubans who grew up on the island during this era, and have a hankering for a little taste of yesteryear, are turning to Russian and European stores in South Florida to find the products.

Some remember food such as carne rusa with disdain because it was offered ad nauseam at school camps, harvest events and other public activities. “There was a time, however, when it became a luxury. In the ’90s, there was no more beef, and no more Russians,” recalls Pedro Valdes, a 53-year-old Cuban who emigrated in 2001. One day, Valdes made an online search for photos of the cans of Russian beef he used to eat in Cuba and discovered he could buy similar cans at Marky’s, a Russian and European market at 687 NE 79th St. in Miami. [. . .] Aracelis Marcos came to the United States 13 years ago. After finding Marky’s, she now returns monthly to buy the cans of carne rusa. “Maybe it’s because I ate it so much in Cuba, I like it and it makes me feel nostalgic,” she said during a recent shopping trip. “I discovered this place about seven years ago and I come here to buy beef as well as Moscu Rojoperfume and Shostakovsky balm.” The balm has anti-inflammatory properties and was often used in Cuba to treat sores.

Cubans who worked and studied in the former Soviet Union are also frequent clients at the store. Armando Portela traveled to Moscow in the ’80s. He was a geographer and initially worked on a project with a Soviet satellite company. He later worked on crafting the Atlas of Cuba, which remains one of his deepest sources of pride. While in Moscow, Portela married a Russian woman and finished his doctorate degree.

[. . .] In Miami, Cuba nostalgia is dominated by the memories and culture of prerevolutionary Cuba. Those who shop for products such as carne rusa say they are often misunderstood, if not openly criticized. “The thing is that this is how we were raised,” said Marcos as she browsed the aisles at Marky’s. “All the products were Soviet; culinary culture has nothing to do with politics.” Said Valdes, another frequent customer: “It goes beyond politics. All we’re doing is remembering our youth and having a good time doing so. What do politics have to do with eating a can of Russian beef and drinking vodka?” [. . .]

For full article, see http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/article3936801.html

Also see http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-15331105

[Second photo from http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2011/06/best-selling-cars-around-the-globe-in-cuba-hyundais-are-for-the-people-geelys-for-the-government/.]

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