I’ve always been deeply moved by the late Dr. Luis Aguilar León’s article entitled “El Profeta Habla de los Cubanos (The Prophet Talks About the Cubans).” The article was inspired by the work of the late Lebanese artist, poet, and writer Khalil Gibran. In my opinion, Dr. Aguilar León describes magnificently the attributes shared by most Cubans and Cuban-Americans. These traits are a reflection of our Cuban cultural heritage, and have nothing to do with our various ideologies.

While many Cuban-Americans in the diaspora have embraced cultural attributes from non-Cuban cultures, even with their hybrid cultural make-up, there are traces of the dominant Cuban heritage. Even Cubans who were born in foreign countries cannot escape the influences of the Cuban culture – if they were raised by Cuban parents.

Therefore, I’ve taken the time to translate from Spanish to English one of the most influential articles on what it means to be a Cuban. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to Dr. Aguilar León for penning this article, which I now want to share with the English-speaking world.

I’ve chosen this particular moment to disseminate this article because many people are becoming more aware of Cuban-Americans. The fact that we’ve had two Cuban-Americans running for the highest office in the land in 2016 (U.S. Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz) makes it imperative that voters find out the contributions that this ethnic group has made to American society.

Now, a word about Dr. Luis Aguilar León’s background. He attended the Jesuit-run schools at the Colegio Dolores in Santiago de Cuba and the Colegio Belén in Havana. He was a professor at Columbia University, Cornell University, and Georgetown University, where former President Bill Clinton was one of his classmates. He moved to Cuban Mecca Miami and taught at the University of Miami until 2002. He suffered the last years of his life to Alzheimer’s disease, and died in 2008.


From a rock in the harbor, the Prophet looked at the white sail of the ship that was to take him to his homeland. A mixture of sadness and joy filled his soul. For nine years, his wise and loving words had been poured out to the population. His love bound him to these people. But duty called him to his homeland. It was time to leave. He tempered his melancholy by thinking that his wise sayings would fill the void of his long absence.

Then a politician from Elmira approached him and said, Master, tell us about the Cubans — what they are like.

The Prophet gathered his robe in his hands and said the following:

Cubans socialize with you, but they have a mind of their own. Do not try to get to know them because their souls live in the impenetrable world of dualism. Cubans drink from the same cup of joy and sadness. They make music from their tears and laugh with their music. Cubans enjoy jokes a lot and make everything into a joke. And they do not know each other very well.

Never underestimate the Cubans. The right arm of San Pedro is occupied by a Cuban, and the best counselor to the Devil is also a Cuban. Cuba has produced neither saints nor heretics. But Cubans sanctify themselves with heretics and embrace heretics when they are with saints. Their spirit is universal and irreverent. Cubans believe simultaneously in the God of the Catholics, in Changó, in word puzzles, and in horoscopes. They address the gods with the informal pronoun “tú,” and they mock religious rites. They say they do not believe in anyone, and yet they believe in everything. And while never giving up on their dreams, they do not learn from their failures.

Do not ever argue with them. Cubans are born with inherent wisdom. They don’t need to read at all because they know everything. They don’t need to travel because they’ve been to all places. Cubans are the chosen people … by themselves. And they interact with people of other nationalities as the Spirit walks on water.

Cubans are individually best known for their sense of humor and smarts, and in groups by their shouting and passion. Each of them carries the spark of genius, and geniuses do not get along with each other very well. Hence, getting a group of Cubans together is an easy task, but getting them to agree on anything is almost impossible. A Cuban is able to achieve any task in this world except receiving the applause of another Cuban.

Do not talk to them of logic. Logic implies reasoning and restraint, and Cubans are hyperbolic and unconscionable. If they invite you to a restaurant, they invite you to eat not to the best restaurant in the city, but to the best restaurant in the world. When they argue, they don’t say “I disagree with you”; they say “you are completely and utterly wrong.”

They have a cannibalistic trend.” “He ate it all” is an expression to express admiration; “Eat a wire” signals criticism and boredom, and to call someone an “eater of dung” “is the most common and searing insult. They also have a pyromaniac bias: “to be on fire” is to be the best.

And they love contradiction so much that they call beautiful women “monsters” and scholars “barbarians”; and when someone asks them a favor, they don’t respond with a “yes” or “no,” but with a “yes and no.”

Cubans intuit solutions even before knowing what challenges they face. Hence, for them, there is never a problem. And they feel so smug about themselves that they call everyone else “little you.” But they don’t humble themselves to anyone. If you take them to the studio of a famous painter, they say “I never took up painting.” And when they visit a doctor, it’s never to get a medical opinion, but to tell the doctor the maladies that they suffer from.

They use diminutives with tenderness, but also to insult their neighbors. They ask you for a small favor, they offer you a small cup of coffee, they visit you just for a few minutes, and they only accept a small slice of your dessert. But they also use these diminutives to put down those who buy a home by referring to it as the little house, or describing a luxury car as an economy car.

When I visited the island I admired their individual and collective wisdom. Any Cuban thinks that he/she is capable to liquidate communism or capitalism, right all the wrongs in Latin America, eradicate hunger in Africa, and teach the United States how to be a world power. And they are amazed when others don’t see how simple and obvious their solutions are. Thus, they live among you, but they do not quite understand why you do not talk or think like they do.

The sailing ship had reached its destination. A saddened crowd gathered around the Prophet. He turned toward them as if wanting to make a few remarks, but his emotions got the best of him. There was a very long moment of silence. Then, the captain called out to him to make up his mind and to get on board, as he was behind schedule. The Prophet turned to the crowd with a gesture of resignation, and slowly boarded the ship. Subsequently, the captain sailed away.



Desde una roca en el puerto el Profeta contemplaba la blanca vela de la nave que a su tierra había de llevarlo. Una mezcla de tristeza y alegría inundaba su alma. Por nueve años sus sabias y amorosas palabras se habían derramado sobre la población. Su amor lo ataba a esa gente. Pero el deber lo llamaba a su patria: había llegado la hora de partir. Atenuaba su melancolía pensando que sus perdurables consejos llenarían el vacío de su ausencia.

Entonces un político de Elmira se le acercó y le pidió: “Maestro, háblanos de los cubanos”.

El Profeta recogió en un puño su alba túnica y dijo:

Los cubanos están entre vosotros, pero no son de vosotros. No intentéis conocerlos porque su alma vive en el mundo impenetrable del dualismo. Los cubanos beben de una misma copa la alegría y la amargura. Hacen música de su llanto y se ríen con su música. Los cubanos toman en serio los chistes y hacen de todo lo serio un chiste. Y ellos mismos no se conocen.

Nunca subestiméis a los cubanos. El brazo derecho de San Pedro es cubano y el mejor consejero del maligno es también cubano. Cuba no ha dado ni un santo ni un hereje. Pero los cubanos se santifican entre los heréticos y heretizan entre los santos. Su espíritu es universal e irreverente. Los cubanos creen simultáneamente en el Dios de los católicos, en Changó, en la charada y en los horóscopos. Tratan a los dioses de tú y se burlan de los ritos religiosos. Dicen que no creen en nadie y creen en todo. Y ni renuncian a sus ilusiones, ni aprenden de las desilusiones.

No discutáis con ellos jamás. Los cubanos nacen con sabiduría inmanente. No necesitan leer: todo lo saben. No necesitan viajar: todo lo han visto. Los cubanos son el pueblo elegido… de ellos mismos. Y se pasean entre los demás pueblos como el Espíritu se pasea sobre las aguas.

Los cubanos se caracterizan individualmente por su simpatía e inteligencia y en grupo por su gritería y apasionamiento. Cada uno de ellos lleva la chispa del genio, y los genios no se llevan bien entre sí. De ahí que reunir a los cubanos es fácil; unirlos, imposible. Un cubano es capaz de lograr todo en este mundo, menos el aplauso de otro cubano.

No les habléis de lógica. La lógica implica razonamiento y mesura, y los cubanos son hiperbólicos y desmesurados. Si os invitan a un restaurante, os invitan a comer no al mejor restaurante del pueblo, sino ‘al mejor restaurante del mundo’. Cuando discuten no dicen, ‘No estoy de acuerdo con usted’; dicen, ‘Usted está completa y totalmente equivoca’o’.

Sufren de una marcada obsesión fágica. ‘Se la comió’, es una expresión de admiración; ‘Comerse un cable’, señal de situación crítica, y llamar a alguien ‘Comedor de excrementos’ es su más usual y lacerante insulto. Tienen voluntad piromaníaca: ‘Ser la candela’ es ser cumbre. Y aman tanto la contradicción que llaman a las mujeres hermosas ‘monstruos’ y a los eruditos ‘bárbaros’; y cuando se les pide un favor no responden sí o no, sino que dicen, ‘¡Sí, cómo que no’!

Los cubanos intuyen las soluciones aun antes de conocer los problemas. De ahí que para ellos ‘nunca hay problema’. Y se sienten tan grandes que a todo el mundo le dicen ‘chico’. Pero ellos no se achican ante nadie. Si se les lleva al estudio de un famoso pintor se limitan a comentar, ‘A mí nunca me dio por pintar’. Y van a los médicos no a preguntarles, sino a decirles lo que tienen.

Usan los diminutivos con ternura, pero también con voluntad de reducir al prójimo. Piden ‘un favorcito’, ofrecen ‘una tacita de café’, visitan ‘por un ratico’, y de los postres sólo aceptan ‘un pedacitico’. Pero también a quien se compra una mansión le celebran ‘la casita’ que adquirió, o ‘el carrito’ que tiene a quien se compró un coche de lujo.

Cuando visité su isla me admiraba su sabiduría instantánea y colectiva. Cualquier cubano se consideraba capaz de liquidar al comunismo o al capitalismo, enderezar a la América Latina, erradicar el hambre en África y enseñar a los Estados Unidos a ser potencia mundial. Y se asombran de que las demás personas no comprendan cuan sencillas y evidentes son sus fórmulas. Así, viven entre ustedes, y no acaban de entender por qué ustedes no hablan como ellos”.

Había llegado la nave al muelle. Alrededor del Profeta se arremolinaba la multitud transida de dolor. El Profeta tornose hacia ella como queriendo hablar, pero la emoción le ahogaba la voz. Hubo un largo minuto de conmovido silencio. Entonces se oyó la imprecación del timonel de la nave: “¡Decídete, mi hermano, date un sabanazo y súbete ya, que ando con el esquediul retrasa’o!”

El Profeta se volvió hacia la multitud, hizo un gesto de resignación y lentamente abordó la cubierta. Acto seguido, el timonel cubano puso proa al horizonte.


  1. This has been by far the most amazing article I have had to read about my Cuban heritage. As a Cuban – American I applaud all that had to write n experience all of this.
    Maria Galvez Fernandez


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