Cyn­thia de la Can­tera To­ranzo

On Cuba - - AUTHORS - The Latino, an Ex­treme Ex­pe­ri­ence

My time of the day: dawn. My choice: Jour­nal­ism. My city: Ha­vana, so blue and so in­tense that I can’t deny I am its daugh­ter. Rarely loved, in­ex­pli­ca­bly mis­un­der­stood.

Alexan­der Abreu is an ex­cel­lent Cuban mu­si­cian, trum­pet player and direc­tor of the pop­u­lar Ha­vana D’Primera mu­sic group. Alexan­der was born in Cien­fue­gos, a prov­ince in the is­land’s cen­ter-south, but so much time and so many things defini­tively join him to Ha­vana. He got to this city in 1994 to study mu­sic in the Na­tional Art School (ENA). These have been 24 years that make him, as he says, a fan of the In­dus­tri­ales base­ball team be­yond his con­trol. In­dus­tri­als is the cap­i­tal’s team, the “Latino” is the team’s home. Ac­tu­ally, the name is Latin Amer­i­can Sta­dium, the for­mer Grand Sta­dium which in turn was the for­mer Trop­i­cal Beer Sta­dium in the 1930s. But with that cus­tom of speak­ing us­ing short words, di­rectly and in a rush, Cubans sim­ply call it the Latino. When I asked Alexan­der Abreu if the Latin Amer­i­can Sta­dium would be a place he would rec­om­mend to those vis­it­ing Ha­vana he hes­i­tates. Alexan­der says that this place, so crowded by Cuban base­ball fa­nat­ics (with all the pas­sion Cuban fa­nat­ics can have) is just for those seek­ing ex­treme ex­pe­ri­ences. “Let’s just imag­ine that the Latino can sit 55,000 per­sons who play mu­sic with what­ever they have at hand, be it a rumba or a conga. It doesn’t mat­ter, what’s im­por­tant is that these fa­nat­ics sound. And, in ad­di­tion, that it has to be very loud.”

In 1961 the sta­dium was re­bap­tized with its cur­rent name, dur­ing the clos­ing of the 7th Latin Amer­i­can Congress of Stu­dents. Un­til then it had been the venue of the Cuban Pro­fes­sional Base­ball League made up by four teams: Al­men­dares, Ha­bana, Mar­i­anao and Cien­fue­gos, the most im­por­tant out­side the cap­i­tal.

The pub­lic­ity bill­boards of the Hat­uey beer, a bev­er­age that is no longer pro­duced or mar­keted on the is­land, of Bac­ardí rum, as well as that of other small Cuban and U.S. en­ter­prises and busi­nesses were still up un­til that year.

But in 1962 the pub­lic­ity bill­boards were for­bid­den and the INDER (Na­tional In­sti­tute of Sports, Phys­i­cal Ed­u­ca­tion and Recre­ation) dis pro­fes­sion­al­ized base­ball. The sport then ac­quired an ama­teur char­ac­ter.

The In­dus­tri­ales team was formed that same year, and they in­her­ited from the old teams of the prov­ince (Ha­bana and Al­men­dares) their two iden­ti­fy­ing sym­bols. The lion mas­cot and the color blue. It is such an in­tense and pe­cu­liar blue that among us Ha­vanans we re­fer to it as “in­dus­trial blue.” They made the Latino their home and their team the max­i­mum win­ner in the Na­tional Base­ball Se­ries, with 12 ti­tles to date.

The lion, which be­longed to the Ha­bana team, did not ap­pear again un­til the 1990s, since all the mas­cot para­pher­na­lia, pseu­do­nyms and slo­gans were con­sid­ered typ­i­cal of pro­fes­sional base­ball and not of “revo­lu­tion­ary base­ball.”

The blue, which be­longed to the Al­men­dares, is also the city’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive color thanks to Our Lady of Regla (Ye­mayá in the Yoruba reli­gion), the pa­tron saint of the Bay of Ha­vana’s port and god­dess of the sea.

Ye­mayá, which ac­cord­ing to the Let­ter of the Year (pre­dic­tions made by the Ba­bal­a­wos) will reign in 2018, is pre­cisely one of the pro­tag­o­nists of the “La­mento Yoruba,” a work in which Alexan­der makes a trip from the start of the reli­gion in Cuba and which is in­cluded in his next CD: El can­tor del pue­blo (The Singer of the Peo­ple).

Of the peo­ple be­cause Alexan­der, who af­firms this, has been able to make an adap­ta­tion of the na­ture of what we Cubans are.

When he fin­ishes on time one of the record­ing ses­sions for the CD (which is ex­pected to come out in March) and the In­dus­tri­ales are play­ing, Alexan­der goes to the Latino, the place that con­cen­trates part of what this peo­ple is. He en­joys meet­ing with the pub­lic, tak­ing pic­tures, hug­ging some­one…. The Latino is so much Cuba that it has the same en­vi­ron­ment, the same smells and the same frenzy.

It is nor­mal to be squeezed to­gether at the en­trance and the exit, that the ven­dors lose their voice cry­ing out any typ­i­cal snack (pop­corn, toasted peanuts), that crav­ing and glut­tony are more than a full stom­ach and one ends up not just eat­ing one, but rather sev­eral pork sand­wiches – the clas­si­cal Cuban sand­wich – for just five pe­sos (0.25 CUC cen­tavos).

Forty years had to go by since its name changed to Latin Amer­i­can Sta­dium for a U.S. Ma­jor League team to play on its field. In March 1999 Cuba and the Bal­ti­more Ori­oles played a his­toric game. The Ori­oles won, three to two.

Also in March, but of 2016, dur­ing the visit to the is­land by then Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, the Tampa Bay Rays played against the Cuba team. For the sec­ond time the lo­cals lost one to the Rays’ four.

The sta­dium was re­mod­eled for both oc­ca­sions. Even so, it is still the place that is: folk­loric, fren­zied and even a bit deca­dent.

“Then, would you or wouldn’t you rec­om­mend the Latino?” I in­sist in ask­ing Alexan­der.

“If you want to have some adren­a­line run high, go to the Latino. If you want to laugh, go to the Latino. If you want to see an in­ter­est­ing base­ball game, go to the Latino. That’s the only way I rec­om­mend that you go.”

Photo: Courtesy of Play­Off

| Pho­tos: Ri­cardo Lopez He­via

Alexan­der Abreu sit­ting on the In­dus­tri­ales dugout

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