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La Guayabera Afterword

Posted by Elena del Valle on October 6, 2010

Part six of a series
By Hilda Luisa Díaz-Perera

Hilda Luisa Díaz-Perera

Interestingly enough, as I was doing research for this piece, I came across several articles written by Cuban researchers living in Cuba that bemoan the fact that younger generations of Cubans raised in the island were not interested in the guayabera, did not wear it and considered it attire only for older men. Coincidentally, then, as the guayabera was becoming more popular among the younger Cuban generations that went into exile, the opposite was true in Cuba, where the use of the guayabera waned, partly because with the revolution, it somehow became tied to the government’s definition of corrupt politics and politicians, and the so-called “decadent” way of life of pre-Castro Cuba.

Probably a better reason is that as the Cuban revolution implemented its communist economic policies, which included the taking over of all of the means of production and distribution, such as the textile industry and all of the existing department stores, the country became immersed in years of scarcity and dearth during which very basic materials like cloth and thread to make guayaberas, were not readily available. Another reason very prevalent in the late 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, probably still valid today, helps explain this rejection of the guayabera among other Cuban patriotic symbols, especially that of national hero José Martí: unhappily, it was probably the only way that the Cuban youth, trapped by a Marxist system, as many believed they were, could quietly reject a revolution which insisted on ramming political indoctrination down their throats disguised as patriotism.

Click here to read parts one through four of La Guayabera

La Guayabera in the XX Century

Posted by Elena del Valle on September 29, 2010

Part five of a series
By Hilda Luisa Díaz-Perera

Hilda Luisa Díaz-Perera

As the guayabera became more popular, each region in Cuba gave it its own name. In Camagüey province, it was called camagüeyana; along the trocha or military divide during the wars for independence, it was known as trochana; in the town of Manzanillo, it was manzanillera; it was guayabana around the city of Havana, where it is said to have adopted the shirt collar for elegance. Today, although on the world stage it goes under the name of guayabera, there are many places where it is known as habanera and cubanita or little Cuban.

The guayabera came into its own during the XX Century. Cuban peasants were already wearing it and the politicians started using the guayabera during their campaign tours in the countryside. Soon it became the shirt of choice in the popular dance academies in Havana. For more formal occasions, a bow tie was added. Gradually, as more prominent men became followers, the guayabera was able to gain entrance into the most exclusive places and even official government ceremonies.

The earliest graphic testimony available of the guayabera is from 1906, even though the word guayabera is not formally legitimized as a Cuban noun specifically naming the shirt until 1921, when a man by the name of Constantino Suárez included it in his book Vocabulario cubano or Cuban Vocabulary, identifying it as attire popular among the peasants in the countryside.

Click here to read parts one through five of La Guayabera

La Guayabera A Bit of Sewing

Posted by Elena del Valle on September 22, 2010

Part four of a series
By Hilda Luisa Díaz-Perera

Hilda Luisa Díaz-Perera

So, the shirt that would become today’s guayabera was probably first made sometime in the XVIII Century. It then developed gradually over the XIX Century, not as a design made by one person, but rather as the result of the many shirt variations existing in the island and the efforts of several seamstresses and tailors who complied with shifts in taste and fashion by adding or deleting features to the original prototype.

Someone, we cannot identify who, added the collar. Someone else, who surely possessed very high sewing skills, must have thought of adding the narrow pleats with their minuscule stitches down the front and back of the shirt. Then, at some point during the Cuban wars for independence from 1868 to 1898, the design of the Cuban flag was incorporated onto the back of the guayabera.

Click here to read parts one through four of La Guayabera

La Guayabera the insurgent guayabera

Posted by Elena del Valle on September 15, 2010

Part three of a series
By Hilda Luisa Díaz-Perera

Hilda Luisa Díaz-Perera

Ciro Bianchi Ross, writing in the Cuban government-sponsored magazine Juventud Rebelde, points out that this early, and from his point of view questionable story about the Sancti Spiritus origins of the guayabera, if nothing else, marks the recognition of the existence of this special shirt and places it within the Cuban historical timetable. He explains that a description of the guayabera is not even present in Cuban literature of the XIX Century, until the 1890’s when author Nicolás Heredia writes about it in his Cuban novel, Leonela. Furthermore, Bianchi Ross says that the Cuban peasant did not wear the guayabera, but rather normally donned a loose blue or striped shirt over his trousers, a straw hat or sombrero de yarey, boots, a neckerchief to wipe off his sweat and his machete.

When the Countess of Merlin, (Havana 1789– Paris 1852), a Cuban aristocrat married to a French count, who is considered the first female Cuban writer, visited Havana in 1840, the guayabera was either not popular yet among the Cuban peasantry around the capital, or it did not go by that name. She does not mention it in any of her well-known writings or in the copious journal she kept of the trip. However, the fact that she does not mention the guayabera, does not mean it did not exist, at least as a prototype.

Click here to read parts, one, two and three of La Guayabera.

La Guayabera origins a little bit of history

Posted by Elena del Valle on September 8, 2010

Part two of a series
By Hilda Luisa Díaz-Perera

Hilda Luisa Díaz-Perera

Where did the guayabera come from and is there a history behind it? Most of the time, where it concerns popular history, those who have made a difference in the lives of millions of people were never aware of it, and therefore the facts of whatever they contributed to mankind is lost in the jumble of reality, fiction and, in the case of the guayabera, in the fantasy of romance.

According to research conducted by Cuban journalist Pedro Carballo Bernal, several Andalusian and later Canary Island families who settled in Cuba around the Yayabo River, in Sancti Spiritus, began making shirts that would eventually become the precursors or prototypes of today’s guayaberas. More precisely, as the story goes, the first guayabera was made in 1709, by Encarnación Núñez García, an Andalusian wife from the town of Granada, hoping to please her husband, José Pérez Rodríguez, a potter by trade, who requested that she make him comfortable, loose shirts from a bolt of fine Belgian linen they had received from Spain.

Click here to read parts one and two of La Guayabera, a multi-part series

La Guayabera

Posted by Elena del Valle on September 1, 2010

Part one of a series
By Hilda Luisa Díaz-Perera

Hilda Luisa Díaz-Perera

Salsa is Cuban. The bolero is Cuban. So is a cigar worthy of the name, the Cuba Libre, the mojito and also, believe it or not, the guayabera. I can’t remember life without it. I bought my Chinese-Cuban-American grandson his first guayabera, the tiniest thing, when he was barely a few days old: “Little man” I said, “Welcome to our culture!”

The guayabera is solidly etched in the psyche of a Cuban woman of my generation. I think most of us are emotionally bound to it through memories we hold very dear of fathers, grandfathers, and older family patriarchs wearing them. I can remember the day my then young and very conservative grandfather, finally gave in to my grandmother’s pleas to wear long-sleeved guayaberas instead of sitting through his meals fully suited, in the hot, Cuban weather.

Click here to read the entire article La Guayabera, part of a multi-part series.

My Venezuelan 4th of July

Posted by Elena del Valle on June 30, 2010

By Hilda Luisa Díaz-Perera

Hilda Luisa Díaz-Perera*

I knew it was the 4th. Yesterday had been the 3rd, so I was positive today was the 4th. I thought about the American Embassy in Caracas and regretted I had not yet registered there. They were probably hosting a celebration for American citizens living in the capital. I couldn’t explain why today my vocal chords had locked themselves on the words of Home on the Range quietly singing them away in my throat. The day had started out very early as it usually did for me: I had brought the dog down to the yard where he began to bark back at another invisible barking dog hiding somewhere in the dawn’s early light.

I had had my breakfast, not with my American Folgers, since I had had no time before I left the States to buy some to bring with me. I sat down at my sewing machine and got busy finishing the kitchen curtains. The 4th faded slowly away into the stitches, the minutes, the hours, the barking dog and my cat Maggie. Home on the Range had survived my busy-ness and indeed, the skies had not been cloudy all day. At 5 pm my oldest sister in-law called to invite us for dinner at a wonderful restaurant in Playa El Agua that stands right on the sand. From the terrace, you can see the wide expanse of ocean and your ears become full of the sound of the waves.

Click here to read the entire article My Venezuelan 4th of July