••• The International Writers Magazine: Cuban Stories
What the Heck is a Yuma?
Tahimi told him that she had not called him a “Yuma” the night before. Somebody in that room sure as hell had. He hated that word. Why couldn’t the first Americans in Cuba have not come from Idaho?
Moreover, if it had to be Texas, why not Dallas? Yu – ma. Sounds like a squash. One of those yellow ones that look like a Billy goat’s junk. Cripes, he heard it a lot. ‘Oh look, there’s a Yuma.’ ‘Ask the Yuma for a dollar.’ ‘There’s a Yuma on the bus.’ Look at the cheap Yuma, too cheap to take a taxi. Shameful'.
“You are Yuma.”
“No I’m not a Yuma. I do not want to be a Yuma. That’s not a nice word.”
“Yes, you are Yuma!”
After a couple of years of Yuma denial, he gives up and says, “Soy Yuma,” as if he is confessing.
“Ah si, eres Yuma. Si, si.”
Sometimes there is a special implicating inflection. Like, “You have sex with pidgin.” “Yes I admit it. I have sex with a pidgin.” “Yes, that is because you are Yuma. Dirty Yuma with all that money. Mmm – hmm. And a Camajan.”
Sometimes a Cuban says he wished he were a Yuma.
“Yuma,” in Cuba used to mean you were a foreigner. Nowadays there are more Cubans returning or visiting from their homes abroad and they find when they arrive that they too are Yumas.
Rumbas and Girlfriends
Laurant met a Cuban-American named Yorel, a pre-school teacher from Miami who told him that when he is visiting Cuba, he is a Yuma too.
One afternoon they went to a Yoruba dance at the “Rumba Palace” near Carlos III. Laurant was with Yorel’s cousin. The teacher insisted on paying for the quantity of beer for everybody at the table including a
couple of portly women. Yorel blocked Laurant’s wallet several times insisting he was the Yuma.
The rumba was exciting, mysterious, and wonderful. All of it. It was drunken, smoky, and colorful. Laurant did not see a single foreigner the whole time. This was a Cuban rumba, the real thing, raw with Cuban humor and clamor and outstanding music. Beautiful people in colorful clothing, a full band playing Yoruba then Salsa. This was not a tourist Rumba like Callejon de Hamel. It was a raw experience, like climbing a mountain. Nobody took special notice of him here except for his date, who was quickly becoming drunk. She was very good looking, a fine featured mulata with an edgy, fearless, zest for life about her. She was comfortable in the confines of the rumba palace, greeting others, “Que bola?” and hugs, besitos and charla.
A procession of colorful seven-foot tall paper mache adorned Orichas passed through the throng. They bore the colors of African gods in traditional form of dress. The Orichas are Yoruba gods: the guapo war god, Chango, dressed in red and white; Oshun, who can protect you from genital diseases, dressed in yellow; the purveyor of justice, Obatala, in white. They danced down the aisle, rocking from side-to-side and excited participants clinging to them.
The effigies appear comical to a foreigner’s eye with great protruding buttocks and enormous lips on one Oricha while two beautiful Yoruba dancers dressed in blue and white (representing Yemaya) and Yellow
(representing Oshun) moved their bodies to great effect in time with percussion and the llave (key rhythm).
The beautiful women in the elaborate traditional dresses represented the female energy of water, the sea and the rivers, health and intelligence. They danced, bounced, and swayed and some approached their Orichas and elicited counsel or something like a blessing. There might have been Babalawos (Santerían priests) inside the costumes because the faithful approached them for blessings. Their costumes had screens in the neck or chest where the priests could see out and speak to the faithful. Traditional Yoruba dance began between a man waving a red cloth and a woman in an attractive frilly dress as they reenacted courtship rituals.
Later the characters joined the party. At Yorel’s table, another round came, and another as the band shifted gears and the music became salsa. Yorel’s cousin danced with Laurant. She was an expert. It did not matter that he was not. She grabbed him from time to time and gave him an intense kiss. He had no idea what was going on. It was a fabulous dream. Yorel was here and there, visiting and buying beers for other tables, as if he just got back from a logging camp.
The band finally cut out completely, a bass heavy sound system pumped out regatton, and there was much gyrating and twerking.
Apparently, the Cubans invented twerking while on work brigades bending over and cutting sugar cane. When a guapa (athletic woman) bent to swing her machete and somebody clapped and chanted, she flexed her pelvis to the beat and twerking was born. Laurant’s date, who was a great little twerker as well, got very drunk. She disappeared while Laurant danced with the portly women. They twerked as well, sometimes bumping him right into the wall.
The party went on throughout the afternoon. Laurant’s date had disappeared and he finally took a break to look for her.
He went outside of the Rumba Palace where a large group of people milled about, getting air. He lit up a cigar and puffed it up good. He glanced around then an agitated muscular young man moved quickly
towards him, coming from behind to jostle him sharply. ‘Cuidado (be careful) Yuma,’ he warned. The beefy macho chulo (pimp) went into the crowd, fished out Laurant’s date by her long hair, and threw her to the pavement.
“I got you,” Yorel said, coming out of nowhere and hauling Laurant back inside the Rumba leaving his cousin to her chulo.
“You stick with me. You will be all right. She put the horns on him right in front of everybody, necking with you at the table. You gotta be careful because these chulos will cut you if you get in the way. They’re hot. They get too hot and it can happen to you too. You don’t want that kind of experience man, believe me.”
Over the next couple of weeks, Yorel partied and spent his money like a sailor. He was in Cuba to get his residency, which required he stayed ninety days.
Yorel’s cousin showed up the next week with a yellowish eye that she blew off as a minor make-up problem. They got together with Yorel and played pool with him at a coast Di-Tu. Yorel paid the table but he was broke. His cousin explained to Laurant, he had blown his pelota (money). Laurant discreetly passed her a bit of money to help him out then they got on a rental motor scooter and left him to his Yumaship.
Even the Cuban Yuma had to earn his stripes to become a real Camajan. ‘Camajan’ means a Yuma who has been around a while too long, meant for a foreigner who was wise to all the tricks. A Camajan is a type of lizard and historically and in other Latin-American countries used to describe cunning or unethical people.
The first time he heard the word “Yuma” was after his arrival in Havana while in a line-up waiting for the bus back from the beach. The origin of the word, ‘Yuma’, say the Cubans, derives from when Americans arrived in droves from Yuma, Texas (possibly Yuma, Arizona) after the Spanish-American war to visit their new wards with bags of money in their dungarees.
“Yuma!” The word had sprung out, nastily, from some very tall and drunk young men after a day in the sun, maybe feeling offended that this ‘rich’ foreigner should be taking up a seat on the Cuban’s free bus. His friend, Belinda, said to him, ‘They’re talking about you. Just ignore them. Nothing will happen.’ He did not know what was going on. He was not a Camajan, so he did not know what was going on.
Once on the bus the animosity disappeared. They had other more important business. The boisterous group began to play regatton on the ceiling and sides of the bus. A tremendous percussion built up until the bus turned into a giant drum. They chorused together in harmony and sang regatton songs. It seemed like they must have rehearsed, and in a sense they had. Everyday of their lives. The moon had finally disappeared and the troposphere returned to boring beautiful blue with a belt of gray across the sea.
Vaquero had been out and back three or four times. The street was busier. More buses, the air brakes exhausting like some enormous mastodon fart and then the roar of the diesel engine propelling the Chinese people machine into the new day.
Amiga arrives, comes up to his side and he strokes her caramel colored head. He greets her, ‘Como tu estas?’ She makes a sound and licks her chops a few times. ‘Come eso,’ (eat this) he says, showing her to the boffe (pig lung and trachea) that Vaquero had left on his plate.
She waggles her chubby body over to the plate and passes on it. She checks a bag stuffed with old beer cans and bottles and then out she goes again. A walk on cameo in the morning theatre.
A little while later she waddles back in for an encore, makes her way to the dog dish.
“What you doin’ Amiga? You eat all that food and then you go home and
some little girl feeds you too. You’re getting fat!”
She ignores the boffe and chows down on the chicken bones and rice that the neighbor had slid under the reja for Vaquero in her absence.
On the street, meters below, stand nine people on the sidewalk. Six are women. Everybody different shades of brown. A group of four converse together then turn to face east where the bus will show up. He looks at an Indian coconut palm and a crunch of faded pastel buildings beyond. The Indian coconut is yellow and smaller than the tall coconut. The tall coconut tree makes coconuts with huge heavy husks. If one falls and hits you, you could die.
The Four Thirty-Two arrives. People squeeze on. The motor labors and they slide away. Amiga sits at his feet. He kicks off a flip-flop and strokes her with his foot. She likes it. Now she is off and gone.
Too late for the moon, the sky full blue. Five pigeons fly in circles in front of him, two of them pure white. Vaquero dingles. He sets himself up on the corner of the balcony facing Marianao, the neighboring municipality. That was probably where the action would come from and, as well, Amiga had another home in that direction. He looked for her every morning, waiting intently. She was his pal.
When he saw her cross Thirty-First he would go to Laurant’s bedroom door and make a small sound.
One day, soon after they had arrived at the apartment, Vaquero realized that Laurant had a dog. Imitating his master, Vaquero found his own dog.
Laurant plunked at the typewriter then sighed contentedly. There were two owls, one on each side of the balcony. Every morning they went, ‘hoo hoo-hoo’ sounding concerned, he thought. He had never seen either. There were also the little brown chickadees who flitted around the dog’s dish pecking up flecks of rice. As soon as Laurant laid his eyes on them, they flew away.
Some retired men gathered below each morning. There was the old Colonel, Manuel, who had been in the mountains during the revolution. His face was a road map of deep wrinkles but his straight hair was naturally black. He was as white as a Cuban could be. ‘I’ve got eggs, Laurant,’ he would say. ‘I don’t like eggs so much, you know. You can have them.’ He had family in Miami who sent him a little money and he knew a few young women who made him forget his years.
There was Pipo, which meant ‘guy’, and over the years, Laurant had forgotten his name. Like Manuel he was also in his late seventies. Pipo had no plumbing and every couple of days he hauled water up the three-story stairway. He was very dark and eventually his son moved in with him although he did not need any care. He hardly ever spoke. He held out his hand whenever Laurant passed and he shook it and smiled at him. Maybe he was too tired from a long life of hard work to be happy any more but sometimes he laughed.
Two other old fellows lived in the identical three-story walk-up next door and all of them congregated below in the mornings, often sitting on the blue wall before it became too hot. They all liked Vaquero and petted him when he wanted them to. They never spoke much beyond, ‘How are you feeling?’ and the little bit of gossip and news about when eggs were coming. They were helpful if he needed something.
Vaquero left the balcony and jangled down the stairs. Laurant took a minute and then went into the apartment, found his smart phone on the kitchen bar and checked his messages. ‘Sugar Doll’ Janis was floundering again and now asking that he transfer one dollar onto her cell phone.
How could he forget anybody he had called, ‘Sugar Doll’? He wrote her back in Spanish: “Call me you pretty thing - Big Big Daddy”. She had called him “Sugar Daddy” but his pride made him change it. Might as well go all the way. Man, could she dance. He was a sucker for a dancer.
The regular Cuban dancers could put any northern pole-dancing stripper to shame just standing in one spot and gyrating. Sugar Doll had a body like an Anaconda, and could bend like one, too. When she danced in his salon, wearing a bikini and his straw cowboy hat, he wore a smile from ear to ear. It was one happy memory.
After three months at his place, she got pregnant. Her chulo was trying to put his egg in Laurant’s nest.
He booked her out but she was a humdinger. She could not believe he would dump her, as if it was not a big deal to get pregnant and have him raise her chulo’s child. He was a little old fashioned, maybe. He had to bounce her out like an unruly drunk at a dive bar and throw out her suitcases after, as she was getting rough. She had a chulo, that is where the money had been going, and now Laurant was cutting off his life support. He was a bit of a Victorian that way.
The most susceptible foreigners arrive on the Isle and find themselves face-to-face with something that seems too good to be real. It was real. The unreal part was what he put on it, by adding all those embellishments. ‘Oh, she’s so good and so smart and honest and dependable. She would never lie to me.’
“She is taking your money, isn’t she?” said Denton. “Good. That’s what she’s supposed to do. It’s just a matter of degree but don’t get all blubbery about the love part. She just says that because it’s friendly.”
He did not believe Denton. She loved him, he could tell. No, he could not even begin to understand, but then he was not a Camajan. He only wanted one steady but there was finite energy, resources and time. One thing that attracted him to those natural and confident women with their spicy and friendly demeanor. It was there because of the family and friends, so close in Cuba. When he got serious, enough with a young lady maybe he would buy her a Blu-ray player or a cell phone. It gave him a great feeling but he was not accustomed to it.
As Denton said, “The Yuma’s job is to put the money on the table.” Therefore, not knowing how to manage the steady ‘leakage’ due to a barrage of needs, the whole thing went down the tube. The upside was that he met some real Guantanamerans, Cuban families from San Miguel, and family of some of his best inamoratas in Havana. As a rule, they stayed friendly even after breaking it off and it was often rewarding to be welcomed if he showed up. Now it was just him and Vaquero against the lot.
© Jerry Alan - May 2018
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