It was hard to miss the 500th anniversary signs that appeared across Havana. They had not been there in 2018. They were new for the yearlong celebration. The actual anniversary, which commemorates the relocation of the city of Villa de San Cristobal de la Habana to its current site, falls on November 16, 2019. Now that’s going to be a party! The move facilitated access to the large natural bay, which functioned as a harbor. The city became a major port and the heart of Spanish shipping through the New World for generations. It remains one of the most important cities in the Caribbean. All sorts of programs are planned for this anniversary year, with everything from upgrading parks and historic buildings, like the capitol, to improving sanitation and repairing streets. Tourism campaigns abound.
The thing that intrigues me the most about the festivities is how old Havana is. Other Spanish settlements that still exist, like San Juan, Puerto Rico, or St. Augustine, Florida, are almost as old. While the territory around where I live in Utah was once indigenous territory , white settlers have been here for fewer than 200 years. Havana definitely wins over my city in terms of longevity. And Havana feels much older and more imbued with the weight of history. I understand that Havana isn’t old compared to some of the world’s ancient cities. But I like the really old buildings interspersed among the more modern construction with the accompanying massive trees. I like the thought that the ocean has always pounded on the heart of the city. I like that the lives of the past are palpable, tangible, in the music and tastes of the street. It is something I rarely feel in the United States. And I know that feeling is why I can’t stop dreaming about Cuba.
The logo for Cuba's 500th anniversary.
Martha Van Devender is a Senior Evaluator and has been with ECE since 2005. She specializes in education from Anglophone Africa and Latin America. She is also interested in online research and verification tools. Martha is serving as the TAICEP representative for the AACRAO Cuba project and enjoys writing and presenting on this topic.