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mainFurthering the media frenzy following Jay-Z and Beyonce’s recent People-to-People cultural exchange to Cuba, a conversation has sprung up about travel to Cuba, through recorded and remixed lyrical songs.

Jay-Z started off with the first track “Open Letter.” In this freestyle rap, Jay-Z responds to some of the criticisms of the trip: “politicians never did sh-t for me/except lie to me, distort history.” In regards to the “legality” of traveling to Cuba he responds: “wanna give me jail time and a fine/Fine, let me commit a real crime.” Artist Common later contributed to a remix of the Jay-Z track, speaking to the political nature of discussion about Cuba, calling Cuba “a political triangle, Bermuda” and again states “it’s so political, I don’t trust figures.”

Cuban American artist Pitbull also crafted a response. While professing many sentiments common to the Miami anti-Castro establishment, such as hoping for a “free” Cuba, Pitbull also states: “I ain’t here to hold a grudge,” and tells Jay-Z and Beyonce not to worry about the trip, saying “it’s on me.”

Cuban Rap and R&B artist Danay Suarez

Cuban Rap and R&B artist Danay Suarez.

Importantly, Havana born Cuban artists Danay Suarez and Kokino also responded, speaking to their experiences as Cubans who have grown up on the island. Danay paints the Cuba she knows in complex terms where Cubans are “victimas de una libertad incompleta/victims of an incomplete liberty” and there are “millones de profesionales sin gloria/millions of professionals without glory.” She also sings that Havana is a very special place, “hay pocos sitios como la habana, se hace contacto directo con las personas/there are few places like Havana, where you make direct contact with the people,” and is “mi lugar preferido/my favorite place.”

Cuban rap artist Kokino. Photo by Tom Ehrlich.

Cuban rap artist Kokino. Photo by Tom Ehrlich.

Kokino takes on a fairly aggressive stance, criticizing Pitbull and by extension the Miami establishment, claiming “tu no has hecho nada para los cubanos/you haven’t done anything for Cubans.” He also expresses the sentiment that to understand Cuba, one must live the experience: “hay que estar presente/vivir donde vivimos/estar en la caliente/con apagones, con mas dolores,” translated as “one has to be present/live where we live/be in the heat/with the electricity blackouts, with the pain.” While acknowledging hardships in Cuba, Kokino expresses his own style of patriotism as well, saying “yo vine a comerme yuma/el yuma no me va a comer a mi,” translated as “I came to eat the U.S./the U.S. is not going to eat me.”

While the artists have different backgrounds and perspectives in regards to Cuba, common themes emerge. First, none of the artists, including the more conservative Pitbull, question the validity of traveling to Cuba or see it as an act that should be illegal as Miami hardliners would like to maintain. They also reference the role of politics in distorting U.S.-Cuba relations and in influencing representations of Cuba in the U.S. media. Ultimately, the media attention given to the trip and the commentary and questions raised by these artists allow the Cuba dialogue to move beyond the choir and to the general public. Together, we can amplify this conversation and make sure our voices are heard to demand a more sane and just policy towards Cuba! Will you help us spread the word?

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Help us tell Beyonce, Jay-Z, and others with influence to join us, the people, in asking President Obama to end the embargo, lift the travel ban, and get Cuba off the list of State Sponsors of Terrorism. Share this post widely in your community by email, Facebook, and Twitter.

6 Responses to “What Do Responses to Jay-Z’s Song “Open Letter” About Cuba Trip Mean?”

  • It is because of the Afro Cuban music, culture, and rich history that I would like to travel there, but I don’t want to break any laws to do so. Therefor, there should not be any restrictions for us as Americans to travel there. We are allowed to travel to countries that have countless residents that would do us harm, but not Cuba. It is ridiculous.

    • Cubanborn

      Have you thought about the people without right or freedoms and not at the politics??

      I am shocked how little people really know about the Cuban people and are willing to walk around with the freedom on an island of prisoners . I would onky support a mission trip, to help those trapped on an island.

      Going to any country without freedom is unthinkable, to me… not onky Cuba.

      • Hi “Cubanborn,” we both agree that education is a very important tool in opening up understanding between cultures. To us, the “politics” surrounding U.S.-Cuba relations often distorts a better understanding between our two cultures. Your statement that Cuba is an “island of prisoners” can be interpreted as a very politicized statement, and from our experience many Cubans who live on the island would not agree with that sentiment. As stated in the other comment, “We believe there are many ways for U.S. Americans to educate themselves about the complexities of Cuba, and this includes traveling there to have exchanges with ordinary Cuban people to understand their perspective.”

  • Hi Thomas,

    We agree with you. The issue around traveling to Cuba is rooted in a deeply political context with legislators from Miami who hold a lot of influence and sway surrounding the issue. For more resources and talking points about the freedom to travel to Cuba, check out

  • Cubanborn

    I came to the US at age 6, and have never been back. Why? As a US citizen I can eat and stay at the best hotels in Cuba, but a Cuban citizen living in Cuba can’t. They can work ther but not even honeymoon for a weekend! They have to find some local places that will take them in privately,

    That alone is such an injustice; I refuse to travel there! It’s segregation and if anyone should care about segregation….it’s the people most harmed by this atrocity. Get informed, read, learn and look at the people and not the polotics before you travel. Or don’t and keep the yourselves silent and ignorant!

    • Hi “Cubanborn,” we definitely agree that the best thing for people to do is to get informed, read, learn and have exchanges with people from different cultures.

      Regarding your particular comment about Cubans’ access to hotels and restaurants, we are aware that for many years there was explicit discrimination against Cubans in these establishments. Over the past years this has opened up and is no longer the case- I encourage you to talk to Cubans who currently live on the island to verify this, as we have. That being said, most Cubans still do not have access to the financial resources to stay in hotels/eat in these kinds of restaurants, and that is a very real discrepancy of power and wealth that travelers should always be aware of. We believe there are many ways for U.S. Americans to educate themselves about the complexities of Cuba, and this includes traveling there to have exchanges with ordinary Cuban people to understand their perspective.

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