The fact that so many people are wearing their feelings literally on their sleeves shows how Cubans never lost their love for Americana, despite a crippling trade embargo and years of political hostility.
HAVANA — The diplomatic thaw between the United States and Cuba has been accompanied by an unexpected outburst of flag-waving here — of the American flag.
The Stars and Stripes has been spotted on apartment buildings and bicycle taxis. It splays across T-shirts and bandannas. On tight spandex pants, its pattern swirls around many a leg. Even a few car air fresheners bear its likeness (with a vanilla scent).
“I am seeing things in Cuba I thought I would never see,” said one middle-age man, ogling a young woman’s nearly painted-on flag pants.
The woman, who declined to give her name, wary of talking about the symbol of a nation still at odds with Cuba on many issues, said the pants were a gift from a friend who knew how much she enjoyed American pop culture.
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“It’s just fashion,” she said, rushing to make something clear in a country where any overt opposition to the government can bring scrutiny, or worse: “It isn’t a statement.”
Of course, there is one place the flag is not yet popping up: in front of the U.S. diplomatic outpost here, known as the “interests section,” which used to be the embassy until relations between the countries broke off in 1961.
After announcing in December that they intended to move toward restoring diplomatic ties, officials in Washington and Havana are still talking about when and how to reopen embassies.
At a regional summit meeting last weekend in Panama, President Obama and President Raúl Castro held the first sit-down meeting between leaders of the countries since the Cuban Revolution. (The meeting happened without the presence of their flags.)
Workers in recent weeks have refurbished the U.S. flagpole outside the interests section, on the main seafront boulevard, in anticipation of Old Glory’s waving there for the first time in more than five decades.
Yet no matter what the diplomats are doing, the fact that so many people are wearing their feelings literally on their sleeves shows how Cubans never lost their love for Americana, despite a crippling trade embargo and years of political hostility.
In recent years, Cuba has gone through other waves of foreign flag-mania; the Union Jack seemed to gain favor in fashion around the 2012 London Olympics, and items decorated with the U.S. flag had sprouted now and then.
But trend watchers here contend that American flag clothing has been proliferating, to the consternation of some in the Cuban government.
An article last year on Cubadebate.com, a government news site, spoke disapprovingly of the displays as a form of cultural imperialism. “It pains me to see a Cuban wrapped in an American flag,” a commenter on the article said. “My mind doesn’t accept it.”
Customers say that a lot of the garments are imported on the sly from Florida or Panama and that such clothing is not allowed to be resold, even under Cuba’s accelerated push toward entrepreneurship.
Ordinary Cubans have long remained friendly to U.S. visitors and closely follow American pop culture and sports.
Many are quick to discuss their shared love of baseball and to pass around the latest American television shows and movies on USB and hard drives.