On October 1st, a poster with a red background and white letters inaugurated an Instagram account baptized as Cuba Says; “In Cuba we don’t say karma. We say por singao and I think that’s beautiful.” Twenty-four hours later, the word game stopped being a fun combination of popular slang phrases with the English language and became a point of connection between thousands of Cubans around the world.
Almost two months later, Alejandro Bujan is still in shock. Perhaps if someone had warned him of the avalanche that was coming his way, the 19-year-old, a first-year graphic design student at The Higher Institute of Industrial Design in Havana, would’ve had a contingency plan. Pretty quickly, Cuba Says went viral among the Cuban diaspora with suggestions, new sayings, ideas and requests pouring in.
This slim young man, with shoulder-length hair and an El Zorro-style mustache is the first in his family to venture into artistic endeavors. In addition to being a budding designer, he is an illustrator, dables in theater and collaborates with the Fábrica de Arte.
“The most important thing is to celebrate our identity, sense of humor and our cubanía, no matter where we are.”Alejandro Bujan, Cuba Says
“It has been a lot to assimilate in such a short time. The idea was born from a Twitter account called Spain says, where Spanish culture is praised in terms of the way of speaking. It occurred to me to do something similar with the expressions that we say every day and are already part of our daily lives and with others that we have heard since we were born. Today we see many differences between ourselves for various reasons and being Cuban is above a political position, whether you live inside or outside the country, the color of your skin or your gender identity. Everything has been based on intuition. When I opened the account I didn’t even have a logo, it was like an experiment”.
However, how do you make everyday slang not sound vulgar? “By nature some words are rude to a certain extent. Curiously, we have been listening to them since we were born, but we rarely write them,” explains Alejandro. “For many Cubans, living in other countries means learning another language and leaving their native Spanish in the background. Maybe there are phrases they don’t even say very often. That’s the charm of Cuba Says.”
The path is still uncertain as Cuba Says is searching for its own voice and brand identity. As a first attempt to expand into a product-based project, they launched a first batch of t-shirts, delivered locally. Recently, they partnered with the design agency Di Miami to ship orders within the United States. In the very near future their items will be available in Spain.
“I don’t want us to disappoint our following. We are in the process of gathering resources without damaging our personal finances. Our main focus is to set up our own website as well as keep prioritizing international shipments. However, I rather see Cuba Says as a community than as a business. I dream of producing audiovisual material where I interact with the public in the streets of Havana. Art will always prevail.”
According to Alejandro, the fact that the entire process happens in Cuba is an additional challenge due to internet connection, banking limitations and expensive data plans. Not to mention that when Instagram detects that the profile is located in Cuba, it reduces the account’s reach and ability to create dynamic content like reels or adding music to stories.
“Little by little we are moving forward and the best is yet to come. I must say that some influential accounts see us as competition but we can all coexist. The most important thing is to celebrate our identity, sense of humor and our cubanía, no matter where we are.”
Your posters end with the line “… and I think that’s beautiful”. What does beauty mean to you?
Something that transmits pure, positive feelings and motivates you to continue, to fight, to be better. Beauty can be presented in ways that we don’t even think about: a smell or a taste can make us travel back in time; even a word. If by any chance that word comes from Cuba Says, it’s even better. I think that’s beautiful.