Hollywood depictions of Cuba only hint at the country’s larger-than-life persona.
To truly understand how the country’s colorful history has stamped its people during a cultural tour in Cuba, you must spend time getting to know the diverse and vibrant individuals who proudly call this small island nation home. Luis Enrique Gonzalez, for example, is a one-man encapsulation of Cubans’ post-revolutionary scrappy creativity.
LUIS ENRIQUE GONZÁLEZ
Luis Enrique González turns the ignition key and his 1953 Buick fires instantly to life. It sounds like a boat engine.
“It is!” he laughs. He’s swapped out the original motor for a 90-horsepower Perkins diesel engine designed for yachts to putter in and out of harbor. “Better fuel economy,” he explains. How on earth had he retrofitted it to fit the engine mounts, much less to work with the Hyundai transmission?
Anywhere else in the world and his beaten-up Roadmaster would be a museum piece, or a junkyard joke. Here it’s his daily ride. Keeping it running is both a challenge and a point of pride in this land of U.S. embargo and shortage.
“El cubano inventa,” he says, laughing as he explains how Cuba’s proudly fanatical owners of antique American cars go to absurd lengths to keep their aged yet beloved cacharros running with scavenged or improvised parts.
“What we can’t fix or cannibalize from cars, we make ourselves,” he explains as he guides me around his workshop adjoining his 1920s home in Havana’s Vedado neighborhood. “We tailor virtually any part you can think of, right here. Hecho en Cuba, Chico!”
I laugh too, as a kind of paean to the way Luis exemplifies Cubans’ resourcefulness, ingenuity and indefatigable good humor.