Thursday, September 21, 2006

Ask a Cuban-American, first installment

Literally hours after I posted that I would be ripping off Gustavo Arellano's column "Ask a Mexican" I got an email from him. I panicked as I clicked it open. I thought he'd be angry for such a shameless act of plagarism. But on the contrary he was very gracious and suggested the first question for me to answer as the official unofficial representative of Cuban-Americans everywhere.

Dear Cuban-American:

Please settle once and for all who invented the guayabera--was it ustedes, los mexicanos de Veracruz or those coños in the Philippines?

Well, the truth is that he couldn't have asked a harder question since the reality is that experts and researchers don't know the answer to this question. Perhaps that's why he asked it in the first place (sneaky SOB). But I'll try my best to answer it.

According to a New York Times article by Rick Marin (not Ricky Martin), Rene La Villa, who operates Miami Cool Wear and sells the shirts wholesale, says the following theories exist as to the origins of the shirt:
* After 300 years of colonization, Cubans wore them to distinguish themselves from the Spaniards in their midst.

* They were worn by ''guayaba'' (or guava) pickers, because their large pockets were good for carrying the fruit.

* According to legend, a Spanish man living in the Cuban town of Sancti-Spiritus asked his wife to make him a comfortable white shirt in which he could withstand the heat and humidity. She sent to Spain for the finest linen and created for her husband the first guayabera...

The fashion spread through Spain's empire. Mexicans dropped the bottom pockets and replaced pleats with embroidery. In the Philippines, it became the barong tagalog, long-sleeved, sometimes French-cuffed. When Ronald Reagan visited Ferdinand Marcos, he put one on.
Since there is no clear-cut answer I will be happy to take credit for the invention of the guayabera on behalf of Cubans everywhere. Guayaberas are very fashionable right now, especially in Miami, but there's a down side to the guayabera too. In Cuba the agents of the repressive state security apparatus wear guayaberas as their unofficial uniform and the military has specially designed ones that look very un-military-like.

All this talk about guayaberas is timely because the other day I made a gigantic error. I was sorting my laundry and I didn't realize that among my whites was my 100% linen long-sleeved guayabera. I washed and dried it inadvertently and when I went to fold the laundry I was shocked to find my completely wrinkled, now two-sizes-too-small, guayabera. Luckily my wife took pity on me and gave me a brand new one for my birthday today.

Thanks to Gustavo for his graciousness and send me your questions for the next installment of Ask a Cuban-American.


Val Prieto said...

Happy Birthday, my brother!

Alfredo said...

it's Cuban mi hermano at least that's what I have been told.

Jose Marti and the FREEDOM fighters battle for independence wore the guayabera and stuck the bullets in the pockets!

La Ventanita said...

happy birthday!!!, wait you a Libra???

Diyomar Pandan said...

I'm a Filipino, and I disagree that your guayabera inspired the Philippine barong tagalog. The Tagalogs, the country's most dominant ethnic group, wore the costume long before there was exchange between the Philippines, Mexico and Cuba. That's why it's called barong tagalog, "Tagalog dress".

Sean Murray said...

@ diyomar pandan: i'm filipino too. i would have to disagree with you though regarding the origins of the barong tagalog because if you'll reference the illustrations of the prehispanic filipino dress in the boxer codex these do not resemble at all anything like the barong tagalog.