Miriam Celaya has posted an excellent essay on CubaNet, entitled “La chusmería: hija bastarda de la revolución” (Vulgartiy: bastard child of the revolution).
The Real Diccionario de la Lengua Española defines the Cuban meaning of “chusma” as: “persona de modales groseros y comportamiento vulgar” (someone with rude manners and vulgar behavior).
There is really no adequate translation for “chusma” in English. Yes, a “chusma” is a vulgar person, and often rude one too, and that gets close to the meaning. But it really misses the mark.
In the country formerly known as Cuba, the term “chusma” had a depth of meaning as untranslatable as any slang word. It implied a way of life devoid of grace, and also a questionable set of ethics.
“Chusma” language was loud, coarse, blunt, rude, and full of profanity. It had its poetic side, as all slang does, but it had a vicious edge, a tendency to assault the ear with gross references to sex and scatology.
“Chusma” ethics centered on self-seeking, self-aggrandizement, vengeance, and the constant use of violence. Envy was its chief virtue, callousness its most prized attitude. In brief, it was the culture of the Castro clan, which they promoted through their so-called Revolution. It is the ethic of the rapid response brigades and of their acts of repudiation.
“Chusma” aesthetics before the so-called Revolution prized cheesy excess and kitsch. After the so-called Revolution, when everything turned to crap, and even kitsch became a luxury, it’s hard to pinpoint or summarize what happened to the chusma aesthetic. But it is safe to say that its chief icon remained the “chancleta”(the flip-flop) and the lifestyle associated with it.
Here is where experts might disagree: Is a “chancletera” the same as a “chusma”?
Of course, all of this has to do with class, income, race, education, and all the inequalities found in every society. Everything “chusma” was low class. But this did not mean that all poor people were “chusma”. Far from it. In many ways, to be “chusma” involved choice to some extent. One could always opt out, grow out of it, choose to abandon “chusmería.”
The point of Miriam Celaya’s article is that “chusmería” has become the norm in Castrogonia. It is the ultimate cultural heritage bequeathed to the Cuban people by the Castro dynasty and its so-called Revolution. In other words, Cuban culture is as ruined as the buildings and the infrastructure, and there is no turning back the clock. It is what it is. And it is way too damaged to fix: it is a homemade chancleta beyond repair.
The article can be found HERE, in Spanish. It poses challenges even to the best of translators, but it should be translated into English. Anyone out there? Please?