The Beatles that Cubans didn’t get to hear or watch on TV

We celebrate another anniversary of The Beatles landing at JFK Airport and appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show.

It was one of those events that changed music, radio playlists and the length of our hair. My mom used to call them “los bitles” or her “Cuban accented” pronunciation. It was also her disapproval of the hair or my desire to look like that.

However, I did not know a thing about Beatlemania until our family got here. In early 1964,  we were in Cuba waiting for “el telegrama” to leave the island. Up here, The Beatles were in New York and being introduced by Ed Sullivan.

The Castro dictatorship censored The Beatles and their music was not heard on local radio. The “ban” came from the to the very top:

“Fidel Castro’s government frowned on Western music as a ‘decadent’ influence in the decades after his 1959 Cuban Revolution.

Many Cubans recall being harassed for wearing long hair or listening to rock and pop music from Europe or the United States.”

Eventually, the Castro regime liberalized rules so Cubans finally got their taste of The Beatles.

We arrived in the US in September ’64 and all of those Cuban kids in Miami were singing their songs. I remember “A Hard Day’s Night” movie signs everywhere.

Now in Miami, waiting to travel to Wisconsin, I heard that it was a British group and a girl showed me her copy of “Meet the Beatles.” It was the first time that I had seen a picture of the group or heard their music.

A few years ago, I spoke with a 50-something Cuban who left the island recently. We spoke about the repression, censorship of the press and the food shortages.

Then he said this: “You know one more thing I really hate the Castro dictatorship for… they denied me The Beatles… I never got to enjoy it like you did in the US.”

Thank God for freedom was all I could say! All of a sudden I realized that freedom is “a free press” and my copy of “Abbey Road.”

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