HAVANA — The U.S. trade embargo has long forced Cubans to be creative and resourceful, from fixing their old 1950s American cars to fashioning makeshift toys. The same holds true for Cuban fashion.
Unlike other aspects of Cuban life, fashion on the island isn't exactly frozen in time. Yes, there are some obvious signs of Cuba's time capsule, including Lycra suits and the occasional sighting of jean pants paired with a jean jacket. But for the most part, Cuban creativity extends to fashion, as more and more young people enthusiastically adopt variations of global trends that they've seen in music videos and pirated movies.
Here's what's hot right now on the streets of Havana: Metro-mullet hairstyles and body tattoos.
Known as the jonky (pronounced YON-kee), the hairstyle was popularized by Cuban reggaeton star El Yonki, who made a song and a music video about the haircut, a mutation of a mullet and a mohawk. The song starts, "Time goes on, the mullet changes…."
Body art has also taken off in Havana in recent years, particularly among young Cubans. It's part self-expression, part political statement. In the 1960s and '70s, people with tattoos were perceived by the Cuban government as subversive. Restrictions on tattoos were relaxed in the 1980s, but today body art has exploded, despite the lingering stigmas.
Ben Corbett, author of This Cuba - An Outlaw Culture Survives, said tattoos have become a way for young Cubans to express themselves. "The new Cuban youth own the streets … and they're staking claim through an explosion of body art," he wrote in his book. "It's a new revolution … a new rhythm of the flesh, throbbing to a tempo the bureaucracy will never gasp."
The body art boom has come even as tattoo artists operate in a legal gray area with the difficult challenge of finding needles, sanitary equipment and ink. But that hasn't stopped young Cubans from proudly strutting their tats.
Claire Harbage is a visual storyteller. She teaches Multimedia Storytelling and Advanced Digital Photography at the Maine Media Workshops and College.
Sefira Fialkoff is pursuing her masters in international development at Tulane University.