Though Daniel Jimenez Peres has never left Cuba, he is considered a connoisseur of Puerto Rican reggaeton among his circle of friends.
“You’re saying you’ve never heard Ozuna?” he exclaimed, soon after we met in Santa Clara’s Parque Vidal. “But his music is everywhere in the U.S.! It’s so easy for you.”
Ease of access to music still varies in Cuba, a society where the government still maintains some control over what is sold in record stores and what is played on the radio. Lucky for Daniel, he has Luis. They grew up playing baseball in the street outside their homes before Luis’s father received a visa to immigrate to the U.S. Now Luis makes the trip to Santa Clara from Miami every few months, taking care to bring with him a catalog of new music releases for his childhood friend. Daniel has spent the entirety of his 23 years in this provincial capital in the north of Cuba. His father, a professor at the local university, earns $30 a month – a slightly above average salary for a Cuban in Santa Clara, but not nearly enough to be able to supplement Daniel’s music hobby with new CDs sold on the Cuban black market.
Since it’s a Tuesday and Luis is in town, they plan to visit one of the only places in the city where non-Cuban reggaeton is regularly played: the weekly university night at a Centro Cultural. This center is aptly known as El Bosque: it was designed to function as an open-air amphitheater, broken up into sections by trees. Their roots have cracked the cement steps of the club, and their branches have created a canopy over the tables surrounding the dance floor. Like many gathering spots in Cuba, this club is government-owned and government-run. Teenagers stand in line with their national ID at the ready: each will be checked against a list before they are allowed entry. This isn’t a place for tourists. Entry without a national ID is prohibited, though the bouncer looks the other way when we Americans walk in for the price of $3 each. Daniel, who has frequented El Bosque’s university night for the past five years, is tired of dancing to reggaeton a few months behind the times. He has a plan and a possible way out: once he finishes his degree in a few months, he’ll enter the Cuban boxing circuit.
He wakes up at 4:00AM every morning, often after only 4-5 hours of sleep, to train for what he thinks could be his eventual career. When asked if he’s worried about the physically taxing nature of this career path, he grabs my hand and holds it to the right side of his chest. I feel a heartbeat, though I’ve known since elementary biology that hearts are located on the left side of the body.
“I wasn’t supposed to live past the age of two.”
Daniel was born with a condition known as situs inversus: all of his major organs are reversed, located on the opposite side of the body from where they would be found in a typical human. He is one of two Cubans that he has heard of currently living with the condition. The other lives in Santiago; they’ve never met, though their doctors communicate regularly. This abnormality gives him an advantage in boxing, where a liver shot – a left hook to the right side of the rib cage, causing incapacitating pain and damage to the liver – can effectively end a match. His liver, located on the opposite side of where his opponents would expect, has remained safe thus far. Daniel’s sister is ranked #1 in her weight class in Cuba for Judo. She has travelled the world to compete for her country, bringing Daniel back photos of Paris, Tokyo, and Rio de Janeiro.
“Boxing is my ticket out,” he said. “They let athletes and movie stars leave. I want to see the world for myself.”
“And,” he adds, “I’d really love to hear Ozuna live in Puerto Rico.”
Written by Monica Palid