I went to Havana, Cuba in 1959 to photograph Pepe Miller, a comedian, who was appearing on CMBF, the Cuban television station. 

One day, while walking around Havana, I saw an old man sitting on a pile of newspapers. He was sound asleep. The sun was beating down on his balding head, his clothes were wet with perspiration, there was an air of peacefulness about him. His surroundings were modern buildings and the name of the Cuban newspaper was "El Mundo" (The World).  I felt the contrast would make a great photograph. (Continued after photo)

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After I snapped the photo, two Cubans ran up to  me and shouted, "All Cubans aren't like that".
    I told them that I wasn't taking the picture as a representation of Cubans, but of humanity and of human interest. I pointed out the contrasts of the modern building and the old man with the sweat stained clothes, and that the pile of newspapers that he was sitting on said "El Mundo" (The World). This man was sleeping on top of the world. Fortunately they saw it my way and they left. Castro had taken over at that time but hadn't declared his position regarding the USA. I did notice, at the
time, that all of the book stores were featuring books about Russia and Communism.

My Visa to Cuba in 1959

This was the Nightclub's cover for the photos they sold. 

Photo taken at the Havana Riviera. Mrs Keating, Toni Triano & Sam Younghans 

    I was back in Cuba, sometime later, when the American Society of Travel Agents held their convention. I was traveling with Tony Triano and Mrs. Keating, we stayed at the Havana Riviera for a week.  We had a grand time. Saw most of the shows in Havana. The food was fantastic. I remember having Arroz con pollo at the Tropicana, a fantastic night club with the sky for a ceiling. It was the most famous club in Cuba. I smiled at one of the dancers, who met me after the show. She was a beauty!
    Tony was Cuban; one of the reasons we went to Cuba was to make a pilgrimage to his home town in the interior. It was interesting to see how the Cubans lived outside of the city. They were poor, but you could see that they were, for the most part, a happy, carefree people.

One night Tony and I went out to some of the Cuban night clubs. We were in one club and Tony came running up to the bar and told me that we were going to go in and watch the floor show; that he had two girls that were going to join us. He thought we were going to have a great night. I told him that I would join them, but that he shouldn't get his hopes up as far as the girls were concerned. He said, "Sam, this is my country, believe me they will go with us."
    We sat with two very attractive girls and watched the show. As with most Latin shows there comes a time when a dancer will call someone from the audience to come on stage and dance with them. They would usually make them look silly and everyone would laugh. She chose me. I had been dancing for a long time and even won some jitterbug contests in New York and in the Bahamas, so I was able to hold my own. We got applause instead of laughs. She was nice and she thanked me after the show.
    Needless to say we left the club sans the girls. Tony kept saying, "I don't believe it. I don't believe it. This is my country, how did you know?"
    One night we were at a club called "Las Vegas" that was popular with all of the show people in Cuba. After work they would come to "Las Vegas" for the last show at 5 AM. It was a large club and packed with people. It was around 4 AM when I was walking through the crowd in the barroom and someone grabbed my arm. I turned to see the girl I had danced with at the other club a few nights ago. She said, "Hello" and told me she was in the show and wanted to know if I would I get up and dance with her?  Being the ham I am, how could I refuse such a wholesome request?
    The show began, and when she came on, she announced that I would be dancing with her. The crowd got angry and I heard them yelling, "No, we don't want no gringos."  That didn't deter her, she said don't worry you will like him. So when she invited me on stage, I was facing a very hostile audience. I really loved it. We danced our butts off, and when we were finished, they cheered, stood up and applauded. Some of the men came over and patted me on the back and took me to the bar for a drink. Ah, memories. I have more, but some other time.

Friday, the day before the last day of the convention, leaflets were thrown from the top of the Hotel Nacional and blamed on an American plane. Saturday Castro made his first anti-American speech. It was a mad house - everyone was rushing to check out of the hotels and get on the first plane to Miami. 
         Sometime later on, I was on a boat bound for the Bay of Pigs. I was going to photograph the invasion. I had many Cuban friends in Miami ,who were going. One of them helped me get aboard one of the boats carrying Cuban volunteers. We were running through the keys when we ran aground and damaged the wheel. That was as far as I got. When I got back and heard the news, I felt sickened and very angry.  The thoughts of all of those young men, crowding into boats, determined to bring freedom to their people, who were now dead or prisoners, still haunts me. We abandoned them.
    I read a book about Cuba as it is today and about some of the things Castro accomplished, such as education and medical treatment. I realize that it was the very wealthy, connected people who hated Castro for taking away all of their wealth and sharing it with the people. It gave me a different out-look on the man. I would like to go back to Cuba for a visit.

Copyright Younghans 1959