This post marks the fifth entry for the current Roots of Hope blog prompt: "My Wish for Cuban Youth."
Listen closely, Cuban youth are speaking
By Kenneth Sinkovitz
What does it mean to be a young Cuban today? What do they believe in, what ideology, if any do they subscribe? What platform do they have to express their opinions, share their ideas and participate in the global dialogue that their international peers have developed. Young people around the world have been empowered as never before through twenty-first century networking technology like the internet and sites like Facebook, Twitter and blog channels. With Cuba's limited internet connectivity and government-sponsored, censored intranet, it seems that young Cubans are being left behind...one would suspect that they want to catch up and participate. When it comes to Cuban youth, there are many more questions than answers.
Life in Cuba isn't easy, that is clear to almost anyone. "No es facil" is a common catch-all phrase for Cubans, often expressed with a big grin and wink. Cubans are a happy people by nature after all. Sure the majority of people are adequately clothed, housed and fed off a meager $20 monthly salary, but there must be more to life than just scraping by. Are we to assume that this is enough for Cubans, who are we to assume anything? How are we to know anyway, it seems like we cannot hear them, we cannot freely speak with them and they have no platform to freely express themselves or associate independently of the omnipotent government. Despite the limitations of young Cubans' ability to mobilize and leverage 21st century to press for change and share their perspective, they are talking and its up to us to listen, carefully. We are seeing cracks in the system which will inevitably help harness their energy and ultimately help them to work together and become authors of their own futures.
It's easy for foreigners to visit Cuba and comment on how happy the people are; Cuba is a natural paradise with a rich culture, proud history and vibrant social scene at every level and that is what visitors see and like to takeaway. But a deeper dive yields a much more complex and confusing existence guided by an unclear path or future. Young people in Cuba seem to be part of a society that lacks purpose and aspiration - the driving force of any individual and progressive society. Education may be free, but how does one motivate his or herself if there is no job after to apply skills and talents in a meaningful way. It's peculiar that the highest paying jobs in Cuba are in the service industry which takes in foreign currency, specifically taxi driving, hospitality and restaurant service which cater to wealthy tourists (many of them American!). It is equally challenging to be motivated in a humanities subject like literature, philosophy, history and sociology since in practice one may ultimately have to betray his or her true beliefs to match the "collective" Cuban credo or way.
By default many Cubans do work hard in school with the hope of perhaps landing a job in the service industry or perhaps propogating the collective idealogy of Cuban-branded liberal arts and humanities through education or civil service. At the same time, many have chosen to find more inspired and liberating paths. Paths that include a more defined purpose where they can become the authors of their own futures independently of a collective mandate or ideal.
Many Cubans choose to part ways with their families and friends to settle in la yuma (USA) where they can find work, freedom and a chance to realize their dreams. Others, however, remain on the island and carve out a niche for themselves where they can push the boundaries of freedom and expression. Young bloggers like Yoani Sanchez are helping young Cubans to access the internet and express themselves via blogging and Twitter so that the outside world can really appreciate who they are and what they want out of life. Others meanwhile are adopting music and art as a way to subtly express themselves and challenge the status quo. Just as the rap & hip hop phenomena in the USA has leveraged real life experiences and inspired lyrics to press for change, a growing uniquely Cuban music movement is doing the same on the island.
Young Cubans may not be able to afford the internet or have access but this is not the only way to express oneself, share ideas or mobilize to demonstrate a shared vision or dream which diverges from a collective ideology dictated from the top down. Young Cubans are not satisfied to scrape by a living on meager salaries and they are finding ways to share this sentiment with the world in many different ways including immigration, resourceful technology use and music & culture and more. Hopefully with more technology and continued courage, young Cubans can build on the progress they have already made and really show the world and their country what they are made of and what they want.
Kenneth Sinkovitz graduated Princeton in 2007 with a degree in History and Spanish, writing his senior thesis on race relations in revolutionary Cuba and how Afrocubans experienced the 1959 revolution differently from their white counterparts; it was called "The Afrocuban Revolution: A Study of Revolution's Impact on the Afrocuban Experience." He currently lives and works in Europe and has been involved with Raices de Esperanza for almost seven years.