HAVANA TIMES – If anything surprised the Cuban government in the course of the July 11, 2021, protests, it was the big variety of teenagers who took to the streets. Engaged within the surveillance of activists and independent media, or focusing their attention on workplaces and universities, it appears that evidently State Security neglected boys under 18 years of age.
They were those, cellphone in hand, who managed to maintain the VPNs lively and inform their families concerning the situation within the country. The value they paid was high: in line with the Attorney General’s Office, of the 760 prosecuted after the protests, 55 are between 14 and 17 years old. Since then, caution has been redoubled in secondary and pre-university (high) schools.
Nonetheless, and despite the fear injected in schools and families by the regime, the boys “haven’t learned their lesson.” Through Twitter, Facebook or Instagram, 1000’s of adolescents speak — loudly, using their very own jargon, through codes and double meanings — about their fundamental problems: the shortage of a future, the necessity for money, family anguish attributable to blackouts or food, migration, indoctrination in the tutorial system, military service, and precocious habit of snitching in school.
I tell K. — let’s call him K., just like the Kafka character — that I’m excited about knowing what Cuba looks like from the each day lifetime of an adolescent. That notion is comparatively new. My grandparents — born and raised in probably the most provincial of small-towns Cuba — believed that, at 16 years old, boys were men and girls were women. Today, maturity is delayed, no less than until 18; life runs at a unique pace.
This doesn’t prevent K. from having opinions — most of them clear and affirmative — about politics, society and the economy of his country. He sometimes watches the news, likes coffee and makes a habit of singing the choruses of reggae songs. “Music gives every part a little bit of color,” he says, “otherwise I’d be burned out by now.”
He’s in his second 12 months of ‘pre-university’ — as highschool is named — but that’s only a saying. In Cuba nobody is preparing for university, and even less for the long run. But that’s where he has his friends and he has to pass the time someway.
“I stand up within the morning, eat the breakfast that my mother works so hard to acquire. On the times that I actually have classes, under a Caribbean sun at its highest point, I walk greater than two kilometers to high school, since there isn’t any consistent or efficient public transportation system.”
I’m acquainted with the route: an extended street that crosses town and where only horse carts roam. The dust, the manure, the potholes and the coachmen – surly and unfriendly – give the road the atmosphere of a western movie.
“Well,” continues K., “at lunch time, I come home from school. The identical story of the sun and the walk is repeated. I arrive, take a shower, eat something for lunch and return, walking through the sad streets and seeing the facades destroyed by the trail of ‘hurricane dictatorship’. I enter my classroom with the cement floor filled with holes. Heat, mosquitoes. The toilet smell is overwhelming.”
“And as well as, with no desire to review: a Cuban degree is useless anywhere on the planet. I return home. Calculate this: I actually have already walked eight kilometers on foot. I arrive exhausted, take off my uniform and lie right down to rest for some time. Once I stand up, the “boring process” begins: there aren’t even any parks to go to. So, I sit on the armchairs for some time to speak with my family concerning the near future outside this prison-island. Afterwards, I am going to sleep.”
I made the error of asking K. how he saw Cuba in five years. “I don’t even wish to imagine it,” he replies. “If communism failed, I wouldn’t stay. It would take many, but a few years for Cuba to turn out to be a rustic. And those that don’t know their history are condemned to repeat it.”
Sometimes K. speaks with the bad habits of an adult, as if he had needed to put up with too many blows. It’s natural. The Cuban child is sort of at all times educated amongst older relatives and in very small households. As he grows up, domestic problems and anxieties are passed down, discussed, and grieved together.
It’s the buildup of those concerns on the mistaken time that makes the Cuban teenager more aware and more mature, however it also throws him right into a form of congenital bitterness which he carries throughout his whole life.
An extra factor of that anxiety is the Military Service — “the green” — mandatory in Cuba, which functions as a rite of passage within the totalitarian society. “There is a component of the parents who think that ‘the green’ makes us more manly but, for me, that doesn’t influence anything. It’s unfair since it is forced. You can not even ‘pledge to the flag’ personally. One other person does it for you. And when you protest about that…”
K is just not removed from the Military Service, but he’s more concerned about highschool and what it has turn out to be: “There is huge indoctrination. The classes are the worst. They teach us a lot of absurd things. We hardly have any teachers. Every little thing is a multitude.”
I ask if there are snitches in his classroom. “All my friends are frustrated by the situation in Cuba,” admits K., “and our only topic of conversation is about leaving the country. The concept of in the future leaving here completely dissociates us from every part. With things being so unattainable for our parents’ pockets, we cannot dress as we would really like. It is clear that I need to go away. Some are afraid to say it due to the great repression that exists, and since some girls report back to the teachers. They snitch on you for absolutely anything.”
“And what can I let you know concerning the neighborhood? You already understand how a neighborhood functions here, so you possibly can complete that part.” he tells me, already a little bit bored by the “questioning.”
K has a cousin his age in the USA. His father recently “sponsored” him, and after nearly a month in Guyana he managed to get him on the plane to Hialeah. I ask him the identical questions as K., but now I’m excited about understanding how one feels about Cuba when one leaves so young.
“From the surface, Cuba looks like a backward country. And there are occasions once you don’t realize how backward it truly is. My life, in fact, is different. What I did there has nothing to do with what I do here. Living on this country doesn’t change me as an individual. But it surely’s hard for me to get used to it. One has at all times been there. I miss my family. It’s a bit difficult, because one longs for the family.”
K.’s cousin doesn’t talk much and has at all times been discreet when talking concerning the government. But now there isn’t any problem. He can tell me —without fear of an agent listening in — that they’re “a shameless gang, eating up the individuals with lies. That’s what I feel, but I don’t really care much about politics. I don’t care, really.”
I need to know if he’ll ever return to Cuba. “I don’t know. I suppose so. I suppose that if communism fails, things will improve.”
K and his cousin agree on something. One inside and the opposite outside, they belong to a generation that now not has fears or complexes. They know they’re being watched, they understand the bounds of the manipulation and fear that comes “from above,” but they care little or no after they see the family’s asphyxia. They feel responsible, they’re drained. But they’re stronger than ever.
I ask K. what pseudonym he prefers me to make use of after I write about him. “What are you going to make use of? My name together with his two surnames, in fact.” I tell him no, that I actually have to guard his identity, the source and all that. “Well, then write…”
I’m not going to say the names that he told me next, because they might offend the sensibilities of the ministers and presidents of the republic. But be warned: there’s a hurricane coming.
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