To be Young in Cuba is to Face Difficult Choices


Throughout my teen years, I knew that the government of my country could not stand to see the streets full of young people. That’s why my generation was forced to spend the three pre-university years in difficult “scholarships” to live-in schools in the countryside.

Provincial capitals did not even have the choice of studying the three years at home. If we wanted to study professional careers, we had to accept the scholarships.

Did anyone ask our parents?

Did anyone ask if that was good for a society so deeply fragmented and lashed by shortages and emigration?

It wasn’t enough that we had grandparents or uncles in Miami, mothers and fathers abroad on “internationalist missions” and brothers in the armed forces?

Collecting youths in live-in schools far from their homes and their families, forcing us to live through misfortunes and overcrowding, was a perfect means of control that society is paying for dearly today.

You send a teenager to a school in the countryside and they send back someone different, especially during the economic depression that Cuba calls its Special Period, when home passes took up to 15 days and parents lost the authority and control over their children. Families had to be very strong to avoid losing the emotional or ethical links to their youngest members. For the students, surviving those schools required a sharp change in their manners and customs: You followed the majority and fought the daily fight, or you fell by the wayside. Eating, bathing, studying and sleeping became collective activities. That’s how we grew up. That’s how we became men and women – an absolute herd.

A can of marmalade was for everyone. A new mattress made the rounds of the students. Soap was loaned and medicines were shared. Sanitary napkins were solid gold. Toothpaste, boyfriends and final exams were, for us, common property.

How many teenagers committed suicide each year in those schools?

It’s been two long decades, and the children of those students are the youths who walk the streets today. Most have no steady boyfriends or girlfriends because they’re focused on the sea. They spend their days looking for a scheme for leaving the country. Relationships are fleeting and occasional, without commitment, because that’s how they grew up, far from family attachments and responsibilities.

Their preferences in music and art are based on our collective formation, which is without question their most significant inheritance.

They are our children – the majority of them, because there are always exceptions. An escapist generation, forged by indifference and reggaeton, that does not know and is not interested in knowing the country’s founders and heroes and is not interested in joining any efforts to improve society. Why? Because they learned from us, from our experience, that in this country everything has already been decided and that we are not destined to be the ones who will decide anything at all.

They want to leave so they can decide how and where their children will study. To influence and decide the main issues of a family, so they don’t have to wait for someone abroad to send them money to feed and clothe the family. To stop waiting for the photos that allow them to live the lives of relatives abroad in virtual reality.

Cuban youths no longer want to think that everything is illegal or offensive – from using the Internet to update your professional information to buying potatoes on the black market.

They don’t want to be extras in the movie. They need to play lead roles in their lives, and they know perfectly well that in Cuba, they will always play only supporting roles.