Who Are Cuba’s “Frikis”?

Dmitri Prieto

Frikis from the film Boleto al Paraiso.
Frikis from the film Boleto al Paraiso (Ticket to paradise)

HAVANA TIMES — Reading a recent Cuban sci-fi fanzine, I was very much surprised to find out that people referred to as frikis (or friquis) are the ones who take an interest in (and, in some cases, become obsessed with) science fiction, fantasy, Manga comics, anime, videogames and comic books in general, and that there is even a “Friki Pride Day” in Cuba, celebrated every May 25th through different activities, commemorating the date in which George Lucas’ Star Wars was first released. The date also coincides with “Towel Day,” a tribute to Douglas Adams, the author of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

I had a look i my old, offline Wikipedia and came to the conclusion that that is the Spanish concept of “friki.”

This definition of the term is close to what, in Russia, is known as a “hipster of the social network Leprosorium,” one of the groups that impelled the Muscovite demonstrations staged in the winter of 2011 and 2012 during the protests against Putin’s government, sparked off by an alleged act of electoral fraud during Russia’s legislative elections.

But, in Cuba, the term “friki” is used to describe a different kind of youth!

Down here, the word “friki” is commonly used to describe someone who listens to rock music – generally heavy rock, that is to say, the different modalities of heavy metal – and can be identified by their long hair, black clothing and, many a time, the ideological and spiritual preference for beliefs people generally associate with the use of psychedelic drugs and “Satanism” (with or without quotation marks).

Even reggaeton songs make use of the word “friki” in the sense of a “rock aficionado” (contrasting these to “mikis” and “repas”, other urban youth cultures).

In 1989, a girl who was into rock and roll told me that she thought the word “friki” came from “free kiss”, an etymological account different from the classic one, which derives it from the English word “freak.”

I later found out that, in the 70s, “frikis” in Havana were not necessarily rock-and-roll fans, but people who attended folk music (trova) get-togethers and were, to a certain extent, social outcasts (I hear they ate left-overs at restaurants). This information comes from third parties, I have no way of knowing whether it’s true or not. Perhaps those “frikis” of the 1970s had more to do with hippies, I don’t know…

At any rate, in the 90s, the term came to mean those young people who almost always wore black, listened to heavy metal and gathered at the Patio de Maria (“Maria’s Backyard, a cultural institution that promoted rock at the time) and at G street, in Vedado.

It would seem another sub-culture is seeking to appropriate the term for itself. Will the concept of “friki” change?

It would be alright, provided the history behind this is clear to us (many testimonies can be gathered in this connection), and freedom of expression and organization against all types of censorship and monopolization is promoted.

Dimitri Prieto-Samsonov

Dmitri Prieto-Samsonov: I define myself as being either Cuban-Russian or Russian-Cuban, indiscriminately. I was born in Moscow in 1972 of a Russian mother and a Cuban father. I lived in the USSR until I was 13, although I was already familiar with Cuba-- where we would take our vacation almost every year. I currently live on the fifth floor of an apartment building in Santa Cruz del Norte, near the sea. I’ve studied biochemistry and law in Havana and anthropology in London. I’ve written about molecular biology, philosophy and anarchism, although I enjoy reading more than writing. I am currently teaching in the Agrarian University of Havana. I believe in God and in the possibility of a free society. Together with other people, that’s what we’re into: breaking down walls and routines.

2 thoughts on “Who Are Cuba’s “Frikis”?

  • October 14, 2014 at 11:36 am
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    My daughter here in Delaware went through this same stage of heavy rock, wearing black, manga comic books, anime, etc. She was between 15-20 during this period.
    Now that she’s 21, she’s more “normal” and attending the university. She still likes to wear black on occasion, but it’s in a more fashionable sense and there’s no longer the heavy make-up and mascara that she used wear during this special era when I kept telling her that she looked like a raccoon. I never heard of the term “friki,” but it makes sense in the classical definition. As a parent, I saw her as being somewhat freaky! The fact that this sort of “teen behavior” is also happening in Cuba is interesting and it shows that Cubans are not as isolated as we in the U.S. think. Cubans may have little access to the Internet, but somehow this young generation seems to be communicating more extensively than I thought particularly since I would guess that Cuban teens cannot easily download all this manga which is widely available free of charge on the Internet.

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