Cuba’s Dormitory Neighborhoods

Yenisel Rodríguez Perez

One of Havana’s dormitory neighborhoods.

HAVANA TIMES – Around 15 years ago, hundreds of discos and popular festivities (known as “bonches” in Cuba) were dismantled around the Cuban capital. That authoritarian measure, presented by the regime as a crackdown on juvenile violence and drug use witnessed in those meeting places, gradually turned into a series of absurd prohibitions and restrictions which continue to hold the festive spirit of the neighborhoods captive.

In this way, young people are today denied the possibility of rescuing the positive experiences of the 1990s, when students managed much of the entertainment and parties in their neighborhoods and educational environments on their own.

The disco culture and “pop” aesthetic in vogue around the world during the 1990s reached Cuba that same decade. This influence would have a profound effect on the empowerment of young people that the country had been witnessing some time before.

It spelled a break with the activities organized by young people before, which had taken shape under the tutelage and auspices of the country’s authoritarian regime. Assuming a distance from political indoctrination and top-down cultural policy schemes, this generation took on a leading role at base level that proved too explosive for the regime.

At the end of the 1990s, Cuba had achieved a degree of economic stability and, with this, the country’s official cultural policy (traditionally anti-popular) gained strength once again. The neighborhood-village, brimming with self-managed recreational initiatives, was again transformed into a dormitory suburb, condemned to withdrawal into the space of the home and reclusive entertainment at street corners.

The festive gregariousness of discos, nightclubs and bonches was transformed into exclusivist forms of consumption, prohibitive prices and locales distant from the city’s outskirts – a form of entertainment aimed at international tourism and Cubans with hard currency, individualistic and cut off from the living environment of the young, politically viable and free from any anti-establishment practices.

Many people from that generation treasure an anthology of the very successful music played at discos at the time. They return to it, intoxicated by a tenacious nostalgia and eager to relive those moments. They gather – many a time accompanied by their children, nephews and even grandchildren – to hatch, in their homes, the festive spirit of the neighborhood they enjoyed as teenagers, and which remains in captivity to this day.

2 thoughts on “Cuba’s Dormitory Neighborhoods

  • It serves to make the statue of John Lennon even more ridiculous. Initially he was a reflection of the bourgeoise and banned, then he was recognised as a revolutionary and praise lauded upon him. There is a recognisable mental condition!

  • Thank you for this post. I did not know this about Cuban history. My wife remembers a neighborhood disco near her home in Guantanamo that was shut down in 1999. Fidel Castro as “DJ-in-chief”? How paranoid do you have to be that you can’t even trust the people to entertain themselves?

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