By LEONARDO PADURA FUENTES
HAVANA TIMES, March 13 (IPS) – Almost without us having realized it, the first decade of the century is concluding. The quickening race of time -or the sensation of that dizzying pace- doubtlessly has a great deal to do with the acceleration of changing political, social, scientific and even ethical circumstances in which we human beings live.
This age of globalization, criticism, overheating, unpredictability and, above all, ideological imbalance, is a moment in which almost nothing remains too long, and in which for many the strongest belief systems (including political faith) are reduced to the most elementary notions of what might be good and what seems bad.
In this world in change, Cuba has also changed. Although the essence of its political and economic system, its slogans and the islands leaders are the same ones as fifty years ago – with the notable physical absence of Fidel Castro, still present in decision-making and in dictating policies- the dialectic of life is unstoppable. Likewise, many notions and realities have been gradually transforming, for good or bad, in the present and in looking to the future that will inevitably arrive loaded with change.
One of the many concepts that Cuban life has seen transformed is that of the family, at least in terms of how more traditionally and possibly conservatively this is understood on the island.
In a nation so young and still in formation -possessing barely two hundred years of its own identity- the root concept of family was unquestionably one of the cornerstones that long ago established a mode of being, behaving and coming to grips with life in that society.
The Cuban family was for decades a nucleus for the conservation and transmission of values; a unit that, amid all the changes, attempted to preserve feelings of belonging, fraternity, respect and order.
The revolutionary process begun in 1959, and its later institutionalization, introduced important changes in the traditional structure of the Cuban family. The most decisive of these had to do with the social and economic ascent of women – a change that altered their role in the context of the clan.
As a result of those needed changes, generated in the 1960s, women began to play a varied role in the family, with new tasks and responsibilities. Because of this, it is now common to see families headed by single women, families in which the woman is the economically most solvent element and even lesbian couples that share a roof, budget and destiny, and who constitute a family.
Ever-extending realities – such as this new socio-economic position of the woman; the proliferation of consensual unions, to the detriment of traditional marriages; and even the demand for the recognition of the family bond, advocated by homosexual couples- have pointed to the increasingly commented upon need to introduce changes in the Family Code approved in Cuba in the 1970s.
However, the most painful and burdensome alteration that the Cuban family has suffered has been related to physical and intellectual atomization. This has been due to directly economic realities (the lack of resources), and those of an even more complex nature (as in the case of the Cuban diaspora, where political factors have also had an impact). Over the past 20 years, this change in the family has acquired an oppressive presence throughout the country.
The impossibility of preserving customs -whereby, for example, the family gathered around a table, or the considerable difficulty in moving from one place to another in the country, and even within a single city- has contributed to the distancing of the younger generation of Cubans and to disintegrating the family entity.
Insufficient living space and the absence of new housing, on the other hand, while having contributed to sustaining obligatory physical proximity, has often atrophied normal family growth and development, as well as introducing countless sources of friction. Added to these elements, the lack of a masculine-paternal model (in families separated by divorce or by the emotional estrangement of the parents) alters the balance that, up to now, was considered more natural for children.
Cubans families in the diaspora, on the other hand, which until the 1970s were characterized by the migration of the entire nucleus (at least that was the intention of the majority), began to change in character starting with the Mariel exodus (1980). A new typology was defined in their emigration from the 1990s on.
Since that time, a variant was introduced with force. Instead of the parents emigrating first, to later claim their children, as occurred especially in the 1960s, now it is the children who rush to emigrate in search of their own horizons.
Often this option is pursued without the least intention of bringing or sending for their parents – who are frequently not interested in being uprooted, too old for the undertaking, or not willing to run the risks of that decision.
This different attitude, now predominant in these times in which many professional youth have left Cuba and numbers of young women have married foreigners, has slowly introduced an important mutation in many Cuban families.
These households have witnessed a break in their relations of continuity and, accompanying it, the transmission of values, customs and domestic cultures that are always acquired in the family home. With respect to adults, this has left them alone and uncertain of the future.
For a country that is aging quickly, and whose population has even decreased in recent years, this new reality of weakened or definitively broken family ties will acquire increasing social and cultural weight.
The generation of those who today are between 45 and 60 and whose children have left the country has a future quite different from that of their parents. Meanwhile, the grandchildren of those Cubans in the diaspora will have increasingly marginalized relationships with the country of their grandparents and parents, and, in many cases, they will no longer see it as their own.
In this way, the Cuban family is facing the challenges of post-modernity, economic crisis, women’s equality, globalization, cultural superseding and the diaspora. These elements, highly diverse in nature, are sufficient to dumbfound and daze this indispensable nucleus of society: the family.