By Yusimi Rodriguez (photos: Caridad)
HAVANA TIMES — The world will lose a generation if youth unemployment is not reversed. That was the title of a Prensa Latina article published on June 15 in the official Granma newspaper.
“But what about our young generation here in Cuba?” I thought. Why do I feel as if we too are becoming lost?
Four years ago I saw the documentary El telon de azucar (The Sugar Curtain), by the Chilean director Camila Guzman (who’s described as a Cuban at heart). The film begins at an elementary school in Cuba in the 1970s and shows the life of the young ‘Pioneers’ of that time.
The kids featured are now slightly older than I am, but they’re shown from that time wearing scarfs and berets, and shouting in unison “We will be like Che,” just like I did. They were the “shapers of the future,” at least until the ‘90s came and the Special Period fell on them like a brick wall.
The director interviews several young people, who are now pushing 40, and we see what became of that glorious future they were building: an accumulation of deficiencies and disappointments.
Several of those interviewed don’t live in Cuba.
On my block there were fourteen of us children who were born between 1972 and 1980. We used to play together, do joint Pioneer guard duty, and go to all the neighborhood CDR parties.
There are only three of us left here now. The rest live abroad.
Julio wasn’t the first one to leave, but he was the first to try. He shoved off for the sea lots of times in boats he made himself, but they would always pick him up and throw him in jail, where he would spend a little time before trying the same thing again.
That was during the ‘80s, the golden age of this country. I’ve always wondered what could have been so bad to make Julio risk his life by leaving. In any case, he succeeded in the ‘90s.
The others disappeared gradually, just like the friends I made in junior high, high school and in college.
The Granma article that I mentioned cites data from the International Labor Organization (ILO), according to which there are 75 million unemployed people in the world – 4 million more than in 2007.
Does that figure include those Cubans who have become “available”?
In 2007, I was among the lucky ones with a job. My salary allowed me to purchase rationed goods (which last about two weeks), the food needed to survive the rest of the month, and to pay for public transportation.
What could I hope for here in Cuba? The wife of a friend responded, “To continue sacrificing yourself for your country.”
This woman had participated in the literacy campaign, planted and picked coffee, and donated countless volunteer hours to the “revolution.”
Five years later, I’m still one of the lucky ones with a job. They pay me enough to buy fewer things, since many products are no longer subsidized and therefore cost more. That woman retired but she still works (a retirement check isn’t enough to survive on).
I respect her, but not all of us are content with that being our future. Some chose to leave, others didn’t have the opportunity or preferred to stay and watch the sinking ship dragging us down with it – or they try to change things.
No looking back
I always wonder what the life of an immigrant must be like. We have been second class citizens in our own country for so long — watching the privileges enjoyed by foreigners — making us think it’s an advantage to be from somewhere else.
One interviewee who immigrated to Spain but came back said, “Immigrants stop being from the place they left, but they never belong to where they immigrated.”
A year ago I ran into an old classmate from elementary school who was here visiting Cuba (he lives in Holland now). As he put it, “The good thing about returning to Cuba when you’re feeling nostalgic, is that you can see how poorly everything functions here, then you remember why you left, and you leave without looking back.”
What I’m sure is that we’re fortunate, those of us who stayed and those who left. At least we can talk about it. The people who were really screwed were the ones who left but never made it – the generations of Cubans missing at sea…the generations of Cubans crying for missing relatives at sea.
Many weren’t without jobs here. What they lacked was the security to advance toward something, to work for something. We still need those things.
The world will lose a generation if youth unemployment is not reversed.
What has to be changed in Cuba so we don’t continue losing generations here?
…so they don’t continue leaving the country at any price?
…so we feel it’s possible for us to build our future in our own land?