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Generation Y is a Blog inspired by people like
me, with names that start with or contain a "Y". Born in Cuba in the
'70s and '80s, marked by schools in the countryside, Russian cartoons,
illegal emigration and frustration. So I invite, especially, Yanisleidi,
Yoandri, YusimĂ, Yuniesky and others who carry their "Y's" to read me
and to write to me.
There is no way to look at my son and not predict that in some years he will be climbing aboard a raft to go to Florida or married to a foreigner intending to leave Cuba. Just looking at him I realize that he will, at all costs, try to leave behind this piece of land to which he is tied by the stubbornness of his parents and by the migratory absurdity that prevents him from traveling. Though he hardly knows it, today he is the emigrantâ€™s fledgling that some day will spread his wings and fly far from here. An exileâ€™s embryo, who only needs to know what will be the destination of his pilgrimage.
What would I love more than that he would stay. But I do not have a single convincing argument to tell him not to leave. What reason could I argue? What optimistic prognostication would be adequate to convince him? Will there be any hint of change to make him abandon his idea? If I myself am not so sure he should stay here, how should I attempt to have him put down roots in a country where so few can bear fruit.
After Raul Castroâ€™s latest speech before the National Assembly, with its â€śshadowâ€ť of continuity, its aura of â€śmore of the same,â€ť with its dull oratory of times gone by, I only have the urge to beâ€”for my sonâ€”oar, sail, visa, wingâ€¦ on the road to his early escape.
The red curtain in the background, the presidential table attached in the Soviet-style, and the leader in the center barely letting those seated in the other armchairs speak. This is how I remember the Cuban Communist Party congresses which had just begun to be held in 1975, the year I was born. After the fourth, held in 1991, the next had to be delayed, in part because material shortages kept them from bringing together, housing and feeding so many delegates. But I always believed that these deferrals revealed the inconsistency of what was written in Article 5 of the Cuban Constitution: â€śthe Party (â€¦) is the superior leading force of the society and the State.â€ť The delay in establishing directives and plans bore witness that the country was governed in another way: more personal, more reduced to the will of one man.
Thus, the new postponement of the Sixth Party Congress doesnâ€™t surprise me, though it is already twelve years since the last one. After all, dynasties need neither the ideologies nor the consensus of the members of an organization with principles and statutes, much less do they need to conform to the script drawn up for a party meeting. To improvise, send down orders from above, call on discipline and control, announce platitudes of the sort, â€śit is necessary to work the land,â€ť and to continue announcing deadlines that are not met, does not require getting together, reaching agreements, nor finding out how to comply with popular demands.
Some day the history of our last decades will have to be told through the Brazilian soap operas that have played across the small screen. We will hear specialists establishing parallels between the quantity of tears spilled in front of the TV and the degree of resignation or rebelliousness embraced in real life. Another area for study will be the hope created in us by some characterâ€”from the television soap operasâ€”who managed to leave misery behind and realize their dreams.
This likely analysis will have to include, without a doubt, the stormy drama of The Slave Isaura. This mixed-race woman who escaped from a cruel master paralyzed our country to the point that on one occasion the passengers of a train refused to board, staying in the station while the final episode aired. It even served us as a source of analogies between the slaveâ€™s mistress who refused to give her servant freedom and those who acted like our masters, controlling everything. In these same years my motherâ€™s friends divorced en masse, guided by the independent character of MalĂş, who raised a daughter alone and didnâ€™t wear a bra.
Then came 1994 and the “maleconazo“* forced the government to accept certain economic openings, which materialized as rooms for rent, private taxis, and private restaurants. At that time we had the plot of a production from Rio de Janeiro that directly influenced the naming of these new circumstances. Cubans baptized restaurants run by common people â€śpaladars,â€ť or palates, after the food company created by the protagonist of the show Vale todo. The story of the poor mother who sold food on the beach and ended up founding a large consortium seemed to us like that of the newly emerging â€śself-employed,â€ť who fixed up the living room of their house to offer dishes that had been extinct for decades.
Then things started to get complicated and we saw serials where farmers were reclaiming their land, fifty-year-old women made plans for the future, and reporters from an independent newspaper managed to attract more readers. The scripts of these dramas have ended up beingâ€”on this Islandâ€”the keys to interpreting our reality, comparing it with others, and critiquing it. Thus, three days a week, I sit in front of the television to read between the lines of the conflicts that surround each actor, because from them arise much of the attitudes that my countrymen will adopt the following morning. They will have more hopes or more patience, in part â€śthanks toâ€ť or â€śas the fault ofâ€ť these soap operas that come to us from the south.
Maleconazo: A spontaneous riotÂ on August 5, 1994, along Havanaâ€™s waterfront boulevard and seawall.
At night a few red flashes lit up a bit of the MalecĂłn, just where the guardsâ€™ whistles warned that no one could sit. The United States Interest Section had a lighted news ticker, which few managed to read, to transmit news items, articles about the Declaration of Human Rights, and political messages. A forest of flags in front of it prevented anyone of human height from seeing the scrolling letters slide past. With their constant beat, the enormous fabric flags â€ścontributedâ€ť a noise to the neighborhood that made it difficult to sleep in the nearest buildings.
Although the official version says that the 138 flagpoles are there to remember the victims of terrorism, we all know that they accomplish the mission of covering, almost entirely, the statements appearing in the windows of the Interest Section. The screen on one side, and the flags on the other, were the visible symbol of the confrontation between the two governments, whose evolution is still very difficult to predict. To vary the repetitive path of the conflict, some days ago the Americans deactivated the luminous notice board that projected over the street. A little before, the Cuban side had also removed the billboards, with their mocking and insulting tone, that had been located on the sidewalk in front.
The question many of us have is what will happen now with the beating pieces of fabric if there are no phrases for them to cover up. The enormous costs of replacing the material damaged by the wind and maintaining the masts, strongly attacked by the saltwater, makes no sense if there are no words on the other side. Removing the banners will be gesture that will come about a little later, but in the end it will happen. Some day I will walk along the coastal avenue of my city and nothing will interrupt the union of the two blues made by the sea and sky.
If they have already disconnected the digital ticker with its messages, then itâ€™s time, also, to lower the flags intended to hide it.
Years ago I turned my back on the academic and intellectual world, tired of seeing, so frequently, the masks covering the faces of my teachers and fellow students.Â Today begins my journey back to the university campus, bearing in hand the special citation in the Maria Moors Cabot Journalism prizes with which Iâ€™ve been honored by Columbia University.Â An award that Iâ€™ve received forâ€”among other thingsâ€”refusal to take part in this â€ścultivatedâ€ť complicity that I was so frustrated to discover on the part of Cuban letters.
Escaping from a bookish erudition detached from reality, I went to the opposite extreme: that of circuitry and binary code.Â There are roads, however, that lead us always to the same place and that can make a renegade philologist re-embrace the habits of the academy.Â Particularly, if this return to the world of gowns and diplomas happened for having behaved as a free person in cyberspace.
I think I will use the prestige and protection that the Cabot Prize brings with it to continue to grow the Cuban blogosphere.Â The alternative journey that unites us every week has reached a point where it must become an authentic blogger academy.Â As I donâ€™t plan to wait to be allowed to open a school of digital journalism in order to realize this project, I will begin it with bureaucratic and legal formality.Â The distinction that I have received today can contribute to the birth of a new kind of instruction here, one without ideological conditions, and without those ugly costumes which at one time made me distance myself from the academic world.
RaĂşl Castroâ€™s words on July 26, 2007* were christened by the population as the â€śmilk speechâ€ť because of his call to increase dairy production.Â In the next one, which he made a year later, he aimed lower and only promised to solve the water problems in the province of Santiago de Cuba.Â Everything seems to indicate that his address from this Sunday will be remembered for the opening lines, â€śIâ€™m sure that none of you can see me, maybe you will see a shadow; thatâ€™s me.â€ť
The general made no notable announcements, nor did he allude to the olive branch he once said he was willing to extend to the American administration.Â Nor did he detail future projects, nor measures for ending the crisis, much less confirm whether the Communist Party Sixth Congress will be held.Â He merely limited himself to informing us about the upcoming meetings of government bodies where, it seems, some decisions will be made. The HolguĂn sun found a place full of white and red T-shirts, presided over by an ancient orator without much to say.Â The applause lacked enthusiasm and through my television screen I noted the shared desire to finish, as soon as possible, with the formalities of the celebration.
On returning home, the thousands present at this event will have little to say, as it wasnâ€™t a trick of the lighting that made a shadow of someone who never shone with his own spark.Â This was the speech of the â€śshadowâ€ť because light is something the authoritarians cannot tame, something that disobeys military uniforms. RaĂşl Castro is right: we can no longer see him, because the twilight he represents lacks, as it has for a long time, any kind of luminosity.
July 26 is the anniversary of the 1953 assault on the Moncada Barracks in Santiago de Cuba led by Fidel Castro.Â This event, a failure at the time which resulted in the deaths of many of the rebels and the imprisonment of Fidel and others, is considered the â€śbirthâ€ť of the Cuban Revolution.
The idea of combining study with work in high schools looked very good on paper. It had the air of an immortal future in the office where they turned it into a ministerial order. But reality, stubborn as always, had its own interpretation of the schools in the countryside. The â€śclayâ€ť meant to be formed in the love of the furrow, was made up of adolescents far awayâ€”for the first timeâ€”from parental control, who found housing conditions and food very different from their expectations.
I, who should have been the â€śnew manâ€ť and who barely could have become a â€śgood manâ€ť, was trained in one of these schools in the Havanan municipality of Alquizar. I was fourteen and left with a corneal infection, a liver deficiency and the toughness that is acquired when one has seen too much. When matriculating, I still believed the stories of work-study; at leaving, I knew that many of my fellow students had had to exchange sex for good grades or show superior performance in agricultural production. The small lettuce plants I weeded every afternoon had their counterpart in a hostel where the priorities were bullying, lack of respect for privacy and the harsh law of survival of the fittest.
It was precisely one of those afternoons, after three days without water and with the repetitive menu of rice and cabbage, that I swore to myself that my children would never go to a high school in the country. I did this with the unsentimental adolescent realism that, in those years, calms us and leaves us knowing the impossibility of fulfilling certain promises. So I accustomed myself to the idea of having to load bags of food for Teo when he was away at school, of hearing that they stole his shoes, they threatened him in the shower or that one of the bigger ones took his food. All these images, that I had lived, returned when I thought about the boarding schools.
Fortunately, the experiment seems to be ending. The lack of productivity, the spread of diseases, the damage to ethical values and the low academic standards have discredited this method of education. After years of financial losses, with the students consuming more than they manage to extract from the land, our authorities have become convinced that the best place for a young person is at the side of his parents. They have announced the coming end of the schools but without the public apologies to those of us who were guinea pigs for an experiment that failed; to those of us who left our dreams and our health in the high schools in the countryside.
A Generation Y reader sent me a piece of the Berlin Wall. The fragment of concrete has come to me, a person also surrounded by certain limits, not less severe for being intangible. The stone painted with remnants of graffiti suggests to me an impossible collection of what has contributed to the separation of Cubans. According to a Latin American writer it would be a list of â€śthe things, all the thingsâ€ť that have intensified the division and tension among those of us who inhabit this Island.
You could put in this particular collection of objects a stretch of the wire fence that once surrounded the Military Units to Aid Production (UMAP*); a shard from the nuclear missiles* placed on our land which brought all of us to the verge of disappearing; one of those pages where millions signedâ€”without having the option of marking â€śnoâ€ťâ€”that socialism would be irrevocable*; and a sliver from one of the clubs that cracked heads on Havanaâ€™s MalecĂłn on August 5, 1994*. The display of samples would not be complete if I didnâ€™t add a shell from the eggs thrown during the Mariel Boat Lift and some millimeters of ink from the reports and denunciations that have abounded in recent years. There would not be a museum capable of also housing the beings and situations that have acted like a great barrier of brick and cement among us.
Each Cuban could create his own repertoire of the walls that still surround us. What seems more difficult is to draw up the list of what unites us, of the possible hammers and picks with which we tear down the walls that remain. For that reason the gift of this frequent commentator has made me happy because I have the impression that our barriers and divisions will alsoâ€”one dayâ€”be pieces valued only by the collectors of bygone things.
Please use your search engine to find more information on these events. Briefly: Military Units to Aid Production were forced labor camps. Among those incarcerated there were homosexuals and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Nuclear Missiles: Placed by the Soviet Union in Cuba in October 1962. Socialism irrevocable petition: In 2002 the Cuban constitution was changed to make socialism “irrevocable”, following the distribution of a petition which 8-9 million Cubans reportedly signed calling for the change. The petition was launched in response to the Varela Project, which reportedly collected 11,000 signatures asking for a referendum on individual rights such as free speech. MalecĂłn on August 5, 1994: A spontaneous riot along Havana’s waterfront boulevard and seawall.
A store on Neptune Street closed yesterday so they wouldnâ€™t have to turn on the air conditioner after exceeding the strict plan of kilowatts consumed. In a five-star hotel they tell the tourists theyâ€™re repairing the air conditioner but in reality they turn it off so the meter wonâ€™t run so fast. In both places the employees breathe the hot stuffy air while few customers venture into the large market to buy, or remain in the lobby of the luxurious accommodation.
Fans appear everywhere in a savings plan that is costing the country a figure the press doesnâ€™t publish. The housewives avoid submerging themselves in the sticky atmosphere of the convertible peso stores; those wanting to make a deposit escape after half an hour inside the windowless bank; coffee shops see their sales decline; private money changers are having a heyday because the state currency exchange offices (CADECAS) close midday; and in the movie theaters one doesn’t know whether to scream at the monster who wants to devour the protagonist or at the unbearable heat.
Obviously these measures originated in some office air-conditioned by â€śup thereâ€ť; they occurred to those who, at three in the afternoon, didnâ€™t have to wait for a document in a place where more than twenty people were crowded together, sweating. I would like to throw out a proposal to the architects of this program, that they extend the cuts to certain untouchable sites where the thermometer still shows less than 25 degrees Celsius. It would be good, for example, to ask the members of the National Assembly, who are meeting on August 1st, to travel to their meeting on public transport so as not to waste fuel on their chartered bus. They should, keeping with the electrical restrictions we all live with, deliberate by the light of candles, drink warm soft drinks at the break, and limit their session to only a couple of hours, to avoid the costs of using the microphones and the TV transmitters. The unanimous approval and frantic applause which characterizes all their actions donâ€™t require much meeting time, nor the enjoyment of relaxing air conditioning.