14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 5 April 2017 — Social stereotypes have their moment. In the Cuba of the 50s, being baptized, making one’s first communion, or being married in the church, were the rites of passage that identified “decent” people. To have a diploma, a university degree, or belong to a Masonic lodge, opened many doors; behaving with urbanity at the table or knowing how to knot a tie denoted good taste and distinction.
A decade later, the important thing was to have participated in the people’s harvests, to have walked 66 kilometers, climbed the five peaks, attended the Schools of Revolutionary Instruction and, especially, to have shot the enemy, whether at the Bay of Pigs or in the Escambray. For a young man of 20 who wanted his reputation to be positively valued social, the top prize was to be a militant of the Young Communist Union (UJC).
Parents asked their daughters if their boyfriend “belonged to ‘the youth’” and in schools and workplaces carrying the organization’s ID card was a point of pride, to the point that in some spheres it began to generate concern about the emergence of a phenomenon that some called “revolutionary vanity.”
It is difficult to know the precise moment when young Cubans began to show resistance to being captured by the UJC. Educational institutions and administrations of state enterprises almost forced UJC members to become informers and began using this “organized vanguard” to entrap a covert homosexual, sabotage a religious activity or, as in the 80s, to be part of the mob in repudiation rallies.
Now everything is different. It is no longer possible to identify a militant communist youth by the way they style their hair or the clothes they wear. Boasting about the “merits” one accumulates or heroic tasks performed has irretrievably vanished. In fact, since the return of Cuban troops from Africa in 1991, 25 years have passed and the only opportunity to stand out is getting good grades or exceeding the plan targets at one’s workplace. What today’s parents want to know about the boy who dates their daughter is what business is he engaged in or whether he has a passport with a visa.
When you asked someone between 15 and 30 years if he or she is member of the UJC, the usual response is something like: “Yes, but …” or they raise their eyebrows in a gesture of resignation. Because when a stereotype is past its time, it can be taken as a stigma, or as Cuban-youth speak might say, a corny thing in need of a remake.