The Conversations and Aspirations of Many Cuban Students / Ivan Garcia

cuba-estudiantes-de-secundaria-_mn-620x330Ivan Garcia, 13 March 2015 — For a group of sixth grade students at the elementary school named after Juan Oscar Alvarado — a 19-year-old underground fighter, assassinated in 1958 in a house in the Sevillano neighborhood where they hid arms — located in that peaceful Havana neighborhood, their plans for the future are far from Cuba.

For them, the country is a disposable object to be thrown out when it is no longer useful. During recess, at ten in the morning, several girls gathered in the school’s courtyard to have a snack.

While snacking, they chat idly about fashion, material aspirations and what happened in the day’s Brazilian soap opera. Although dressed in their ugly uniforms with burgundy skirts and white shirts, designed by a distasteful dressmaker, when you look at their feet you see Nikes, Adidas, New Balance, Converse or Reebok.

They talk about their shoes, brands and prices. “My mom bought me a part of Adidas tennies at a boutique in Miramar that cost 91 chavitos (CUCs),” said one girl proudly. Another talked about where her family was thinking of going in the symmer “We still haven’t decided if we’re going to Cayo Coco or Varadero.”

Another group, males and female, showed off their portable videogames and talked about makes and computer systems. “Android is superior to Windows. Apple is the best, neither HP nor ASUS can touch it in quality,” said a boy.

Under a tree, trying to shelter from the sun, several students discuss the European football leagues. “Madrid has won ten European Cups, Barcelona doesn’t come close. CR7 is better than Messi, he makes header goals, with and without both legs. Also he’s faster and stronger,” says one.

“You’re wrong. Barça plays the best football in history. Messi has a better goal average than Cristiano Ronaldo and four “Botas de Oro” to Cristiano’s three,” ripostes another, upset. The controversy rises in pitch and threatens to come to blows. A teacher intervenes and sends them back to the classroom.

Melisa, a sixth-grader, says that “to emigrate or study abroad is a fixed theme in my classroom. To dream of being a millionaire, pulling out all the stops and having an Audi or a Ferrari. Few know the history of Cuba, of Carlos Manuel Cespedes and the Revolutionary Party founded by Marti. Their aspiration is to leave Cuba and reunite with their relatives who live in Miami or Madrid.

The principal and a teacher at Juan Oscar Alvarado tries to stop the differences. “We tell the parents to be careful that their children don’t bring flashy backpacks or shoes. This creates an inferiority complex in other kids. Students whose parents have few resources and bring bread with oil or a croquette for snack. They have cheap tennies and sometimes they’re made fun of.”

The differences in the purchasing power of some families stimulate privilege and fraud among the teachers. “There are students who bring the teachers good snacks. Others, their parents take them lunch or give them expensive gifts. It’s a way to buy them, so they’ll give their children good grades on tests,” says an Education official in the municipality of 10 de Octubre.

One could think these student conversations are an isolate phenomenon and usually happen in areas that are middle class and higher, like Sevillano, Casino Deportivo, Víbora Park, Fontanar, Nuevo Vedado, Vedado and Miramar.

But if you tour the elementary, junior high and high schools in the poor neighborhoods of Centro Habana and Habana Vieja,the conversations and aspirations are very similar.

“It’s the fashion, talking about what we have. In the classrooms they stuff us full of slogans and tell history in their way. But for us, it goes in one ear and out the other. What it’s about is a struggle for a baro (money) to be able to go to a good nightclub or buy brand name clothes. Almost everyone in my school wants to leave Cuba,” says a high school student in the colonial area of the city.

Something it going on. It’s well-known that due to the quality slump in education, especially because of the low teacher salaries, the level of instruction has gaps. “We have students with deficiencies in math, spelling and reading. Reading is no longer a pastime. They prefer reggaeton, TV shows and talking about life in capitalism,” says a high school teacher.

Nor do university graduates escape the desire to emigrate. “Or at least to get a scholarship to do a master’s or doctorate in a first world university. If you can’t leave, because you don’t have money or family abroad, you fight for a job abroad,” says Yasniel outside the Canadian embassy, where he want to deliver a required document, with the hope of being chosen for one of five thousand skilled jobs offered by that nation.

With that future in sight, parents contribute by paying monthly, in many cases an amount that represents half their salary, so their children can learn good English.

On 14 January 2013, migratory reform approved by Raul Castro went into effect. The Cuban Department of Immigration and Foreigners still has not reported the number of citizens who have left the country, temporarily or permanently, in those two years.

The latest available data are from 2013, when 184,787 people traveled to the United States, Spain, Italy, France, Germany, Mexico, Panama and Ecuador, among other countries. As of November 30, 2013, 55.2% had not returned and about 3,300 Cubans had requested to return to live in their homeland. Unofficially it is known that most travelers are young and professional.

Meanwhile, a line of hopeful teenagers is already forming in the rear. It’s like a Mariel Boatlift, but legal.

Photo: Three junior high students in Habana Vieja. Taken from the blog Blondie NY

13 March 2015