The ‘New Man’ Travels Havana on a Skateboard

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 1 March 2018 — Yojany Pérez, known as Mamerto, has afro style braids, piercings and likes extreme sports. He works fixing air conditioners and also has his own business making candy, which he delivers around Havana at top speed on his skateboard, wearing a T-shirt with the word ‘Libertad’ on it.

Mamerto, 28, is the star of Havana Skateboard Days, a feature film that portrays the new generation of teenagers and young Cubans living in a country outside official dogmas.

“When I skate it is like escaping from problems, from society, from all this,” says Pérez. Skating keeps you stable, “without losing your sanity.” Throughout the three years portrayed in the documentary, Mamerto watches Fernando, Raciel and Yoan, his racing partners, emigrate to the United States. “You’re left alone, fucking hell,” he laments.

Kristofer Ríos, director of the documentary along with Julian Moura-Busquets, chooses as the scenario the impact of the thawing of relations between Washington and Havana on 17 December 2014, and the death of former Cuban leader Fidel Castro in 2016.

The young people who appear in the film denounce the absence of real changes in the country for the new generations, such as the lack of interest on the part of the Cuban Sports Institute (INDER) with regards to the island’s skaterboarders.

Skateboarding began to be considered an Olympic sport in 2016 and is expected to be a part of the competition for the first time at the Tokyo Games in 2020. Skaters complain that the Government promotes other sports such as boxing or baseball, but that skateboarding has no official support

The 85-minute film includes scenes showing the frustration of some organizations in the United States that intended to build sites to support the development of skating in Cuba, but whose good intentions were truncated by the bureaucratic obstacles.

“You know the Cuban Adjustment Act, the political problems that exist with the Government of the United States, especially among the Miami community and its great strength due to the blockade,” responds Fidel Bonilla, an INDER representative, when an American proposes to build a skate park in Havana.

René González, one of the five spies imprisoned in the US who has been declared a national hero by the National Assembly of People’s Power, presided over the Festival on Wheels, demonstrating that politicization reaches even the first step taken to consolidate a national skateboarding  movement .

The documentary also highlights the discreet work of groups like Amigo Skate, an American association that takes dozens of skateboards to the Island every year, many times, clandestinely, to support the local movement. In Cuba there are no shops where you can buy skateboards of equipment for skateboarding.

“We do the competitions without permission and we bring the things in hidden, as if we were mules,” says Rene Lencour, founder of Amigo Skate, who lives in the United States. Lencour believes that this is not “fair,” although he is happy to see the interaction among Cuban skaters.

In February of this year René Lecour and a group of skaters created, with their own resources, ramps for the practice of skateboarding in an old building in Ciudad Libertad, a former military base turned into a school.

The youth described the leaders of the country as “grandparents” and states without fear before the cameras that the system “no longer represents them.”

The documentary includes the torchlight march, a demonstration by thousands of students commemorating the birth of José Martí headed by Raúl Castro and Nicolás Maduro. “And why do you come?” asks the filmmaker. “I come for the jevas (girls), there’s a ton of girls,” a young skater answers without thinking twice. “All this is fictitious, like in the documentaries of North Korea,” he adds.

These young people who build their own boards with very few resources have something of the spirit of that New Man who Ernesto Guevara and Fidel Castro theorized about, a subject capable of putting the interests of his group before the personal, someone who is generous and selfless.

“Each defeat is one more lesson, a life’s blow,” says Yojany Pérez, who, if he has experience in anything, it is hitting himself trying to make the most unimaginable pirouettes.

Despite the obstacles, he continues to dream of a future for the practice of skateboarding on the island and has created a workshop to create domestic boards and make the movement grow. “If you really want to do something in your country, you have to fight, if the government tells us ‘this can not be done because it is not a Cuban sport,’ we ourselves must be able to sustain ourselves.”


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