How young people are changing Cuba's future

Posted: 14-May-16 16:11

For travellers hoping to experience the Cuba of the old days with its rich culture and traditions, a change is already underway. Spurred in part by more tourists and attention from around the globe, Cuba's younger generation is fuelling a change from within, from the influx of once taboo businesses like tattoo parlours in Cuba to new start-ups focused on boosting everything from fashion to technology.

How young people are changing Cuba's future

As Cubans of all ages ponder what the future holds for the island nation, the younger generation appears to be on the brink of leading the country toward an exciting new future. In a recent article published by The Guardian, writer Will Coldwell discusses the role millennials are playing right now in shaping the direction of Cuba socially, economically and culturally.

In his writing, Coldwell introduces readers to several young Cubans making a mark on their fellow citizens. One of them is a designer named Idania del Rio. He describes her shop as barely a year old, and the country’s first independent design outlet. Selling bags, t-shirts and posters, mostly designed by young Cuban women, Rio even caught the attention of President Obama, looking for some t-shirts for his daughters during his historic visit to the country in March.

Rio’s shop, Clandestina, is just one of several new businesses and start-ups the author points to as proof of Cuba’s emerging young businessmen and women that are taking advantage of a sort of shift from the old ways. While Rio describes a new energy and enthusiasm among young Cubans, Coldwell writes that he finds the “spirit” in other places too, like La Marca tattoo parlour.

The tatoo shop opened just last year, sharing its home with venue space and an art gallery, but is in sharp contrast to the tattoo artists that used to operate underground from their own homes. Roadies for the Rolling Stones stopped in for tattoos at La Marca when the iconic music group played a free concert recently to hundreds of thousands of Cubans. While supplies are still difficult to find and there’s no official licensing for tattoo artists in Cuba, owner Leo Canosa tells Coldwell they operate in a sort of grey area of the law.

“It’s not legal, but it’s not illegal either, it’s a limbo.”

Canosa follows this up by showing the author his personal collection of art books, which he allows others to read and make copies of at his shop. In this way, Coldwell writes, he is encouraging other Cuban artists.

The next example the writer gives of an emerging Cuba is Vistar, the country’s first independent culture magazine, now two years old. While he points out that Cuba does not allow independent publications, the Cuban government appears to be tolerating the online publication for now.

It is here that Coldwell introduces readers to a Vistar employee, Susu Salim, who tells him about how numerous new nightclubs have opened, welcoming local teenagers and even American celebrities like Katy Perry. Salim tells the writer that unlike the older generation of Cubans her generation is focused on their own creative dreams:

“We want to put our art into something we believe in and make money from that, not just do whatever job the government gives us.”

The article also gives the example of start-ups like new dining app A La Mesa (a.k.a. sit at the table). Launched in the latter part of 2015, the app helps direct visitors to the best Cuban restaurants. Because the Internet is not widely available in Cuba yet, it works offline. The author suggests downloading it before you travel to Cuba.

Coldwell next delves into Cuban music and Dayme Arocena, an emerging local musician who is blending traditional sounds with the influence of American jazz. He also makes mention of Manana, an upcoming musical festival highlighting a new type of music. While discussing with another artist the changing music scene, he writes about an obstacle the country still faces when the power suddenly goes out in the building where they are talking.

Finally, the author ends the article describing the art venue of Fabrica del Arte Cubano, an old factory that now houses a club, restaurant, cinema, theatre, art galleries and concert spaces. While the author points out the businesses inside the building are privately owned, the building itself is state-owned and extremely popular with visitors.

It is here that Coldwell proclaims that while young Cubans want to experience more freedom, they are also proud of their heritage and spirit, learning how to succeed in the future while their country welcomes a massive spike in the number of new foreign visitors, particularly Americans.


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