Within Cuban society, especially among the younger generations, there are latent tendencies to apathy and lack of motivation. These are triggers for the demolition of life projects and the destruction of personal futures, both material and spiritual.
By: Javier Gómez Lastra
March 13, 2015
As usual, Juan Carlos, Jorge and Rachel wake up late in the morning –at noon or in the afternoon perhaps– because they normally stay up late between dominoes, music and drinks; celebrating who knows what, along with other neighborhood friends.
Nothing brings them out of their daily routine linked to leisure. Neither study nor the need to feel useful in a job goes through the minds of these three young people, used to laziness.
They are full of needs. Living in a small room on the verge of collapse located in the neighborhood of Luyanó, they survive in the most precarious conditions in the company of their mother: a nurse with many years of experience but devoid of motivation.
Nevertheless, the main shortcoming of these teenagers is the lack of accurate guidance in their lives.
Juan Carlos, the firstborn, has been waiting for two years for the possible “claim” from his father that “would put him on board a plane to go north”; Jorge, the one in the middle, fantasizes about a job “with little to do and a good chance to make money”; while Rachel hopes to find a Prince Charming “from abroad” that would give her the life of a queen.
However, all three agree on something: they are determined not to work for the state for a simple salary; because any business brings in more money than spending the whole month working in a factory, and in the end what you get paid is not enough. In their view to do that is to sacrifice for nothing.
And as they wait for the smiling future to come to them, life goes by in front of their eyes. They have no sense of time lost, work, education, and responsibility. They live in an existential vacuum linked to the lack of horizons and disappointment since they don´t try to do something useful.
In the struggle
The deep economic crisis of the early 90s of last century affected almost all the families in the island, and brought all kinds of material and spiritual changes among the people.
The new style of coping with everyday existence was dubbed “the struggle”. It describes the legal and illegal mechanisms designed to cope with the drastic decline in living standards. There were many urgent readjustments families had to make in order to survive and these included substantial alterations in their way of thinking and acting which were imposed by the prevailing harsh reality.
Silhouettes of young people with bubbles
Psychologist Elaine Morales Chuco, specialist with the Instituto Cubano de Investigación Cultural Juan Marinello [Cuban Institute for Cultural Research Juan Marinello], in conversation with Somos Jóvenes, explained that some of the features resulting from exposure to this situation in adolescents and young people, were unemployment, dropping out of school, criminal behavior and migration in search of bigger and better opportunities.
“The reduction or disappearance of access to formal spaces,” explained the expert, “such as jobs and state-sponsored educational and recreational centers generated the move of many young people to the socio-cultural world of the street. This, in turn, resulted in the creation of a vicious circle that only brought greater difficulties.”
“At the same time, the situation broke the link –which had existed until then– between education and working conditions; that is, the chain: instruction-occupation-income dissipated because there was a proliferation of work proposals that did not require a high educational level, but did offer attractive incomes.”
“It should be added that this combination of elements individually and collectively impacted their vision and interpretation of reality, and many individuals did not hesitate to take on new strategies in order to solve everyday economic demands which could not be postponed.”
“Thus, many Cubans learned to live for the moment, the uncertainty and with very little chance to develop solid life projects.”
“Likewise, their aspirations of material wellbeing in many cases could not be satisfied by the previously generally accepted mechanism (study-work-pay). Therefore new ways emerged –some formally promoted, and others informally, or even illegal such as the activities of the underground economy. A number of sources of income and immediate benefit were welcomed regardless whether they were associated with prostitution, pimping, begging, drug abuse or crime.”
“Other behaviors stigmatized until then –like not being involved with study and work, felonies, or other such behaviors– gradually stopped receiving all the rejection they deserved, and within some social groups they gained a certain degree of approval that legitimized them. Meanwhile the coexistence rules present in other times were challenged,” said Elaine, author of the study: “Marginalization of Adolescents and Young Persons: An Analysis in Cuba.”
I got tired of being without money
Finding alternatives to address their economic needs became a major concern. This began to occupy a prominent place in Cuban daily life since the crisis began.
Amid these conditions, many young people took the strategy of migrating to provincial capitals in the country, or abroad. Selectivity of employment increased and many did not perform the job for which they were trained in their studies but did something else that could guarantee higher pay and better conditions to the detriment of personal motivations.
Numerous production or informal services became acceptable, because they brought better revenue.
However, both economic sectors (formal and informal) have advantages and disadvantages, regardless of the will to be linked to one or the other.
Among the advantages associated with formal employment is the way in which individuals are inserted into and integrated into society, and the potential for instructional upgrading and the diversity of perspectives offered to do so. Work linked to the state entails a level of security and stability that had been traditionally associated with the guarantee of salary and social security with retirement pensions for years of service, age or health conditions.
The main disadvantages of this sector are: income limitations that do not offer adequate compensation given the demands and responsibilities; lack of material stimulation; controls to which the worker is subjected; rigid schedules and inadequate conditions for the performance of the tasks in the job.
The prerogatives attributed to informal work are especially related to income and prospects to meet shortages. This is more stimulating for the workers. These jobs also appear to provide more independence; have less control; and have fewer requirements; schedules are more flexible and there is more free time. However, they also maintain a certain social pressure because of the illegal status of some activities and the source of resources.
With a fuming head
The employment problem of young people is, in the current conditions of the country, another very complex and controversial issue. However, work continues to play a key role in structuring the country’s institutions and the lives of individuals, according to María Josefa Luis Luis, historian and researcher at the Centro de Estudios Sobre la Juventud [Center for Studies on Youth], in her analysis “Considerations on Work Socialization.“
She explains that “irregularities in the labor market, unemployment and underemployment rates, as well as instability and precarious working conditions are realities faced by workers around the world. For young people, these abnormalities affect personal development and conceptions about work. Although the traditional model (livelihood, rights, moral responsibility, sense of accomplishment) is valid for most, in practice it is very difficult or impossible to attain for a good number of them.”
“In Cuba, there are numerous contradictions related to employment that significantly damage employment relations and the role of these as an effective means of socialization and education of the new generations.”
“The economic crisis eroded the material and technological foundation of the workplace due to the lack of means of work, or the obsolescence of others. The rules of organization, protection and hygiene, individual and collective productivity, as well as work motivation, were affected.”
“This, in turn, had an impact on individual expectations and possibilities for job satisfaction, as well as contributions and income. It generated frustration and dissatisfaction and reduced job stability.”
Salsa, greenbacks, and beer
The slogan promoted years ago by a domestic soap opera is a way of thinking for some Cubans for whom life is perennial leisure. They don’t realize the damage this ideology of leisure can cause.
It also indicates the boasting of a supposedly superior status, based on the myth of money, and encourages reaching that level at any price. It becomes a philosophy of lack of interest and apathy that dangerously gains ground.
Young people are a highly impressionable group, ready to make changes in search of better educational opportunities, more access to culture and employment, among other factors. In this regard, it is essential to know the expectations they have, as well as their ability to make plans and realize them under current conditions.
To meet those material goals or aspirations is not a subject for reproach. On the contrary, to live without them –doing nothing to achieve them– means a real problem, or extremely harmful conflict from a spiritual point of view.
We must not clip the wings of those who have aspirations and wish to embrace them. On the contrary, we should lead them to the realization of their goals, always on the right track; since the key issue is related to the methods or the means chosen in order to achieve these objectives.
When there is no experience, going off the right track to achieve success can be easy and have negative consequences that would last a lifetime. We must encourage and guide young people based on sound principles, openly, without reservations or fear of sacrifice, always aided by study and honest work.
The lack of real joy, in the short and medium terms, makes a dent in young people who are vulnerable to the frustration caused by repetitive promises of a bright future, in contradiction to what they live from day to day, suffering disappointment at not being able to see the announced steps to progress.
We must insist on the need of work as the only force capable of promoting development as well as personal and national prosperity. This should go hand in hand with the correct instruction, regardless of the path they wish to follow.
The family, considered the primordial cell of society, is responsible –in the first instance– for instilling the true values of honesty and diligence. Only in this way can apathy and lack of interest be eradicated. We all have an impact on this through daily example and confrontation of misconducts.
Cuba’s national hero, Jose Marti taught us: “Being educated is the only way to be free”. Under this strategy we must guide the formation of the people and especially of the new generations.
This objective should have children and young people as their fundamental targets so we can all embrace a prosperous future; so that the efforts and dedication of those who work for such a future is not wasted or to no avail.
Several authors. Lecturas de la realidad juvenil cubana a principios del siglo XXI. [Readings about the Reality of Cuban Youth the Early 21st Century] Centro de Estudios Sobre la Juventud, 2011.