Kalp Juthani Reflects on Cuban Paradox

Kalp Juthani – Miami Beach has given us time to reflect on our experiences. I feel that this post should cover some of the thoughts that I have developed on the Cuban Generation Y. I must start off by saying that the trip was far from anything I could have ever imagined. It has significantly changed the way I think about culture, as well as, many of the perceptions that I had prior to the trip. I would like to thank our professors along with everyone in Havana and Miami that made this learning opportunity possible.

Influence from free markets has led to an emerging generational gap in Cuba. We saw fragments of free markets in Paladores or private restaurants as well as in the growing black market. These new opportunities are quickly changing Cuba, show that efforts towards nationalizing the Cuban economy have faded, and that the new generation seeks better lifestyles. I began to find this theme after speaking to our tour guide, William. As a staunch supporter of the Revolution, William aspired to help the socialist cause. Despite his canned responses and dismissal of a few of our pertinent questions, he really opened up to me about his personal life when talking about his family. His daughter belonged to a new wave of Cubans that desired the opportunity found outside of Havana. Through his example, I began to develop a sense of the impact that this divide has on everyday people, as well as, predictions on the direction that the nation is heading.

Students watch children dance in the streets of Havana as part of a CDR event.

We encountered a greater generational divide at a Comités de Defensa de la Revolución (Committees for the Defense of the Revolution or CDR) meeting. We drove through dark alleys on the outskirts of Havana and realized that we were far beyond the confounds of central parts of the city. We saw shadows of run down colonial architecture and ancient cars as we approached our destination. We were excited about finally leaving the splendor of Vedado, escaping sites reserved for tourists, and seeing the “real Cuba” that we had seeked since arriving. After driving through villages that were without power, we arrived to the brightly lit village of San Miguel de Pardon. We were greeted by warm locals and a crowd of cheering children. It was immediately clear that they had been preparing for our visit for quite sometime. We saw a gigantic Cuban flag and 17 seats set for their American visitors. Not only were we anxious for what we thought would be a meeting but we also felt their anxiety as they opened their homes to us hoping that we would be pleased with their hospitality. We were greeted with a welcome speech explaining the role of the CDR in San Miguel de Padrón. They shouted “Viva Fidel. Viva Raul. Viva la Revolución” after the speech showing a commitment to the 50 year old cause.

Kalp Junthani photographs an obelisk in Revolution Square

Rather than the forum on issues in the village (including poverty) as all of us had expected, we experienced a side of their vibrant culture. We were amazed by the choreographed dances that had been prepared for us. It was not until a later reflection in Miami of our best experience in Cuba that we realized the hidden agenda. William informed us that is was normal for meetings to have such fanfare. As Wabash men, we thought critically about the information that we had received. We learned a lot more from our interactions and observations with the village children. I noticed a few Cuban teenagers around us filming the choreography with their American smartphones. This CDR meeting was clearly a special event. I also learned by speaking to a 12 year old that his favorite “equipo de béisbol” was the Yankees. He admired American players and aspired to become like them. Patrick Bryant ’16 handed me a piece of candy he had found which I then preceded to give to a young girl standing next to me. After looking away to watch the children dance, Adam Alexander ’16 went on to notice that our small act filled the girl with excitement and caused her to tell those around her that we were friendly people. There were countless interactions that evening that showed a new generation of Cubans, wanting a taste of the American dream.

Our time in Miami revealed similar themes. We met with Tim Padget ’84 at WRLN studios. Through his experience as a journalist, we learned that Cuban-Americans carry a sentiment towards the expropriations of Cuba following the Revolution. The new generations no longer carry this sentiment with a new poll finding that 50% of the Cuban-American population wanting an end to the embargo. He was almost as excited to see us and learn from us as we were from him. Our discussion helped to explore the government’s agenda and the interactions that truly give an idea as to where Cuba is heading.

As our time in Miami ends, it is easy to forget that the hardships faced by Cubans on a daily basis are a reality. They are some of the friendliest people in the world, and I hope that this next generation of Cubans and Americans lead to an era of progress.