Cuba millennials pt.1: Students coming of age

Medical student Sheyla Alvarez.

By Michael Voss, CGTN America – December 26, 2017

Part of a CGTN special series on Cuba Millennials.

Cuba is in a period of transition. President Raul Castro will be stepping down in 2018 when his second term ends. Meanwhile, the country has started to open its economy to private entrepreneurs. These are challenging times for young Cuban millennials, balancing the system they grew up with while exploring new lifestyles and prospects for the future. This week, in a CGTN special series, our Cuba correspondent Michael Voss features a range of different young Cubans from all walks of life.

At first sight, Cuba appears to be a country stuck in the past. The streets are full of old American cars, while many of the country’s political leaders are even older.

But a new generation of millennials are coming of age, forging their own styles and connecting to the outside world at wi-fi hotspots that are now available across the island.

There are still plenty of connections to the past. The gala tribute concert in Havana,  held to mark the first anniversary of the death of their former revolutionary leader Fidel Castro was organized by the Union of Young Communists.

According to the Cuban authorities, there are more than half a million registered young communists in Cuba.

Nineteen-year-old Rosalynd Mir is one of them and is president of the student’s federation at the University of Havana’s Faculty of Foreign Languages.

“I’ve been with the Communist League since I was 16 years. It was great because they address interesting topics, not only politics but social issues too,” she said.

“I do not define myself as a communist, but as a socialist and open to change and all these transitions.”

Rosalynd Mir, a young communist student leader.

Rosalynd is positive about the changes and believes that Cuba will have to accept some forms of capitalism.

“Not a lot (of capitalism) but a little yes,” she told me adding  “I think once the economic model changes, everything will change with it.”

There are some things that almost all Cubans hope will never change, especially access to free education and health care.

Cuba has one of the highest doctor to patient ratios in the world. They earn about double the national average, but it’s still the equivalent of just $60 a month.

There is no shortage, though, of young people wanting to enter the profession with some 57-thousand Cubans attending medical schools around the country.

23-year-old Sheyla Alvarez is in her sixth and final year studying medicine in Havana.

“Since I was a little girl, I used to inject my dolls, apply surgery on lizards and played with stethoscopes,” she said. “I have not been thinking of how much I will earn once I am a doctor. Just now my concern is finishing my course and become a doctor.”

Alvarez comes from a working class background. Her father is a handyman, her mother, an office worker. Her bedroom doubles as her study. It’s where she spends most of her time when not at medical school.

Yurien Gutierrez, a self employed computer repairman.

“If I had been born in another country of the world, I wouldn’t have been able to study medicine. Perhaps, I could have finished senior high and have taken a course, but medicine, such an expensive course, I don’t think I would have ever studied it,” she added.

In the coming days, I will meet other Cuban millennials including a rapper with a message of black pride, a successful entrepreneur with her own clothes brand and a  lawyer who now earns more money working as a waitress.

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