Understanding the Cuban Youth

After reviewing our itinerary, I noticed that most of our trip is focused on the city of Havana and Cuba itself in that its primary goal seems to be on educating us about the history of the country, the government, and the various aspects of the culture that can be considered distinctly Cuban. We’ve got a lot of plans to tour important sites and go to historical landmarks and visit museums. Because of this, there isn’t a whole lot tied into our schedule as far as just interacting with children goes. Therefore, I feel like much of my work is more than likely going to be done outside of what we’ve got scheduled and more so during our free time.

There are a couple of things planned that could give me a glimpse into the life of a Cuban child, though. First of all, we’re visiting the Afro-Cuban Community of Regla and the Afro-Cuban Museum of Regla on Day 3. Again, these aren’t focused on the children themselves, but the general way of life of the people and how that differs from how children are raised here in the United States could be interesting to note. Regla is a town to the east of Havana on the coast of the harbor. The Museum explains the origin and importance of the Virgin of Regla and the history of the town itself. Most interesting to me though, is the prominent practice of Santería and the way that shapes the culture of the people of Regla. I may not have any interaction with children directly, but it will be important to note the religious differences and how that could affect the children growing up in Santería as opposed to other religions.

© UNESCO, Ron Van Oers

© UNESCO, Ron Van Oers

Second will be the tour of Viñales Valley and the family-run tobacco farm. Viñales is a town of approximately 8000 people on the western side of the island. The valley is used primarily for agriculture, specifically Cuban tobacco. Traditional farming methods, including the use of animals over machinery are still used as a way to maintain the quality of the tobacco. Most of the people that live in the valley are tobacco farmers and their families, so no doubt there will be children here. Again, while we may not interact with them specifically, it will be interesting to dig a little deeper into the way of life for traditional farming families and the duties and responsibilities the children may have to pick up because of that. I know even here in the states, the children of farming families lead very different lives than those of the city-dwellers, so I’m curious as to how the children on these farms compare to the children here at home.

There are two other ways I can immediately think of to learn about a typical Cuban child’s way of life. First of all, speaking with native adults in the streets or at restaurants or anywhere else, really, can open me up to information on the daily activities of the children in Havana. I know when I’ve traveled before, I’ve learned more about native life by simply meeting people who speak English around town and in restaurants and asking them questions about the general way of life and attitudes of the native people today. I feel like interacting with people in that way will give me a true sample of the native culture, rather than what the educators and tour guides are told to tell us or information they’re expected to pass on in their teachings. One specific place that I could ask the adults about the children and family life or observe it even could very easily be in the paladars. Since they are businesses run directly out of the natives’ homes, mostly by the families themselves, I find it difficult to believe that children won’t be present from time to time. But, again, I don’t know this for sure; everything could be completely different than I expect it to be once I’m there!

I think my best bet for interacting with the actual children myself, however, will simply be in the streets around town. It may not be the same as it was in Nicaragua (okay, I don’t actually expect it to be the same), but children in the streets there would walk up to you themselves and talk to you or try to get you to buy whatever it was they were selling or simply begging for money, but even in that small amount of interaction, a lot can be learned through observation and simple questions. For me, the longest conversation I had with a Nicaraguan child was while I was simply sitting on the steps of the hotel in the main square around lunchtime. A young boy (probably about 12 or 13) walked up to me and just started talking away and telling me about his life and where he lives and where he goes to school and what his parents do, all without my asking; he was just a friendly little guy that wanted someone to talk to and the gringo seemed like an easy solution. I can’t expect to get that lucky again, but hopefully I’ll still be able to interact with some children in a similar fashion around town.

If worst comes to worst though, I can’t act like every adult on the island wasn’t at one point a child themselves, so realistically, I could ask just about anyone about the Cuban youth culture and hopefully get some amount of viable feedback throughout the week.

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