Revolution, family mean less to a new generation
``No one can tell this generation what to do or who to look up to,'' Ernesto Marquez, 44, complains. ``These young people thumb their noses at us, the parents. They say they are bored, that the revolution has less meaning to them than a new pair of shiny shoes.''
Tanya Marquez, also 44, cuts in on the conversation in their dimly lighted, three-room apartment illuminated entirely by neon. ``Sex: It's no big deal for them. Responsibility: That is a foreign word. Revolutionary commitment: That's just something for old people like us. It's terrible out there in this world.''
No wonder the family chatter this week at the dinner table -- if their son and daughter bother to turn up -- is about this parental despair over the younger generation. Cuba is suffering from an acute economic crisis. But many Cubans say there's a second one, the death of the idea of family.
It is a subject Pope John Paul II plans to talk about today during a Mass in Santa Clara; a message that will probably have meaning to worried parents, single mothers, divorced couples, cynical teenagers and perhaps even some government officials.
Over the years, Cuban socialism has taken a toll on the traditional family. Husbands and wives sometimes have to live apart for months because of work assignments in different parts of the country. Three of every four marriages end in divorce. Common-law arrangements are more the norm than formal marriage, government statistics show.
Marxist policy places no restraints on sexual behavior, although gays were repressed until recently. On some streets, teenage girls boldly approach strangers. AIDS, a subject of great government concern, is still rare and an HIV-positive diagnosis results in the victim being quarantined in special government clinics.
The Public Health Ministry says there are more than 130,000 abortions annually; in 1990, women under 18 accounted for 84,916 of them. A report from the ministry says 41 percent of pregnancies were aborted in 1995. The church says Cuba has the highest rate of abortion in Latin America.
``Cuba is not like most Latin American countries,'' sociologist Sara Aguilar said. ``This was never a profoundly Catholic country even before the revolution. Divorce was legal before 1959, women had the right to vote, there was equal pay for equal work, [and] contraception and abortion were legal.''
But the idea of family was strong in the old days, Aguilar
acknowledges. And the kind of strict moral approach to personal behavior
that the church preached usually made parental authority legitimate and
respected. She wonders whether the newly resurgent church can now claim
legitimacy as the country's ``only moral institution.'' `I don't listen to my
`I don't listen to my parents'
``They are not open to change,'' he said. ``They go along with the system, which means they use the black market, or they take things from work.
``I don't blame them for that, because it is the only way for us to survive. But I don't call that setting an example. My father complains because I don't come home on weekends. He doesn't approve of me going to parties or riding around. But I say if the state doesn't mind, why should he?''
Enrique said he and some of his friends intend to go to see the pope on Sunday even though none of them are Catholics.
``Maybe this guy will say something I haven't heard before,'' he said of the pontiff. ``Anyway, it will be something different to do.''
His sister, Martha, said the pope's conservative position on abortion and divorce are ``totally out of date.''
``Look,'' she said, ``young women in this country get abortions. It is
a fact of life. It is available to us. It is practical.'' `Kids want it all
`Kids want it all now'
``I have heard it all before,'' he said ruefully. ``It is the me, me, me generation. Kids want it all now. They will do anything -- sell their bodies, even -- for something that is stylish or different. Sometimes I believe they might even steal.
``Our trouble is that if you have no respect for your parents, or no sense of responsibility, families will disintegrate. Some people say society will fall apart. If the nuclear family is failing, then it makes you wonder about the whole Cuban family.
``I am still a socialist,'' he said. ``I will watch the pope's speeches on television. I will always be faithful to the revolution.
``But everyone is so busy trying to survive that they don't remember anymore if the state is providing guidance on personal matters -- like the relationship of parents and children. In the past the state has tried to be the parent and you know how that goes.
``Maybe that is why the idea of having the pope come here to talk to us makes sense to our leaders.''
Copyright © 1998 The Miami Herald
Copyright © 1998 The Miami Herald