By Devin Murphy, 2014 YP4 Fellow
On December 18th, 2014, President Obama announced the United States would be re-establishing diplomatic relations with Cuba and work toward establishing new trade agreements with the Cuban government. The buzz surrounding this announcement is still going strong: while the federal government just removed almost 30 Cuban companies from its terrorism list, the Florida Senate is trying to block diplomatic relations.
Clearly, sentiments around this decision vary greatly depending on who you talk to. In the weeks immediately following the announcement, I read a plethora of pieces regarding the decision to “chart a new course on Cuba”, most of which focused on the sentiments of older Cuban Americans who scorned the President for his decision.
As a young Cuban-American, I embrace a new approach to diplomatic relations with Cuba. But going through my social media newsfeeds after the announcement, I thought, “Am I the only young person who cares about this? Where are the articles or blog posts by young progressives? Where are the voices for young adults who are wondering what President Obama’s recent announcement has to do with them?” I found nothing.
But there are plenty of reasons why this policy shift matters a great deal for young Americans.
Today, young Americans are facing very difficult issues: exceedingly high college loan debt, lack of access to high quality healthcare, and high youth adult unemployment. Interestingly, the major issues young Americans are struggling with today in the United States are issues young Cubans have put behind them.
At the same time, young Cubans are dealing with issues that young Americans have discovered effective solutions for: they suffer from a serious lack of access to Internet (according to the White House, Cuba holds a 5% Internet penetration rate, one of the smallest rates in the world) and are restricted on where they can travel. These issues alone severely halt the participation of young Cubans in progressive social movements, including ones like #BlackLivesMatter.
And yet, Cuban youth have a lot going for them, including access to low cost higher education, free and high quality health care, and employment opportunities in just about any field they wish to pursue. As young Americans, we need to realize that there is a lot we can learn from Cuba.
Upon realizing my family is of Cuban descent a few years back – my great-grandfather and great-grandmother were in the labor rights movement in Cuba leading up to era of Fidel Castro – I had the urge to travel to Cuba. Last August, I took the opportunity to study abroad there and it was one of the most enlightening experiences of my life. During my travels, I met several students who were passionate about social justice and bettering their own communities – a progressive generation wanting their voices to be heard, but continually silenced by older, more conservative generations.
In this regard, there is not much difference between young Americans and young Cubans. Our passions and struggles are not as disconnected as they may seem. It is time for young people, especially young Cuban Americans, to speak up as the voices for a new, progressive route to a strong U.S.-Cuba relationship.
Image from Lonely Planet.