Cuban youths, LGBT community enjoy nightlife, dream of better future

Some youths pick remaining on island over U.S. migration

Sanata Clara, Cuba – The night starts with a stop by the Camilo Theater, inside the tallest building in Santa Clara, Cuba, in what’s known as the Santa Clara Libre Hotel.

Inside one of the rooms that used to be a movie theater, a popular cover band plays the Beatles songs– in the early years of the Cuban revolution, that such music was banned.

The main square is packed with hundreds of people, mostly teens.

When Local 10 News spoke with several of them, they were not afraid to talk about being young in Cuba and their future on the communist Caribbean island.

Leisi Ruiz, 15, wants to study medicine, but like many young people in Cuba moving to the U.S. is part of the plan as well.

Leisi, who is in ninth grade, begins to share details about her life, and how her father is in the U.S. But as she’s opening up another teen interrupts her and explains how there is money to be made in the U.S.

That teen’s family, who also lives abroad, told him life is better in America.

“Here you work a year, you work your whole life and you don’t see the fruits of your labor,” Jorge Luis Quintero,16, said.

That’s the reason Quintero wants to skip college and go straight to work.

But for Alain Cardet, 18, leaving the island through Latin America, or by way of the Florida Straits, is too risky.

Diana Gattorno, 15, echoes that feeling.

“I can’t see myself living there,” she, said, added that she’s happy living on the island but would like to travel more.

Walk down Marta Abreu Street and three blocks down there’s another busy hang out. It’s called El Menjunje, a state-run cultural center with a gay theme on Saturday nights.

So while music is important, it’s only secondary to drag queens performing.

Ramon Silverio has been running the place 33 years and said he never imagined things would get to this point.

“It’s been a struggle, a lot of years of work to change things,” Silverio said, adding that Santa Clara has been privileged in the sense that local communist leaders have been allies of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

Gay patrons said they have their own story to tell.

Lazaro, who would only give his first time, lives in the U.S., and recalls a time when gay men in Cuba couldn’t go out much, police would ask for identification and sometimes would toss gay men in jail for no particular reason other than being gay.

It was a bad nightmare Lazaro wants to put behind him.

Angel Fernandez Falcon, 52, also remembers being jailed for simply being gay.

He now thanks El Menjunje, along with President Raul Castro’s daughter, Mariela Castro, for her work as an advocate of the LGBT community in Cuba.

Castro is often criticized by independents activist who continue to claim they’re often harassed for being gay and publicly critical of the Cuban government.

This story is part of a series on, which seeks to document the current state of economy in a small Cuban town. Santa Clara, which is in the central part of the country, made history when the first commercial flight from the U.S. landed on Aug. 31. With added commercial flights and tourism, Local 10 News is exploring a growing private sector and overall life in what likely will become a tourist destination for Americans.

by Hatzel Vela
Source – Local 10 News