Arts, Culture & Media

Julia Cooke shows us a Cuba where a younger generation navigates through stagnation and change

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Courtesy of Nathan Laurell/Flickr

Havana, Cuba: May, 2012

It’s rare for an American citizen to spend time in Cuba.

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(This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.)

But Julia Cooke did just that. She’s a journalist and writer, and her new book “The Other Side of Paradise,” chronicles her regular visits to Cuba.

With a diverse cast of young characters, Cooke shares insights into what life is like for a new generation of Cubans.

“Young people are really plugged into Twitter and Facebook,” Cooke explains. “They are a lot more interested in the networks and the communities that they create, probably because Cuba is such a community-based country.”

In her book, Cooke describes the tedious efforts to accomplish the most basic of tasks, from purchasing groceries to hitching rides across the city. One of the characters Cooke followed over the past five years was Lucia, a college graduate from a small town.

“Lucia is probably one of the most charismatic people I have ever met in my life,” Cooke says.

Throughout the course of the book, Lucia dreams of leaving Cuba. She eventually makes her way to Chile after clearing numerous bureaucratic hurdles.

“She’s doing really wonderfully,” Cooke says. “It’s been great to watch.”

But Lucia is one of the few who does leave. Other characters in the book remain in Cuba — though that doesn't always hold them back.

Some, like Adrian, a musician, are quite fortunate. “The artist and musician class in Cuba is actually among the most privileged, next to, kind of, the government class,” Cooke says.

Young Cubans are hopeful, Cooke explains, even if they are waiting for the Castro generation to fade out. Raul Castro has proposed to resign in 2018, but that date is uncertain.

Still, Cooke says times could change after 2019. “I had a conversation with a Cuban artist friend of mine, when I was back in December and January ... and he said ‘if you think about the amount of people, the brilliance that has left this country — it would be incredible if even half of that brilliance came back.’”  

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