The semester is ending at the University of Havana, a time when everything shuts down until the middle of January. But this year is different. Expectation runs through the corridors and the central plaza on University Hill, and the high attendance, on days close to Christmas, is surprising. Many have come to school these days just to talk with their colleagues about the great news: the announcement of the reestablishment of relations between Cuba and the United States.
In the humanities departments the debate is greater. “A couple of weeks ago we held a conference about the dangers of American interference… and now this,” says a young sophomore studying sociology, who adds, “I never thought this moment would come so soon.” He has just turned twenty and, when he says “soon,” he is speaking in relation to his own life. For others, the dispute between the two countries has lasted for an eternity.
In one of the rooms where some are using their “machine time” to check their email, a young woman complains to a friend. “My inbox is full from people asking me how things are over here.” She is quiet for a moment, realizing I’m listening, but then she continues. “How will things be? The same as always,” she concludes resolutely.
Below the Mathematics Department, in the so-called “park of the pig-headed,” the controversy sinks its roots deeper, given the privacy of the place. But it’s enough to ask a group of young people sitting on a bench if they’ve seen any American students around, for them to bring out the jokes and their thoughts. “No, I haven’t seen any today, but the way things are going we might see a lot of them pretty soon,” spits a girl wearing an iPod and Converse sneakers.
The others continue with jokes. They mock Martí’s verses about his life in the United States, “I lived in the monster and I know its entrails.” In a chorus they convert the phrase to, “I lived in the monster, how I miss it!” [a play on words in Spanish]. “If you see some yumas [a term for Americans that is softer than “gringos”] around here, let me know right away, I’ll be in the Great Hall,” they promise, cackling.
The university remains one of the schools with the greatest ideological control. From the departments located on Colina Hill, the students often leave to participate in acts of repudiation against the Ladies in White headquarters, a short distance from there. Tania, who came to find out if there would soon be some open doors so that she can familiarize herself with the site, believes that it will be her turn to climb the steps “in a new era.”
When asked how she knows this, she exclaims, surprised, “But didn’t you hear Raúl? The thing with the Americans is over. It’s over!” It’s surprising that everyone here seems to be so well aware of it. Especially if you take into account that people this age are the greatest consumers of the audiovisual materials of the so-called “ packet.” They watch little television and even make fun of those who still stay home to watch “the Saturday movies” on the national programming. However, everyone says they saw Raúl Castro’s speech.
The classrooms are nearly empty. Exams are over and just a few remain preparing for special meetings. On the wall there are still some old announcements for activities of the University Student Federation (FEU), along with a photo of the five spies who have already “returned to the homeland.” The expectations raised by some of the relaxations announced by Obama are high. “I’m very interested in studying on a scholarship in the United States, if all that is easier now then at least I can try for it,” says a girl who enrolled in the Law School just three months ago.
Everyone seems well adapted to the idea of the new policy change. If you look closely, there’s not much to distinguish them from young people at a university in Los Angeles or Florida. They dress fashionably, some have a tablet or laptop where they read or write, and their frame of reference seems much broader than that of their parents’ generation. “What I want to see starting to come here are videogame championships…” says one with a gleam in his eyes. Everyone agrees that among the most important announcements made on 17 December is the one having to do with telecommunications and connectivity on the island.
“Internet, now comes the internet,” says a young woman looking at the scant menu offerings in the university cafeteria. And so she remains in her reverie, filling her head with the kilobytes that “Obama is going to send over” and a bold prediction: “This is going to get good, you’ll see, you’ll see…”