Ken, a volunteer from one of the Cuba teams in January, reflects on the virtues of the Cuban people as well as the challenges they face and their dilemma of whether to stay in Cuba or try to emigrate.
After only 4 days here, I am already falling in love with Cuba and the Cuban people. There are good people in the United States and everywhere else, but I do believe in the notion of a national character and find it interesting that many Cubans I’ve met use the words sociable and affable to describe what they think is unique and what they like about Cubans.
This includes Rafael, the retired engineer from The Nestle Company and our supervisor at the water project, who is curious and loves to talk about Cubans and Americans, and particularly Donald Trump. It also includes Mikiahl and Esmarie, the warm and caring owners of my Casa Particular (bed & breakfast) and my two evening students, Jamie Le I and Jamie Le II. As Jamie Le I put it, “when your neighbor has no salt, you give her salt”.
In my mind, the great sociability of Cubans and their warmth for one another and others was reflected in the wonderful church service on Sunday carried out by people young and old in a beautiful expression of music, dance, and religious faith. It is also seen in the patience and respect shown by all kinds of people that I have stopped and talked with on the street. Also, in the gratitude and friendliness expressed toward the church community and me by those who come to fill their water bottles in the morning at the church building. Finally, I see it in the great pride that Cubans frequently express about how there is little violence in their country and that there is safety in their streets, schools, and cities.
Part of my admiration for the Cuban people is rooted in the great strength and resourcefulness shown by so many in the face of economic challenges. As many of us are discovering, even though Cuban people benefit from free education and free medical care, many Cubans are frustrated by how difficulty it can be to achieve economic security and to realize their occupational goals and dreams. For example:
Jamie Le II, an electrical engineer is studying English because she is planning to immigrate to Canada as she is earning only $90 a month in Cuba
Jamie Le I has worked 20 years as a cultural promoter and earns only $16 a month. She and her husband both have to work extra jobs in the economy particular to make ends meet. She says a person needs to be a magician in Cuba in order to survive.
Adrian said during his study of computers at the university, four of his professors migrated to Mexico because they could make much more money there. Jamie Le II said many Cubans go to Mexico and use it as a trampoline to make it to the U.S.
Rafael said his heart doctor left for Ecuador because he could earn $3000 a month instead of the $90 a month he was receiving in Cuba.
Rafael says he is worried about the demographic trend of the Cuban population becoming older and older as more and more young people, including many with university degrees leaving the country. Mikial says the same. That is why helping the Cuban people improve their language skills is so important. Whether they stay in Cuba or emigrate, they can have much better job prospects if they are able to speak English.