A glimpse into the lives of Cuban teens living in Havana.
Stephanie Rosell blended into a crowd of white-collared uniform shirts and short yellow skirts.
She was graduating from the ninth grade at Conservatorio Alejandro Garcia Carturla and saying goodbye to her classmates in Havana, Cuba.
They had been very close for the past four years.
“We signed each other’s uniforms before leaving,” Rosell said in Spanish. “Everyone got along at school and so we all started to cry.”
Like her peers, she feels unprepared and is not looking forward to high school, where professors will replace the classroom television screens that taught her and classmates for years.
The Cuban school system, once hidden, will now be subject to the eyes of Americans, as President Obama’s travel policies open relations with the communist nation.
On the island, many teachers have left for better paying professions and televised classes are taking over the classrooms. Students feel teachers are more like babysitters than teachers.
“I don’t like school,” Rosell said. “No one cares about anything.”
Like Americans going through a period of teen angst, what kept Rosell going was participating in the music program with 50 other students in her middle school.
She is now awaiting acceptance into the Escuela Nacional de Arte, one of the only art schools in Cuba.
“I hope I got accepted so that I can continue to study the violin at the high school level and then later study at the university level at the Instituto Superior de Arte, which is the only art university here in Cuba,” she said.
“I want to be part of a jazz group when I grow up.”
Rosell is unlike most Cubans teens reared as atheists. She is a practicing Baptist and feels God is an important element in her life.
On Sunday, while people on the island are going about their day, Rosell goes to church at Iglesia Bautista de El Cerro, where her father is pastor.
She also participates in a Saturday church program that focuses mainly on youth problems in Cuba, and frequents casas culto, worship services held at church members’ houses.
Casas culto emerged as a result of limited places of worship due to the growing population of evangelical Christians. Rosell attends these often with other teens as they pray, sing and discuss religious topics.
Most teens in Cuba are not reared with religious beliefs and so they find other outlets of expression in art and music. Yet unlike in Miami, the options are limited because of the lack of entertainment venues.
One of the only well-known teen hang-outs in Havana is El Parque G (G Park), a place where rockeros (rockers) listen to metal music over loud speakers as others stand near the park filled with tiny trees.
“Some people even make engravings on the bark, such as hearts and initials,” Naivi Texier said in Spanish. The 14-year-old immigrated to the United States two months ago.
When she lived in Havana, Texier’s friends went to Discoteca Ticoa, a club where teens go to dance salsa and reggaeton.
As in Miami, where reggaeton is one of the most popular forms of music, the majority of Cuban teens listen to local reggaeton groups from Havana, such as Baby Loren y El Chacal and Clan 537. Music from more popular artists, such as Daddy Yankee and Wisin y Yandel, can also be heard from iPods and radios on the streets.
“I don’t really like these groups much because their lyrics are very offensive,” Texier said.
“In Cuba, many teens love it because they don’t care that the songs have bad words as long as it has a good rhythm.”
In Cuba, Texier always wanted a $180 iPod and an $80 pair of Converse sneakers, but in order for her father to afford that, he would have to forgo his salaries for a year and a half.
“The money we had was mainly for food and basic stuff,” Texier said.
“Only people who received money regularly from family in la Yuma (U.S.) could get them. My parents would’ve never been able to afford an $80 pair of shoes.”
It was not until Texier moved to the United States two months ago that she bought her first pair of Converse sneakers.
She wears them almost every day. When watching movies at her local Muvico 14 theatre in Hialeah, Texier remembers the dubbed versions of “Ice Age” and “Harry Potter” she watched in Cuba.
“My favorite movie is ‘The Devil Wears Prada’,” Texier said. “I love all the different clothes Hathaway would wear and all the different things she had to do,” she said, wearing a white Aeropostale top and an Old Navy patterned skirt she bought one month after her arrival.
While teens are in tune with pop culture, adults are more preoccupied with what they will eat the next month.
Rosell’s family, like most other families in Cuba, is given a monthly ration card known in Cuba as la libreta de racionamiento.
Texier’s father, Orlando, 44, remembers that finding food was a constant struggle.
“The rations only served me for 10 days,” the elder Texier said in Spanish.“The rest of the month, I had to find other means for food.”
Every month, people are allowed to buy about 1 pound of rice, 1 pound of chicken, half a pound of fish, 10 eggs, 4 pounds of white sugar and 10 pounds of brown sugar.
The ingredients serve to make Rosell’s typical rice and bean meals, but her heart lies elsewhere.
“I also love pizza, which is harder to find.” she said.
Texier shares Rosell’s passion for the American-style combination of cheese and dough.
“It was so hard to find even one pound of beef,” she said. “The only way others could find it was por la izquierda,” she said, referring to the black market, which has become a parallel economy that many Cubans rely on to survive each month.
Texier now lives in a two-bedroom Hialeah apartment with her parents and grandparents. Every night, she takes out her foldable mattress and sleeps beside her parent’s bed, her grandparents in the next room.
“I miss my brothers, my aunt, my other grandparents, my cousins, my friends, and even my neighbors, but I’m happy here because I get to experience something different,” she said.
“I love my country, but here, there is more opportunity for adolescentes.”