Wednesday, September 21, 2016

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

Cuban youths, LGBT community enjoy nightlife, dream of better future
Some youths pick remaining on island over U.S. migration
By Hatzel Vela - Reporter
Posted: 6:33 PM, September 20, 2016

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.

Outside the theater, in Parque Vidal, couples dance to the merengue and

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

"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

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

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