Traumatic Period: University Student Hustling (III)
When the third millennium began in 2000, the critical economic situation that existed in the nineties had changed. The influx of remittances from the outside was driving this change. The supposed social equality disappeared. But the Special Period continued in effect. Subtle, and now much more cruel.
The currency was devalued, and along with it wages. Those with family abroad could live comfortably. But that was not my case. With that disadvantage, my university studies were still more painful. To have had my son when I was barely 19 years old demanded sacrifices and resignation from me. Thanks to the aid of my mother, I could continue studying and finish the course in legal sciences.
It was not easy to reach the goal that I had set. I finished my race because I had the dream of being a professional and an independent woman. In those five years, I had two great friends, hope and patience. And also, of course, frustration.
The first thing that struck me was the economic and social differences. At eight in the morning, the students in my department were dressed to go to a night club. This was more than a show, a “speculation”, as the Cubans say. It was a form of competition, to stand out, to use the visual image to prevail.
That attitude, that exhibitionism, is captured in two words: “university hustling”. The University of Havana, so close to the main Vedado hotels, was a propitious place for pimps disguised as students. The conditions were already there: young, attractive, intelligent and educated girls; they became the center of attraction for the foreigners.
Another deception. Can you imagine a future judge, public prosecutor or lawyer prostitute? Or future jurists living on the “meroliqueo”, the black market? Yes, because my department was also a site of buying and selling. You could find whatever you needed there, from a work of art to clothes and brand name footwear.
It was all a great hypocrisy. Because the student leaders and the professors continuously reminded us that we had to be “the main bastion in the fight against the illegalities.” And that our profession was to apply the law, without thinking about justice.
Meanwhile, every day I had to attend classes in my faded jeans and my patched-up shoes, staying apart in a corner so as not to draw attention. I confess it: those rags caused me shame. I wanted to shine like any young woman, to feel beautiful, well dressed, but I did not have the means. My firm decision to persevere overcame my complexes.
I was not the only poor woman. There were other girls in the same or worse condition. We dreamed that after graduating this situation would change. But as the semesters advanced, we awakened from that fantasy. Toward the end of the fifth year, we were already convinced that we would continue to be dying of hunger. With the difference that now we would have a university diploma hung on the wall.
It was the greatest of the deceptions. And my beginnings as a dissident. I had followed the advice of my parents. I had studied to be somebody. I had sacrificed myself to obtain it. And after all that, my life has continued the same.
Translated by Tomás A.