Cuba’s Me Generation
GREG KAHN’S photographs capture young people in Havana embracing their individuality—and reshaping their country
Greg Kahn’s photographs capture young people in Havana embracing their individuality— and reshaping their country.
Tourists are lured to havana by the ruin porn: the capital’s decaying, pastel colonial architecture, its 1950s-era cars and the fading faces of its founding revolutionaries, Che Guevara and Fidel Castro. But when photographer Greg Kahn was on assignment in the city in 2012, he stumbled on a scene that gave him a glimpse of a different Cuba: a plaza full of young Cubans partying as a DJ played contemporary electronic dance music. “They told me they hate this attitude of ‘I want to go down there and see the crumbling buildings,’” Kahn said. “‘We live here. We want these buildings to be fixed. We’re a generation that wants to turn this around.
We want to stay here. We love Cuba. We love being Cuban. And we want that to be depicted as well.’”
Kahn, a 2011 Pulitzer Prize finalist, knew he needed to tell that story. After seven trips to the city, he does so in his forthcoming book, Havana Youth, an essential record of a transformational moment.
Havana, a city of 2.1 million people—roughly half of them under 35—is an unlikely epicenter for a cultural revolution. Nearly 60 years of repressive leadership, economic embargoes and a superpower tug-of-war have left Cuba’s capital a crumbling relic. But anyone who views the city through the lens of the past risks missing the youthquake reshaping a country typically characterized by scarcity and uniformity. Its millennials are “embracing what can be considered materialistic,” Kahn says. “But it’s also a way to become part of the larger conversation. This is about the rise of individuality in a country built on collectivism.”
Kahn photographed Cubans born after 1989, the start of the country’s Special Period, when the collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba’s primary economic benefactor, led to massive food and resource shortages. Out of extreme hardship, they developed a foundation of perseverance and ingenuity. And with the unprecedented new economic and cultural opportunities that followed Raúl Castro’s succession as president in 2008, this ambitious, entrepreneurial, fashion-forward generation is finding its moment.“the young Cubans that I talked to are not burdened by the past,” Kahn says. “They are redefining what it means to be Cuban.”