“When Fidel Castro overthrew the Cuban government in 1959, it signaled a move to emphasize the collective state over the individual, “ writes photographer Greg Kahn, author of the forthcoming photo book Havana Youth (Yoffy Press). “Castro’s philosophy was to educate students to be an asset in society, not for uniqueness.”
In Havana Youth, Kahn explores Cubans born after 1989, who have only known a time after the USSR dissolved and left the Caribbean nation with few resources and a growth-crippling, US-led economic embargo. Those kids, born during what is called “The Special Period,” are now in their twenties and developing a sense of individuality in a society that was historically focused on collectivism. After Fidel ceded power to his brother in 2008, Havana’s youth began experiencing influences from across the globe; they are focused on the present, not burdened by the past.
Clothes, which are designed and chosen to reflect desires, are an important part of the unfolding sense of identity. “Clothes have a strong connotation here, like a journalist writing an article against the government,” states fashion blogger Miguel Leyva, adding, “It means to be free.”
“Although the Cuban youth identity is evolving rapidly, the choices they make are authentic,” writes Kahn. “This is their counter-revolution. And they are redefining what it means to be Cuban.”