You’ve heard about Fidel, Che, and the Bay of Pigs. But what about the Red Bull-sponsored skating demos and parks dedicated to British rock stars?

Cross post by Chris Lewis, CampusProgress.org

Competitive skateboarding–and the bravado that goes along with it–are one of the many things Cuban young people have in common with American counterparts. (Chris Lewis)

Arriving in Cuba, I was caught off guard by all the young people. It may sound a bit silly, but for some reason, it never occurred to me that this nation would be full of citizens the same age as me. Perhaps it’s because Cuba is a country more often associated with history than modernity. Fidel’s only getting older, and his beard greyer. The streets are peppered with 1950s-era cars (“Like a museum that moves,” one Cuban said to me). Many buildings are flaking large chunks of their paint and much of the architecture dates back to the years before the Revolution. What’s more, the images are compounded by rhetoric that presents the country’s sociopolitical system as living dead, a Cold War-era zombie further disintegrating by the minute.

Yet despite all that, not only is there a vibrant youth culture in Cuba, it’s one that deserves your attention. Because while most people know of Cuba’s storied history, as with every nation, its uncertain future lies in its youth.

Thousands of students flood the streets for the Marcha de las Antorchas, an annual event at the University of Havana. The festival honors José Martí, who devoted most of his life to the cause of Cuban independence.

Many young Cubans have found a form of self-expression in hip-hop culture. A testament to that is Havana’s prevalent graffiti, like at this urban basketball and soccer court.

A family in Havana’s Vedado neighborhood, home to John Lennon park, a public park dedicated to the Beatles legend.

Young people peer out of Cuba’s version of public transportation.

Skateboarding is becoming a more popular pastime in Havana. Here, a skater participates in a competition jointly sponsored by Red Bull and the Cuban Ministry of Culture.

A mural of Che Guevara, the Argentinean doctor turned controversial Cuban hero. Guevara is popular with Cuban youth for his passion and empathy. “Hasta la victoria siempre”—until victory always—was Guevara’s standard closing for correspondence.

Like their counterparts in most urban American cities, Cuban young people enjoy playing basketball well into the evening. Here, a pickup game next to Calle 23, one of Havana’s main arteries.

Havana’s Malecón, a waterfront drive along the Straits of Florida and a popular meeting place for young people. Monuments run up and down the path, including ones to revolutionary generals Máximo Gomez and Calixto García. Choppy weather often sends waves crashing over the breakwater and onto the sidewalk.

In Havana, the logo of the Unión de Jóvenes Comunistas—the Young Communist League. It reads, “Estudio, Trabajo, Fusil.” Study, Work, Rifle.

Two girls walk near a highway in Havana. Cuba’s complicated racial history can sometimes cause strife on the island. Though last year, UCLA professor Mark Sawyer said the nation “probably did more than almost any country in the hemisphere to try and eliminate racial disparities.”

Chris Lewis is a staff writer for Campus Progress. He is currently studying at the University of Havana through an exchange program at American University.

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