The Emigration of the Aging
Certain social science scholars advise us not to view with pessimism the accelerated ageing process affecting Cuban society today. They even advance the (laughable) thesis that such a process is the result of a high level of development. It is not possible to know whether they do this out of laziness, cynicism, ignorance, obsequiousness, or all of them together. Nor is it important. What matters, because it is disgraceful, it is that Cuba is fast losing its breadwinners, who are leaving at an alarming rate.
Save for said scholars, we all know that the main reason, though not the only one, for this ageing phenomenon is that for half a century Cuba's young people have been fleeing the island, in large numbers, and enthusiastically, generation after generation. We also know that with the new immigration laws, plus the perniciously uncertain outlook the generals are generating, this phenomenon is on the rise.
However, neither the scholars studying this subject, or almost anyone else, for that matter, seems to be interested in the stampede of seniors, a drama as knotty as that of the Island's disappearing youth.
Those who predict that within a couple of decades our population may be the oldest in the Americas, overtaking Uruguay and Argentina, may be right. But perhaps they err when they calculate that by 2025 the number of those over age 60 in Cuba will hit 2.9 million: 26% of the population. Unless they come to Miami to count them, for I fear that by then there will be as few old people as there are young people.
The calamity is of another kind, in this case, but will prove no less devastating.
While the shortage of young people represents a severe obstacle hampering development on the island, the migratory flood of seniors, even if it is a derivative of the youth's flight, represents a conflict in and of itself; perhaps not as dramatic in economic or material terms, but in terms of moral and spiritual health.
Seen from this angle, it could be a malady with far-reaching repercussions. No one doubts any longer that young people have good reasons to be leaving Cuba. Neither is there any doubt as to the regime's reasons for fomenting this. Both gain from their exodus. But will these gains be proportional to those obtained by seniors? Who is truly concerned today and who spends his time contemplating the upsides and downsides of emigration for older Cubans?
They usually leave to be with their children and grandchildren. Also, in most cases, they do so to lend a hand with household affairs, take care of the children and the sick, cook, run errands, help around the house ... reinforcements in the battle of the daily grind.
On the home stretch of life, after an extensive period of work and different activities, and having wasted their best years racked by wont, and making useless sacrifices, these people are forced to abandon the places they know, their customs, their culture, their rules of coexistence and, for many, even the ties and relationships they spent their lives culvitating, to start again from scratch, overcoming their nostalgia and struggling with infirmities. And while many are resolute in their decisions to do so (at times even somewhat hopeful, seeking to heal families fractured by the Castro regime), the truth is that for them the adventure is undertaken with more resignation than excitement. There are even cases in which emigration is approached as a kind of immolation.
There must not be many elderly people who migrate around the world, and even fewer who do so for the reasons Cubans do. And this is a fact I suspect Cuba's learned doctors of the social sciences will not be looking into further, whether because they are not allowed to, or it is not in their own interest. It is perfectly understandable that young people from here and old people from there aspire to recover and reconstruct their lost households. But the phenomenon remains a very serious anomaly, one hardly mitigated by the generosity with which American taxpayers support the arrival of our elders in their land, facilitating their access to health insurance and other benefits.
It is not good living conditions (which fidelismo never gave them) that these seniors lack here. However, they will lack something that is undoubtedly much more essential: everything they thought was theirs until a catastrophic dictatorship tore up their families and drove them into limbo, with their minds and souls split between two sides of the Straits of Florida.