Latin America, Land of the ‘Millennials’ / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez
14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 25 September 2016 – They were born at
the time when Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose was published, when
thousands of Cubans were escaping the island through the Port of Mariel,
and when a fan murdered John Lennon in New York. They are the
millennials, who became adults with the turn of the century and they are
one-third of the current population of Latin America.
The market wants to capture this Generation Y, while companies seek to
exploit its close links with technology. However, it is on the political
scene where it could yield the continent’s greatest fruits. Unlike their
parents, who grew up amidst armed conflict, dictators and economic
instability, it is the lot of the millennials to clash with imperfections.
Heirs to the “end of history,” these young people, who are today between
20 and 35, are confronted with the challenge of changing the face of a
region urged to reinvent itself. They bring with them pragmatism and a
certain dose of cynicism… which never hurts. Nonconformists, they want
to fight against the system they know, but without the epic outbursts of
their grandparents, nor the elevated expectations of their progenitors.
They reject heroics and acts of immolation.
To transform our societies, these “millennia” count on newly released
tools. They have come of age in the most extensive period of
technological innovation ever known and their way of appreciating the
world passes, for most of them, across the screen of a cellphone. These
creatures, hinges between the 20th and the 21st centuries, stamp their
imprint on today’s digital communication. Politicians place in their
hands the management of social networks, online campaigns and
crowdfunding. In these labors they are accumulating the experience that
one day will allow them to exercise governance through the web.
Despite the inequalities that continue to characterizer Latin America,
with regards to the quality of educational systems and the purchasing
power of households, digital communication has been a frequent companion
in the lives of these young people. Internet, cellphones and social
networks have been their companions since they reached the age of
reason. In the alphabet mastered by these offspring of the baby boomers,
G represents Google and a bluebird with a T is Twitter. Thus, it is
difficult to convince them that phones were once hard-wired and that in
the past, if you wanted to buy something, you had to pay with cash. They
have never smoked on an airplane, nor made coffee through a cloth strainer.
Environmentalists, vegans, pansexuals, multilinguals and irreverents,
millennials increasingly choose distance learning and electronic
commerce. They resist paying for the music they consume and have drawn
from videogames the idea that life is expressed in a simple and hard
formula: “Action versus time.”
They were small children when the darkness provoked by successive
military coups in the Southern Cone was left behind. In many cases they
have inhabited weak democracies, marked by corruption, limitations on
freedom of expression and concentration of power in the hands of a few.
Forbes magazine has predicted that in 2025 they will represent 75% of
the world’s labor force, but few have ventured to calculate their
political participation and their positioning in the mechanism of power.
They are already in the offices of Government palaces, still as
assistants, interning or listening. Crouched in preparation for taking
Among the pending issues they will face in Latin America, the delayed
democratization of the armed forces will be up to them. Circumscribing
those uniformed actors who have been unwanted protagonists in the
political system, and shoring up the fragile civil power, will be a
difficult task in a region where epaulettes have ruled for centuries.
Skeptical, the millennials have seen the images of the fall of the
Berlin Wall a thousand and one times, but they know that the hammers
that destroyed that concrete were wielded by hands that now carry a cane
or wave to their grandchildren from the window.
Now, they are listening as the last echoes of the longest conflicts in
the hemisphere fade out in Colombia, but all around them are the shouts
of populism and the skirmishes of political intolerance. The strict
limits of right and left, that have defined the region for half a
century, ring in their ears like the squeaks from an inexperienced DJ
who doesn’t know how to mix tunes.
These millennials exhibit a high degree of political discontent, and are
especially critical of the quality of the education systems. Without
being a homogenous population, they resemble each other in the struggle
for space for innovation and entrepreneurship. In the social networks,
they have managed to bring together all the pieces of a territory whose
principal diplomatic challenge continues to be integration. Tired of the
acronyms of so many useless regional mechanisms, they have dissolved
borders through the effectiveness of a Like on Facebook, and have bought
products on Amazon. They embody globalization.
Even in Cuba, “the island of the disconnected,” with the lowest rate of
Internet penetration in the hemisphere, they are seen filling the parks
where the government has opened wifi zones. They can be recognized
because they stare constantly at the screens on their phones, even in
bed, in the bathroom or behind the wheel. They have an intense need to
share information, so they are censorship’s natural enemies. On a
continent where television has shaped the leaderships and dictators have
behaved more like soap opera stars than statesmen, millennials prefer to
consume audio and visual media online and a la carte, rather than be
tied to programming directed by others.
From the images of themselves receiving their diplomas to their most
intimate moments, a good share of them want to post it all online. They
feel that the times of privacy have come to an end and life now is
public. On the social networks we have seen them conquer their acne, get
the braces off their teeth, and show off a new beard or hair extensions.
They are willing to exchange personal information for a more intense
social experience. Their children are a part of the experiment and
appear on the web, smiling, naïve, devoid of filters. They are born,
love, protest and die in front of a webcam. They create relationships
based on horizontality, in part because the networks have inculcated
them with the conviction that they are interacting with their peers,
To Latin American millennials all that is left is optimism, and in most
cases they believe their nation’s best time is still ahead. They don’t
dare to say out loud that the future of the continent rests entirely on
their decisions, but they will shape it according to their will. They
are the survivors of that tumultuous 20th century in which they were
born, but which they do not feel a part of. With such antecedents, could
they have turned out any better?
Editor’s note: This text was published on Sunday 25 September 2016 in
the Spanish newspaper El País.
Source: Latin America, Land of the ‘Millennials’ / 14ymedio, Yoani
Sanchez – Translating Cuba –