Little Strangers (Opinion by Wendy Guerra)

Publisher’s note: Wendy Guerra is a French-Cuban writer and a contributor to CNN en Español. Her articles have appeared in media around the world, such as El País, The New York Times, the Miami Herald, El Mundo and La Vanguardia. Among her most outstanding literary works are “Underwear” (2007), “I was never the first lady” (2008), “Posing naked in Havana” (2010) and “Everyone leaves” (2014). Her work has been published in 23 languages. The comments expressed in this column belong exclusively to the author. See more at

(CNN Spanish) — We grew up with our eyes, our hearts and the door wide open to the street, the sidewalk was, for decades, an extension of the family home, that infinite place where three generations lived in conflict.

From very early on, the little friends broke that fourth wall that means the door hook, and without asking, they went to the kitchen, where the pressure cooker sounded announcing red beans for lunch.

We would come home from school, throw our suitcase on the sofa and jump into our natural setting, the street. We played ball, pon, baseball, we rode strollers, we threw the Yaquis on the cold floor, freshly washed by the aunts or the older sister. We were raised by our grandparents, our true heroes, while our parents disappeared at dawn. Camps on the beach, camping trips, circles of interest and even birthdays could be collective. Being crowded into a boarding school was a real nightmare for me, a punishment, a way to get away from everything I really liked: reading in the library, seeing puppet theater, visiting museums, talking with my mother; for others, a way to escape from their homes and live 24 hours with these new brothers, chosen by will. The experiences that we went through in those camps, the hunger and the sacrifices, the losses, the fevers and the first loves, are already an inseparable part of the affective memory that makes up our sentimental heritage.

When I arrived in the United States, I discovered another way of family relationships, another habitat, that other scenario to grow up and even a new variant for the exchange between adolescents. These are boys who leave school and go straight to their room, spend more than 15 hours locked up there, eat, take a bath and then connect with the world and with their friends through a telephone or a computer. The applications, the Internet portals are for them what the streets, beaches, carnivals, children’s parties or neighborhood cinemas once were for us: a vehicle towards empathy, a transporter of dreams and in certain and certain cases –not in all of them–, parents have been a kind of roommate who manages you, pays for your house, school, doctors and food, close beings with whom you share your ideas or not, always depending on the mood or sentimental situation of the infant.

Although we should never generalize, I have inquired with some parents who have children between the ages of seven and eighteen at home: Do they eat together or share as a family? Sometimes. Do they speak with their siblings, grandparents, friends in their original language? Very rarely and by obligation. Do they share their concerns, problems at school, their feelings or existential needs with their siblings or parents? Only in certain cases and with a lot of effort and insistence that they do so. Not everyone plays sports, eats healthy, or goes out to clear the air, childhood obesity is increasingly evident among the youngest. The greatest experiences are simulations of stimuli that they receive, through a screen, almost always sitting or lying down.

I have the feeling that many minors here have control of the relationship in their hands, and their parents, although they try, cannot always get inside their concerns, needs or desires.

There is a greater authority, an inverted hierarchy, a difficult wall to break down between them and their parents. Children can call 911 if they feel mistreated and report it to their relatives. Empathy, proxemics, extraverbal language between parents and children, friends and acquaintances, go through a protocol that, at least for me, who did not have children, but was part of a “gang” of open, expressive children and without any mystery, I find it complex to assimilate.

Children do not always want to leave their room to greet when a close family member or an occasional visitor arrives, there are even houses where it seems that children or adolescents do not live. I have witnessed that some parents are afraid to bother their children, to knock on the door, to give them an order, to ask them for a favor and they begin to act with a certain fear, and begin to behave as if they were their children’s children.

I am looking for a link, a cord that leads me to interact to get to know them better, I need to find topics of dialogue and not look outdated or silly, I try to communicate in their language and while I do so, with more or less luck, I question so many things. If they themselves know who they are, where they come from, what they want. There are things that, out of respect, I don’t dare ask, but do your parents know if they secretly smoke, if they use drugs, if they’re in love, what do they think of the news about the boy who tried to bring a gun to their school, do they have afraid, they feel lonely, what university they want to go to study at, they want to continue studying, until what age they would like to live with their parents, it annoys them that adults always talk about the single issue: politics, the eternal problem of the countries they left behind , they feel comfortable with their sexuality, they find it too simple to define themselves with one or another gender, they like this country, what do they think of the place where they were born? But the most significant question is: Do the parents know their children deeply or are they little strangers who simply live by their side?

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