My grandmother made a living washing and ironing for others. When she died, in her mid-eighties, she only knew how to write the three letters of her name: Ana. For her whole life, she worked as a maid for a family, even after 1959 when official propaganda boasted of having emancipated all servants. Instead, many women like her continued to work in domestic service but without any legal security. For my sister and me, Ana spent part of her days in “the house on Ayestarán Street,” and we never said out loud that she was paid to clean the floors, wash the dishes and prepare the food there. I never saw her complain, nor did I hear of her being mistreated.
A couple of days ago I heard a conversation that contrasted with the story of my grandmother. A plump lady dressed in expensive clothes was telling her friend — between glasses of white wine — how she behaved with her young domestic. I transcribe here — without adding even a word — a dialog that left me feeling a mixture of revulsion and sadness:
– From what you tell me, you’re lucky.
– Yes, I really can’t complain. Suzy started with us when she was 17 and she just turned 21.
– Now we’ll see if she gets pregnant and you have to throw her out.
– No, she’s very clear on that. I told her that if she gets pregnant she’ll lose her job.
– Yes, but you know, “the fox always returns to its den.” So maybe she’ll run after some man from the village where she was born.
– No way! She won’t even go to that “den” on vacation. Imagine you didn’t have any electricity, the floor of her parents’ house is dirt, and the latrine is shared by four families. It’s like the heavens opened up for her since she’s been with us. All she has to do is what I tell her, that’s all I ask.
– That’s how they start, but later they start thinking things and ask for more.
– So far we’re doing fine. She has Sunday afternoons off to do what she wants, but she has to come home by midnight. Most of the time she doesn’t even go out because she doesn’t know anyone in Havana. It’s better that way, because I don’t like the bad influences.
– Yes, it’s really bad out there. These country girls do better not to even go out because if they do they learn a few things.
– They learn more than a few things. Because of that I even monitor her phone calls. I don’t want her to learn what she doesn’t need to know.
– And that boyfriend you told me she had?
– No, that didn’t continue. We made it clear that we didn’t want men visiting our house. And she, really, has no time to be falling in love, my children take a lot of time. Taking them to the park, their homework after school, they like to paint before going to bed, she has to read them a story, they don’t like to watch movies alone. Poor thing, when it’s time to fall into bed she must be dead on her feet.
– Woooow… you’re sitting in the catbird seat. I haven’t had any luck. Every time I hire one, they don’t last even a month.
– If you like I can introduce you to Susy’s younger sister, she seems very serious.
– How old is she?
– Fifteen, so you can train her like you want.
– Yes, give her my phone number and have her call me. Oh, and make it clear, I’ll buy everything: clothes, shoes. But if she leaves one day, she’s not taking even a pin from my house. Make that clear! Because they get a big head and it’s hard as hell to deflate it!
The two women continue talking as the wine bottle passes the half-way mark. I overhear a rant about her husband’s more than 60 pairs of shoes. They laugh and I feel my stomach knotting up in a familiar way, with the accumulated anger abusers provoke in me. I go outside for a little air and see the “matron’s” car. It has green Army-issue license plates that stands out against the shiny metallic gray body. It’s the new aristocracy class, the olive-green royalty, lacking scruples and modesty. I spit on the windshield, for Susy, for Ana, for me.
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The Rise of the Cuban Aristocracy… And the Lingering Servant Class
L’organisation internationale contre la torture lance une “intervention d’urgence” pour José Daniel Ferrer
MIAMI, États-Unis.- L’Observatoire pour la protection des défenseurs des droits humains (OPDDH), a lancé ce vendredi une campagne d'”Interventions urgentes” en faveur du prisonnier politique et de conscience cubain José Daniel Ferrer García, leader de l’Union patriotique de Cuba (UNPACU), selon une note de Radio Televisión Martí.
Who Is Filling Cuba’s University Classrooms?
New students at the University of Havana (14ymedio) Born during the Special Period, they have grown up trapped in the dual currency system, and when they get their degrees Raul Castro will no longer be in power. They are the more than 100,000 young people just starting college throughout the country. Their brief biographies include educational experiments, battles of ideas, and the emergence of new technologies They know more about X-Men than about Elpidio Valdés, and only remember Fidel Castro from old photos and archived documentaries. They are the Wi-Fi kids with their pirate networks, raised with the “packets” of copied shows and illegal satellite dishes
Born during the Special Period, they have grown up trapped in the dual currency system, and when they get their degrees Raul Castro will no longer be in power. They are the more than 100,000 young people just starting college throughout the country. Their brief biographies include educational experiments, battles of ideas, and the emergence of new technologies They know more about X-Men than about Elpidio Valdés, and only remember Fidel Castro from old photos and archived documentaries.
They are the Wi-Fi kids with their pirate networks, raised with the “packets” of copied shows and illegal satellite dishes. Some nights they would connect through routers and play strategy video games that made them feel powerful and free. Whoever wants to know them should know that they’ve had “emerging teachers” since elementary school and were taught grammar, math and ideology via television screens. However, they ended up being the least ideological of the Cubans who today inhabit this Island, the most cosmopolitan and with the greatest vision of the future.
On arriving at junior high school they played at throwing around around the obligatory snack of bread while their parents furtively passed their lunches through the school gate. They have a special physical ability, an adaptation that has allowed them to survive the environment; they don’t hear what doesn’t interest them, they close their ears to the harangues of morning assemblies and politicians. They seem lazier than other generations and in reality they are, but in their case this apathy acts like an evolutionary advantage. They’re better than us and will live in a country that has nothing to do with what we were promised.
A few months ago, these same young people, starred in the best known case of school fraud uncovered publicly. Some of those hoping to earn a place in higher education bought the answers to an admissions test. They were used to paying for approval, because they had to turn to private tutors to teach them what they should have learned in the classroom. Many of those who recently enrolled in the university had private teachers starting in elementary school. They are the children of a new emerging class that has used its resources so that their children can reach a desk at the right hand — or the left — of the alma mater.
These young people dressed in uniforms in their earlier grades, but they struggled to differentiate themselves through the length of a shirt, a fringe of bleached hair, or through pants sagging below their hips. They are the children of those who barely had a change of underwear in the nineties, so their parents tried to make sure they didn’t “go through the same thing,” and turned to the black market for their clothes and shoes. They mock the false austerity and, not wanting to look like militants, they love bright shiny colors and name brand outfits.
Yesterday, with the start of the school year, they received a lecture about the attempts of “imperialism to undermine the revolution through its youth.” It was like a faint drizzle running over an impervious surface. The government is right to be worried; these young people who have entered the university will never become good soldiers or fanatics. The clay from which they are made cannot be molded.
Who Is Filling Cuba’s University Classrooms?
A Caricature of a Cuban Woman
Woman drinking (14ymedio) 14yMEDIO, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 22 August 2014 — A woman on national television said that her husband “helps” her with some household chores. To many, the phrase may sound like the highest aspiration of every woman. Another lady asserts that her husband behaves like a “Federated man,” an allusion to the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC), which today is celebrating its 54th anniversary. As for me, on this side of the screen, I feel sorry for them in the face of such meekness
14yMEDIO, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 22 August 2014 — A woman on national television said that her husband “helps” her with some household chores. To many, the phrase may sound like the highest aspiration of every woman. Another lady asserts that her husband behaves like a “Federated man,” an allusion to the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC), which today is celebrating its 54th anniversary. As for me, on this side of the screen, I feel sorry for them in the face of such meekness. Instead of the urgent demands they should mention, all I hear is this appreciation directed to a power as manly as it is deaf.
It’s not about “helping” to wash a plate or watch the kids, nor tiny illusory gender quotas that hide so much discrimination like a slap. The problem is that economic and political power remains mainly in masculine hands. What percentage of car owners are women? How many acres of land are owned or leased by women. How many Cuban ambassadors on missions abroad wear skirts? Can anyone recite the number of men who request paternity leave to take care of their newborns? How many young men are stopped by the police each day to warn them they can’t walk with a tourist? Who mostly attends the parent meetings at the schools?
Please, don’t try to “put us to sleep” with figures in the style of, “65 percent of our cadres and 50 percent of our grassroots leaders are women.” The only thing this statistic means is that more responsibility falls on our shoulders, which means neither a high decision-making level nor greater rights. At least such a triumphalist phrase clarifies that there are “grassroots leaders,” because we know that decisions at the highest level are made by men who grew up under the precepts that we women are beautiful ornaments to have at hand… always and as long as we keep our mouths shut.
I feel sorry for the docile and timid feminist movement that exists in my country. Ashamed for those ladies with their ridiculous necklaces and abundant makeup who appear in the official media to tell us that “the Cuban woman has been the greatest ally of the Revolution.” Words spoken at the same moment when a company director is sexually harassing his secretary, when a beaten woman can’t get a restraining order against her abusive husband, when a policeman tells the victim of a sexual assault, “Well, with that skirt you’re wearing…” and the government recruits shock troops for an act of repudiation against the Ladies in White.
Women are the sector of the population that has the most reason to shout their displeasure. Because half a century after the founding of the caricature of an organization that is the Federation of Cuban Women, we are neither more free, nor more powerful, nor even more independent.
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A Caricature of a Cuban Woman
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