Cuba Without Kings or Magicians

Dariela Aquique

Cuban mother and grade school children. Photo: Caridad

My grandparents used to hear a certain legend when they were children.  It was told to them by their parents, who lived in low-wage poverty back in the early years of the US-controlled quasi-Republic of Cuba.

They would tell their children: “While the children slept, three Moors came on camels and left gifts for them.  In the morning the kids then found those toys left by the magician kings…”

Of course my great-grandparent would make rag dolls and gadgets by hand for their children.  What they couldn’t permit was not nourishing their children’s fantasies.

Those “kids,” (my grandparents) as adults, experienced lives that were a little more prosperous; yet they continued that charming tradition.  They taught my parents to write letters to the magician kings asking for toys.  In this way the legend had been passed down from generation to generation.

My generation didn’t have the option of hiding candy or writing lists to put under our pillows.  In our early youth, Marxist-Leninist precepts reigned over all education.  We were grounded in dialectical materialistic convictions where there was no space for myths or biblical figures.

We were part of the project of forging the “new man” as well as the commitment associated with that.  We couldn’t allow the ideological weakness of looking to kings or magicians or gods.

But not everything was terrible.  Those were the times of solidarity, assistance and the tutelage of the Soviet Union – therefore we did in fact receive toys.  In those days though, they were not brought to us by Melchior, Caspar or Baltasar.  When we were on break from school we could go window shopping and perhaps pick out one or two at the store.

My mother used to go to those stores with her book of government coupons, since each family had the right to three nice toys for each child.  Being in this situation, my brother and I would dream up brilliant scenarios.

I have pleasant memories of my childhood.  Today when I go past a store that sells dolls, I can’t avoid feeling nostalgia and an unspeakable anguish.  Today’s prices in hard currency for any child can represent anywhere from a half to a full month of their parent’s wages.

I know from concrete experience that we’re living in extremely difficult times.  Still, when it comes to children, I think the price of their amusement should be adjusted.  Toys are more than recreation; they’re a means of developing imaginations and abilities.  Personalities are formed in the early years of life.

Yesterday I saw a youngster flying a “kite” consisting of a plastic bag tied to a cord.  How times change — with more shortages and less space — it’s unlikely that his parents will have the determination to fashion toys for him by hand.  Nor will they be able to go window shopping to pick them out.  And least of all, in these difficult moments, will they will be able to tell them the old legend.

Today there are neither kings nor magicians.