Boy, Don’t You Laugh

Irina Echarry

Cuban kids. Photo: Caridad

Every time Ileana hit Jorgito I would shiver. I would always say something to her about it, but she’d ignore me. Now, in the same apartment where they used to live, there’s another family following that same tradition. I’ll wake up to all the racket of the children during these months of summer vacation, but that’s not the problem. What bothers me is the reaction of the mother.

“Do you want me to give you one this early?” she’ll ask the little girl (who can’t be more than six or seven) and then she’ll hit her when the child threatens to leave to her grandparents’ house. It’s seven in the morning and the girl’s already crying.

The situation is repeated, over and over again. It used to be before leaving for school or when they’d come back home and had to do their homework; now that they’re on vacation it’s before or after their lunch or naps. There is not a moment when these youngsters can escape their mother’s anger or stress. She even scolds them for laughing to loud. It’s now something habitual.

It’s not that she’s a bad person; it’s just that she’s always upset, and punishing her kids is her way of expressing it.

The same thing happens here on the block to Niurka. Just as an example, one day her mother, Carmita, threatened to stab the little girl if she didn’t hurry up and come upstairs to eat. It’s probable that the same thing happened to Yaili, who grew up getting slapped around all the time and who’s now pregnant.

Today they were talking on the news about Palestinian children who have been sentenced to jail for throwing stones. In the last five years, more than 800 have suffered arrest, torture or imprisonment at early ages.

The children spoke about how they were tied up and beaten, or how they weren’t allowed to go to the bathroom or eat for hours and hours on end. For the Israeli government the enemy has no age. Many of these minors aren’t even 14 years old but they’re dealt with like high-security prisoners, not even being allowed visit by their parents.

Other Cuban news features speak of children in other countries who live and work in garbage dumps, who live in the streets thanks to the “charity” of adults – some of those kids having been abandoned and others prostituting themselves, etc.

There are many stories on the news, but daily experience disheartens me despite those ever upbeat features about how our youth are entitled to free education, health services and daycare centers, or how so few disappear in the streets here and how we have homes for orphans.

Violence has many faces, as do poor living conditions. If it’s in our hands to improve the present of those who surround us, why not act? It requires only a little effort on our part.