Pages I Can’t Rip Out of My Life Story

By Irina Pino

HAVANA TIMES – There are pages in my life that I’d like to rip out, but it’s impossible because they form a part of my life story.

My family is Catholic and I was baptized when I was a little girl. While studying at primary school, I needed to hide a medal of our Lady of Charity that my godmother had given me, out of fear of being flagged, because religious people were social outcasts in my country for many decades.

There were some Jehovah’s Witnesses children who couldn’t salute the flag and were always bullied because they were loyal to their beliefs. I heard teachers harshly criticize them, mock them, and that was an injustice in my eyes, because I also had to hide my secret at the same time.

People lived in fear and celebrations like Christmas were seen as leftovers of Capitalism. We had to be poor and live like the poor. Nor could we keep in contact with family members living in the United States.

Ariel, a neurosurgeon, our friend, who recently passed, and served in the Angolan war was also a member of the Communist Party, and he was banned from keeping in touch with his own brother, who lived in Miami. The doctor made his choice: he handed in his Party ID and chose his brother’s love instead.

A Cuban child with a sign “Get out scum” at the time of the Mariel boatlift. Photo: EFE

In 1980, when I was at high school, the Mariel Exodus took place. Hate rallies began to be organized at my school. Those activities took place after classes in the morning.

Every student needed to go; they would take attendance. I saw these disgraceful acts, when we were urged to shout insults at people who had decided to leave the country.  Formal education and civility had nothing to do with those actions.

I hated this business. I decided not to go anymore. I would walk with the group a bit of the way, I would fall behind, and then I’d walk down another street to get to my house.

In my neighborhood, these activities were organized by the CDR defense committees. Eggs were thrown at the front of houses of people choosing to leave Cuba, and the victims suffered all kinds of humiliation. They would get out of control and would involve beatings and gobs of spit a lot of the time. People couldn’t leave their homes for many hours.

I remember one story that makes me laugh now… a lesbian neighbor wanted to leave in one of those boats that came to collect relatives, and were partially filled by the government with “scum”, or social scourges, as they were called.

When she got to the Mariel Port, she said she was a prostitute. A lie to try and get out of Cuba. The soldiers on duty looked her up and down with disgust and told her: “there’s no way you’re a prostitute, you look like a dike.” Our neighbor told us this after her adventure, as she wasn’t able to carry out her plan that time.

I have never had preconceptions, I had lots of gay friends, and we’d hang out at night on La Rampa, at the Malecon and the Coppelia ice cream parlor. The latter was one of their favorite haunts.

I remember one night we were sitting on the Malecon, and a policeman asked to see our IDs. My companion showed his. When it was my turn, he asked me what I was doing there at this time, and what I was studying.

I wanted to mock the guy so, I told him I was studying Egyptology (an unthinkable degree in Cuba), but the policeman replied: ah, very good, and he gave me my ID card back. I don’t know if he understood something else, but it really did make us laugh a good while.

The street was heated, things would turn sour in a second, when they would hold surprise raids on Coppelia and the Tea Café, on 23rd and G streets.

Pablito, an openly gay man, would get thrown into “La patera” (a cell in the police station where they would put all of the gays they caught together) quite often. They could spend hours on end there, even until the next day.

He would tell us about his experiences: they threatened him with “Danger to society” charges. A crime for unemployed men, who were sentenced to jail.

During one of these detentions, a policeman who was clearly homosexual, or bisexual, proposed Pablito having sex with him for his release. He told us that the policeman was good-looking, but that he wasn’t going to have sex and sell his ass in exchange for an alleged freedom.

Ridiculous things would happen, the Housing Institute would put stamps on homes when people emigrated. Nobody could enter them.

That’s to say, they would stop people from passing on a house or apartment to a relative, or friend. Then, people with a certain power would move in.

Before leaving for good, an inventory would be made. Those leaving the country couldn’t take their belongings.

There has been so much injustice, that I wouldn’t be able to write it all down in this diary post.

Read more from Irina PIno’s diary here.

3 thoughts on “Pages I Can’t Rip Out of My Life Story

  • Cuba is not alone in her history of discrimination. Many countries, especially my own, the United States, have a horrific past stained with the abuse of minorities, gays, practioners of certain religions, etc.. What sets Cuba and few others apart from most countries is the lack of due process. The abused in Cuba have little recourse to seek redress for their grievances.

  • Thanks for your coment.

  • Best & most relevant article I have read regarding the suffering of my generation Cuba. I have been visiting since 1997 and witnessed first hand the pain
    & prejudice caused to so many Cuban families.
    I grew up in Europe where people have the freedom to study any subject, practice any religion and be who they want to be. Of course there are still many social problems, delinquency and inequality but we don’t have to live in fear owing to our sexual orientation, political or
    Religious beliefs.
    The peoples suffering caused by the constant shortage of material things could be resolved quite quickly with international help & support. On the other hand, the prejudice & emotional scars caused by years of oppression will last a lot longer.

Comments are closed.