Cuba and the Veil: An Anecdote

Isbel Diaz Torres

Yasmin junto a los miembros de Arcoiris Paquito el de Cuba, Negra Cubana Tenía que ser, Norge Espinosa, e Isbel Díaz.
Yasmin (l) along with members of the Arcoiris (Rainbow) movement.

HAVANA TIMES – It happened inside a bus in Havana some days ago, for all passengers to see. A teenager attacked my friend and colleague Yasmin S. Portales Machado, yanking the veil she normally wears so hard he almost made her fall backwards.

The young man, about fifteen, began to pick on her and yanked her veil the moment she got on the bus, to the surprise and displeasure of my friend and Luis Rondon, another colleague of ours who was with her.

The two reprimanded the kid, pointing out he was being disrespectful and overstepping the most elementary bounds of civility. “Don’t sweat it, it’s not so bad…” the aggressor said cynically.

That, however, was not the end of it. A few stops later, as the teenager was getting off the bus, he went over to Yasmin and, with a violent yank of her veil, almost made her lose her balance and fall down.

To defend Yasmin, Luis tried to grab hold of the youngster firmly (and even ripped his shirt trying), but he managed to run away, leaving my friend in a state of near-shock – a mixture of fright, anger, feelings of impotence and sheer surprise.

The anecdote is short and simple, but we can certainly reflect on its implications. We could of course simply say it was just a rude and mischievous brat, but, even if that’s true, it doesn’t mean other factors weren’t involved in this gratuitous, violent gesture.

Violent actions spurred by xenophobic, racist and discriminatory sentiments directed at anyone different abound in Western societies, and Cuba is no exception to the rule. Cuban society has become more aggressive as it has slowly entered the world stage, and I suspect that its many years of isolation have had serious repercussions for it.

The cynicism with which many assume racist attitudes, for instance, is something we can already appreciate in everyday life in Cuba.

According to Yasmin, no one had ever attacked her in the five years she’d been using the veil for. I know for a fact that Yasmin’s vividly and beautifully colored veils (the light blue one is my favorite) do not go unnoticed by others. I think this is very positive, and I think my friend likes the attention they get.

I had always thought the pride and determination with which Yasmin wears these garments would have sufficed to ward off any discriminatory gesture. However, we are beginning to see the true face of the intolerance we have sown at home and the consequences of a domestic legislation that has very little to say about these types of violent actions.

In 2011, Spain issued the Comprehensive Equal Treatment and Anti-Discrimination Law, a bill that stipulated that educational institutions that denied students admission for religious reasons (such as the use of the Islamic veil), could be deprived of public funding.

A move in the opposite direction was seen in France, where, in 2010, President Sarkozy approved a law prohibiting the use of the burka and nicab in all public spaces. The debate surrounding the use of these garments is of course complex, placing discrimination against women and xenophobic attitudes in the balance.

Fortunately, one can still find quotas of decency and civility among Cubans: several witnesses to the absurd attack condemned the actions of the teenager and showed support for my friend.

Isbel Diaz

Isbel Diaz Torres: Pinar del Rio and Havana are my cities. I was born in one on March 1, 1976, and I’ve always lived in the other. I am a biologist and poet, though at times I’ve also been a musician, translator, teacher, computer geek, designer, photographer and editor. I’m very non-conformist and a defender of differences – perhaps due to always having been an ever-repressed “model child.” Nothing enthralls me more than the unknown, nature and art; these serve as my sources of mystery and development. A surprising activism has been born in me over the recent period. Though I’m not very sure how to channel it, I feel that it’s a worthy and legitimate energy. Let’s hope I have the discernment to manage it.

9 thoughts on “Cuba and the Veil: An Anecdote

  • January 3, 2014 at 8:19 am


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *