Maria Matienzo Puerto
HAVANA TIMES — There was once a people that was so poor and miserable that they didn’t recognize themselves as being such.
It got to the point that one day, when talking to a classmate in my foreign language class, that “I”* (the protagonist of this story) wanted to make her see how our take-home wages were below the index of poverty designated by some global organizations. However her partner said “I” was exaggerating.
“I” remarked how difficult and painful it is for people to recognize themselves as poor, and this wasn’t far from the truth. One day “I” had to visit her classmate at her house and “I” realized from the furnishings in her front room that her reflections had been correct.
Of course, the conversation didn’t have a part two. “I” respect the decision of others to remain in complete ignorance.
But these miseries are fleeting, “I” thinks. Perhaps these can be taken care of with a stroke of luck. (Here you can never take care of anything with only what you’re paid from work.)
But the people in poverty referred to in this story are close at hand. This is a misery that has been gradually cultivated, over 50 years of paranoia of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution; it is poverty that follows certain unwritten laws concerning those who deserve more or those who deserve nothing among people who work like slaves.
These are pressures that make an immigration official tell me that my grandmother “for all practical purposes, isn’t Cuban”, because she has Nicaraguan residency. This same person will then treat me like a “bitch” because I know a thousand words more than him and I have the appearance of someone who has traveled half way around the world while he has had to sit in a chair eight hours a day “providing information.”
My story also discusses the poverty of Laura, another classmate of “I”. In trying to look better in the eyes of her German teacher, she said that “I” was a lesbian and a gusana (a counterrevolutionary, literally a “worm”).” Who knows which of the two would be the most tarnishing problem in the eyes of the teacher.
It’s not that “I” voicing what she thinks about the system or saying she likes women is so scandalous.
The problem is that people here are so used to hiding what they think, that Laura (the poor girl) thinks that her “revelations” will bring her some kind of advantage.
But “I” (the protagonist in the story), is very, very, very, very tired.
And I understand her. It’s a spiritual weariness. It’s one of those that you feel when surrounded for a long time by provincialism and mediocrity. It’s what happens when you don’t have the freedom to choose your own destiny.
NOTE: “I” (the protagonist) and “Me” (the narrator) are the same person. But having a split personality is an inevitable consequence of the psychological pressures caused by such limited horizons around me.