I’m Just a Number

Maria Matienzo Puerto

HAVANA TIMES — In 2002, when all humankind was convinced that the world didn’t end in 2000, Cuba was conducting its population census. I imagine it was intended to see how many Cubans were still left on the island (a notion that always makes me chuckle).

As for that historical week of surveying and counting, I really don’t remember it that well. But what I’m sure of is that it took nearly five years to come up with the results. What I know is that they omitted the 0.1 percent of people here who are Chinese, considering them insignificant, just as they considered it inappropriate to recognize that a major source of income for Cuban families were remittances from abroad.

To make matters worse, a friend reminded me that not only were they late in giving the results, but that they were never published as was established.

Then I remembered that I had access to that information because one of my professors in anthropology, which I was studying at the time, had been kind enough to give us the information, which she considered essential for the training of social activists and researchers.

I don’t remember exactly what the questions were that they asked, but I didn’t see so much of an emphasis on the electrical equipment that people possessed. However this concern comes from before the census, and I imagine that its aim is to show the world that Cubans can live on 50 cents a day in “take home pay.”

For me it’s a whole 53 cents a day (13 pesos in national currency). A veritable fortune, right?

As for topics such as skin color, one is defined as they appear and according to the degree of the understanding of the young interviewer. That’s what’s marked on the form.

This time, I was struck by one particular detail in the census (well, actually several details). When they asked your skin color, there were three options: black, white, and mestizo or mulatto – that was it.

Is the only possible form of multiraciality or biraciality here in Cuba a mulatto?

What about the descendants of Asians? Are they going to be omitted once again? What about the numerous Arab descendants here? Should they be considered “mestizos”?

I feel a plantation air as for why it’s so important to know how many blacks there are in relation to the Creole and “pure” population.

Another concern: The survey form was way too patriarchal. The owner of the house says how he sees others (if they have the opportunity or if they’re at home at the time) they say how they see themselves. Pretty representative, right?

I almost don’t want to mention the silence when it comes to the composition of new types of families, ones where its members are two women and a child, or two men and a child.

Nor does the form allow for showing how much the gay population in Cuba has grown, which wouldn’t be a crazy idea, especially if this involved implementing constructive actions in which sexual diversity was a part of civic education.

But there was none of that. It seems like we’re going to have to continue looking forward to a perfectly sexist white-led society. At this point I feel like I’m just a number to help inflate a balloon that’s distorted(?), farcical (?) – I can’t put my finger on the exact word.

But dear readers, this is the data on which future historians will have to rely, just as we trust in the censuses of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Maria Matienzo

Maria Matienzo Puerto: I dreamed once that I was a butterfly who had come from Africa and discovered that I had been alive for thirty years. From that time on, I constructed my world while I was sleeping: I was born in a magic city like Havana; I dedicated myself to journalism; I wrote and edited books for children; I met to discuss art with wonderful people; I fell in love with a woman. Of course, there are certain points of coincidence with the reality of my waking life and it’s that I prefer the silence of reading and the pleasure of a good movie.