Maria Matienzo Puerto
When I was a little girl and going to school, I remember having some friends who were Jehovah’s Witnesses, and that their parents didn’t allow them to wear neckerchiefs or salute the flag. We never completely understood it, and sometimes —hiding out in the bathroom— we’d play around by having them try those on to see how they’d look in full uniform.
In fifth grade I had a friend who had to dress in white because she was in iyabó (“being reborn,” in the Yoruba religion). Although she wore the school’s regular red skirt, the rest of her clothes (her shorts, sweater and blouse) were completely white, including a cap that covered her head.
I also remember having gone through elementary school with a girl whose mother was a homosexual. Although everybody knew it —I don’t know how we obtained such classified information— she participated in the same activities with all the other students. She suffered the same humiliations as the rest of us and we defended her equally from the hands of the boys.
Although they were somehow different from us other children, though without understanding too much about why, we barely paid attention to those differences. Now I believe that if we owe anyone for taking that position, it was our teachers.
Their punishment (though we didn’t agree with them at that time) was fair and not excessive; there was no type of deference based on one’s family income, culture or politics. Our parents could be whoever they wanted to be and we wouldn’t suffer the consequences.
“Knowledge was for everyone” – meaning we were there in school to learn, though after all these years I wonder about some things.
At that time there was nothing that prevented me from seeing the classroom as a place where I always wanted to go, or seeing the principal and the teacher as overflowing in understanding and patience, in addition to respect.
I don’t believe I was especially privileged. However, I did have a school garden and went to Pioneers’ camps (both in Tarara and Celia); they vaccinated me and I cried; I went swimming and camping on the outskirts of the city, far away from my mom. In addition, I was an Explorer and I learned some handiworks in an interest group. Uff! – there were heaps of enriching and good things I could go on talking about.
The prohibitions were always related to tardiness, not doing one’s homework, rudeness, fighting and impoliteness.
I think that after this recollection I’m feeling old because I see that everything has changed, though I don’t want to make judgments about what direction we’re going or if what’s happening is good or bad. I know that everything remains in motion, that times change – and with them people and values.
People had told me the El Cotorro (a municipality on the edge of Havana) was very radical in terms of political thought, which made me even more puzzled when I saw that school named after our national hero, Jose Marti, had a welcome sign that read something like: “If you are not coming here to study, speak and think about Cuba, Do Not Enter.”
I just wonder: Does there exist only one way of thinking about Cuba? What type of education is it that attempts to produce homogeneity, some sole way of thought, that doesn’t allow questioning or diversity of thought and action? Am I misinterpreting what I read? Because several hours have now gone by and I still feel confused.