Thinking about Cuba

Maria Matienzo Puerto

Cuba nature photo by Caridad.

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.

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.


9 thoughts on “Thinking about Cuba

  • April 6, 2010 at 7:12 am
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    Marxism has attributes that indicate a cult, including:

    1) It attributes infallibility to a man, Karl Marx, as though he were all-knowing and all-wise, as though he were a deity
    2) Those who believe in his infallibility lose the ability to analyze reality, and even when Marxism has destroyed every revolution that has tried to implement his core economic principle of state ownership of all the means of production, they cannot accept that his economic principle is dysfunctional
    3) Those who are adherents of Marxism spend their entire political lives isolated from the people, yet cannot confront the possibility that their ideology is flawed
    4) When Marxists exercise political power they doggedly pursue a demonstrably self-destructive economic policy, even to the point of national ruination and political collapse
    5) Marxism purports to be a science, yet rejects experimentation, the very heart of science

    It’s a cult, and is close to ruining the Cuban Revolution.

  • April 5, 2010 at 6:22 pm
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    Marxism is not a “cult” but a reasoned belief in the goodness of man. Religion is a reasoned belief in the control of man.

  • April 4, 2010 at 2:45 pm
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    Yes, JW’s are a cult, and a peculiar one. They have what seem to me–and to many others–a lot of wacky beliefs. What should be emphasized however is their civil and human right to hold these seemingly wacky beliefs, advocate them publicly, and to operate their sect legally.

    Christianity is a cult, a big one that has both a horrific and a noble history. Islam is a cult, a big one that saved the treasures of pagan civilization from destruction, developed higher mathematics, and contributed enormously to world civilization.

    Marxism is also a cult, a non-scientific, cult-of-personality, quasi-religious one. It has cocooned newly radicalized persons for a century-and-a-half and diverted them from a workable, cooperative program of socialist transformation. But it, like the others, should not be made illegal. It should be allowed to yield its fruit and prove or disprove itself in practice.

    The point is freedom of thought & discussion . . . Maria’s central idea.

  • April 4, 2010 at 10:41 am
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    Jehovah’s Witnesses are a cult because they try to cut you off from others who do not have the same beliefs, including family.
    The Watchtower is an oppressive cult if there ever was one!

    It’s amazing they are still around after 100 years of 100% failed prophecies. Truly amazing,that they can prompt their followers to actually go door to door with a 100% bogus message.
    Their Message is a Watchtower Gospel that,Jesus had his second coming in 1914 and they were the only ones who saw it and consequently the only hope for mankind.
    The Watchtower is a wacky Orwellian world.

  • April 4, 2010 at 12:52 am
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    To be honest..where your article is a good one i must share that diversity in race and education in the US has been a disaster not just for myself as an African of cuban ethnicity but for others who simply wanted an educ without strings..
    I was educ through the 8th grade in cuba in Catholic schools which was feat in and of itself. However coming to amerikkka and finishing my educ has served to show me what does not work..Cuba is Cuba..if u want something different or to see transformstion..Get up and struggle for it…Otherwise sit back relax and enjoy free knowledge…..vs 35k every yr?

  • April 3, 2010 at 10:27 pm
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    “Freedom of religion” is an historic accomplishment of the bourgeois revolution against feudalism.

    Freedom of religion and separation of religion and state is an historic accomplishment that took centuries to put in place. If one wishes to identify “imperialist agents” who might come into the socialist movement to subvert it from within, one asks: “What ideas would such agents hope to import, in order to alienate the people from socialism?”

    One such idea would be to counterpose socialism and freedom of religion. If successfully imported, this would effectively alienate the great majority of the people who–like it or not–are religious.

    The capitalist Engels and his front-man Marx attacked both religious belief and the freedom, under socialism, to practice it. This has been a political disaster.

    There’s no contradiction between religious belief and socialism. Engels & Marx fit the bill as “imperialist agents,” but some still have blind faith in them.

  • April 3, 2010 at 6:47 pm
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    Your question is too open-ended to deal with in full here. But I would certainly reject the simple-minded anti-marxism of the “Darkness at Noon” type of the previous commentator. I frankly feel sorry for people who come to such threadbare conclusions based on their negative personal experiences. But not too sorry; because they had the choice NOT to come to such conclusions.

    So: there are differences; & then there are imperialist agents who use such talk to cover their devisive agenda, for instance. Then there are the different experiences of people from different classes; differences between people based on their geographic location & history & family development, etc. Some of these would exist — some for only a while — in a fully socialist/communist World. Others wouldn’t. But yes, the tendency to ‘circle the wagons’ in a Cuba under siege is wrong — while being fully understandable.

    However, choosing religion over socialism is a step backwards, even as a free choice.

  • April 3, 2010 at 5:18 pm
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    As for homogeneity of thinking, the sectarians want us to believe that no one can be a real socialist without being a Marxist. I used to be a Marxist and held the same intellectually-paralytic conceit.

    Then, the reality of Marxism destroying every revolution that has tried to implement its strange state ownership formula caused me–little by littel–to come up for air.

    When I did so I discovered a whole new way of thinking about workable, real socialism. I discovered the original, pre-Marx socialist movement. I discovered the amazingly successful Mondragon Experiment.

    Now, I’m proud to say that my tenure in the Marxist fog is but a sad memory.

    Anytime anyone or anything tries to force oneness of thought, the intelligent person should suspect that something is fundamentally wrong and tendentious.

    Let’s hope the historic leadership of the Cuban Revolution comes up for air, before it’s too late.

  • April 3, 2010 at 4:15 am
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    Hmmm, Maria, all these undeveloped memories (though not memories of underdevelopment) remind me of those which flooded the protagonist’s subconscious in Fellini’s wonderful film, “8 1/2.” Childhood memories provide enough sweet cane for the centro of one’s memory to grind a lifetime.

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