Lessons Learned in my Cuba English Classes

Yanelys Nuñez Leyva

Colonial. Photo: Juan Suarez

HAVANA TIMES — I have been taking an English course at Havana’s Julio Antonio Mella Language School for about a year and a half. I started my last semester this past February.

Throughout this time, I have had the opportunity to talk with different people and to become exposed to a different (and perhaps more profound) way of understanding certain aspects of our reality which sometimes strike me as distant, unbelievable and even foreign.

Some of these issues are well known by most people: the urgent need to raise the salaries of Cuban workers and how many professionals need to quit their profession in search of better paid jobs (in my class, there is a social communication graduate who works as a vehicle custodian, a “parqueador” , as they are known in Cuba). There are other serious issues that concern me also, and one of them is homophobia.

The intolerant attitudes I have perceived in young people (most of them well-educated professionals) not only saddens me but also makes me wonder about the close-mindedness of our generation, which reproduces the discriminatory values of underprivileged sectors, to the point of thinking it “disgusting” and “unnatural” that two people of the same sex should kiss on screen.

I couldn’t believe what I heard one day when, before going into class, I had a conversation about Cuban filmmaker Enrique Pineda Barnet’s Verde, verde (“Green”), which deals with the issue.

At that moment, I asked myself: what is being taught at Cuban schools and homes? What type of mentality are we developing?

Now, having gotten to know my classmates more and grown fond of them, I have even more questions.

How can we do away with such models as that of the young woman married to a foreigner who buys her clothing, shoes and jewlery, who gets a daily allowance and doesn’t do anything other than spend the better part of her youth cleaning her palace and going out to expensive places to eat and dance?

How can we change the paradigm of success that some of the students in my class have adopted, seeing the benefits that this “lucky” girl enjoys every day?

The girl is the center of attention in the class. People approach her in search of help. Those of us who work and live on our salaries aren’t that well received. But that’s the least of it.

The worst part is that virtually all of the girls in the classroom want to imitate her, and she makes an effort to find a foreigner she can introduce to her friends. When they get what they’re after, these girls will likely quit their jobs and devote themselves entirely to the “good life.” They will live off someone else’s money, because that’s “what gets results” in Cuba.

Yanelys Nuñez

Yanelys Nuñez Leyva: Writing is to expose oneself, undress before the inquisitive eyes of all. I like to write, not because I have developed a real fondness for nudity, but because I love composing words, thinking of stories, phrases that touch, images that provoke different feelings. Here I have a place to talk about art, life, me. In the end, feeling good about what you do is what matters; either with or without clothing.

9 thoughts on “Lessons Learned in my Cuba English Classes

  • March 20, 2014 at 10:50 am

    I’m not sure what Thatcher’s comment has to do with the original post, but what I was trying to say was that despite her rhetoric about “standing on your own two feet” and “rewarding hard work”, she got her own wealth in a similar way to the “young woman married to a foreigner” who “will live off someone else’s money”.

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