A philosophy professor, one of those good ones who are becoming more and more scarce, once told us that true discrimination had its root in a person’s purchasing power.
At the time I agreed, and disagreed. We now know that everything is relative. That’s why I didn’t find it appropriate that a philosophy professor dare make such a categorical statement.
But in Cuba such is reaffirmed as a fact of life. Sexual and racial discrimination – being officially non-existent – are less evident, allowing more space for discrimination against people with less purchasing power.
A few days ago I was riding in one of those less common types of buses, one with few passengers. I was in the back with two empty seats on either side when I saw coming toward me a large family, clearly poor – possibly from the east of the island. I didn’t like the idea of those four kids and their parents sitting all around me, sure that they would be squabbling and fighting the whole ride.
Anyway, I thought to myself, those children aren’t to blame for being raised badly, and I helped the youngest child to climb into a seat too high for her.
“Thank you,” she promptly responded.
The girl wasn’t more than four and she was thanking me. I laughed hard at myself. During the whole ride I hardly heard their voices.
I always try to fight against the most minimum symptom of prejudice that emerges in me, but that time it took me by surprise.
I, like most of people, judged those people for the toasted – eastern – skin color, for their well-worn clothes, their beat-up shoes and their excessive procreative capacity.
Likewise, yesterday my father went to a store to buy a towel. The saleswoman looked at him and declared, “Here we charge in hard currency” and then turned her back.
To her it appeared that my father was incapable of possessing the other Cuban currency (CUC) for a towel. To her he looked like somebody unworthy of her attention.
By the same token, I have a gay friend whose biggest headache is his mother. She tried to control him all the time, every time he went out, always trying to find a girlfriend for him – even the most incompatible one – without listening to his concerns.
He already had a boyfriend, he didn’t need anyone else. However, he didn’t have a place to live, so he had to turn to the street, staying in friends’ houses.
After a while his relationship came to its end, but he found another partner. Luckily for him, this new friend had a house and was in a much better economic situation. Almost every day the new partner visited my friend’s apartment, bringing a gift for his mother.
“Now this friend of my son is good…” said the mother one day, pleased with her son’s happiness.
Among Cubans there is a joke that perhaps came out of a theater play: A girl tells her mother that she has a boyfriend, but that he’s black. The mother screams to holy heaven, until the girl hurriedly adds, “But he has a car, a house and manages a company.” The mother smiles and hugs her saying, “Well, my love, then he’s blond with blue eyes.”
Perhaps my philosophy professor was right?