By Caridad

Plaza Vieja in Old Havana
Plaza Vieja in Old Havana

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?


Caridad: If I had the chance to choose what my next life would be like, I’d like to be water. If I had the chance to eliminate a worst aspect of the world I would erase fear. Of all the human feelings I most like I prefer friendship. I was born in the year of the first Congress of the Cuban Communist Party, the day that Gay Pride is celebrated around the world. I no longer live on the east side of Havana; I’m trying to make a go of it in Caracas, and I continue to defend my right to do what I want and not what society expects of me.

4 thoughts on “<em>Appearances </em>

  • August 24, 2009 at 7:43 pm

    Yes it is Darko..and so isn’t stupidity

  • July 10, 2009 at 10:11 am

    There is one Irish joke. Daughter went from Ireland to work in England and after one year she returns to visit her mother back in Ireland driving expensive car and with a lot of money. Mother is very proud and talks to her neighbours about her daughter working as a secretary in England and how succesfule she is. At night daughter say to her mother: You know mum I’m not exactly the secretary I’m prostitute. Mother answers: What!?? What you are???!!! The prostitute, daughter answers. Oh thank god I thaught you were protestant…
    So the prejudice thing is all over our globe….

  • July 10, 2009 at 4:22 am

    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.

    i will forward this to Milagros (my sister ) who is in Cuba and i hope she will respond and if she dos i will post it here. The reaction to your father is one of the main reasons why sis takes on racism as she does..Some things never change and when assumptions come from foreigners who claim to want to help, I wonder. Milagros was right.

  • July 9, 2009 at 8:45 pm

    It’s nice to see people grow under socialism — even dirt-poor socialism (almost a complete oxymoron, eh?)

    As for the store clerk: there should be multiple avenues for address there, even if these don’t exist (now). In my mind these center around timely accountability to the immediate collective one is responsible to. So every store — or whatever these will become under a quickly advancing, “rich” socialism — should be run by a democratic collective, in at least a day-to-day sense. This way, such practice by any of the collective’s members would quickly be exposed –and dealt with, promptly (I would think). Another avenue would be for socialist businesses to also be responsible to the immediate community they exist in: in the form and practice of neighborhood councils. Complaints to democratic councils about business practices in their jurisdiction should put a stop to such completely anti-socialist behavior on the part of unaccountable bureaucrats like store clerks.

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