Saved by the Parade

Yusimi Rodriguez

Cuban Elementary School Students. Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES, April 19 — Leticia is an eight-year-old third grader.  Last Friday she was supposed to have an English exam, a subject she has problems with and doesn’t like a whole lot.  She was nervous all week because of the exam, at least until Thursday.

That day, her teacher informed all the students that there wouldn’t be any classes on Friday because of rehearsals for the 50th anniversary Bay of Pigs victory parade and “military review”, which would take place on Saturday.  This meant that regular transportation would be interrupted beginning at 1:00 in the afternoon, affecting some of the teachers and students who live far away.

Leticia breathed a sigh of relief since the following week would be vacation break.  This meant they wouldn’t have the English exam that week either.  In fact, she doesn’t know when it will be given and nor does she care.

At some elementary schools in the Vedado neighborhood, many children have been rehearsing for the parade starting early every morning for several weeks.  They’re thrilled.  When they finish the rehearsals — at mid-morning — they can go home.  They don’t have to take classes.

I wasn’t so lucky when I was in elementary school.   We had to practice in the afternoons after our morning classes.

During six school years I participated in the “military review.”  It was an activity that was carried out every year.  In first grade, we were the mambi independence fighters, and some of the boys — the whitest and lightest haired — represented the Spaniards.

In second grade we were athletes; in third grade, literacy campaigners; and what we did in the fourth grade I don’t really remember (it was twenty-five years ago).  In the fifth grade we were the bloc of Latin American countries, with typical clothes and dances, and in sixth we were outfitted like soldiers from MININT (the Ministry of the Interior) and FAR (the Revolutionary Armed Forces), with uniforms, whistles, police dogs, and coast guard suits; plus we were even driven around in fire trucks.

The older children participated in actual coast guard and army simulations, which made me envious.  I was crazy to make it to the sixth grade as soon as possible so that I’d have a chance to at least be near some dog, but that never happened.

For a whole month we practiced for the glorious day in which we would compete against other schools in the municipality.  It would be in a stadium in front of a public that would applaud us, and we’d before a jury in charge of evaluating us.  At the end, a ragdoll puppet representing Yankee imperialism would be burned in effigy.

Cuban Elementary School Students. Photo: Dariela Aquique

Our drills consisted basically of marching, marching for hours until achieving a uniform military-like step worthy of soldiers.  Those who were best would be placed in the front, something I never achieved.

I never found out what the award for the winning team in the competition consisted of, but nor did I ever ask; it was enough to win.  But nor did we miss a single day of classes for rehearsals.  In the morning we had classes and in the afternoons we practiced.

Studying and marching; those were our missions during those weeks.  I think that my generation was the last one to participate in military reviews.  The last year, when I was in the sixth grade, they said there wasn’t enough gasoline to take to all the school contingents to the stadium, and we weren’t even in the Special Period yet – it was only 1987.

Resources always available

But a lack of resources has never been an obstacle to carrying out truly important tasks.  Our military review was held in the school yard, with police dogs, salvos of gunfire and the burning of imperialism, or rather the puppet.

Shortages don’t stop us now either.  There are problems with transportation due to the rise in the price of the petroleum at the world level.  Every day we are called on to save electricity and fuel; we can’t waste anything.  We are a blockaded country but we suffer the effects of the capitalist economic crisis.

The problems caused by the lack of fuel affect not only public transportation, but also the transport of many crops which end up rotting in the fields.  But we have our parades and our military reviews, we have our marches and we will surely march again on May Day.

I know one young guy who was “mobilized” for the parade for more than a month.  During that time he hardly went to work.  Nevertheless, a few days ago in a meeting on his job he was recognized as a destacado (an outstanding worker).  Actually he was embarrassed.  “The truth is that I’ve barely even showed up to work.  I’ve been mobilized,” he said.

However a functionary interrupted and added, “But the thing is that this activity that you’re carrying out is extremely important.”

Later that embarrassment vanished as he began to look at things in a positive light.  One doesn’t know when they’ll have to compete with other workers for a television set, a vacation at the beach, or something.   Being an outstanding worker is always a point in your favor.

The tired don’t count

Many people take advantage of marches and political ceremonies to sleep in.  Some women wash and iron clothes for the week.  Others with cars can go lie on the beach.

Cuban Junior High School Students. Photo: Caridad

Others take pride in not having missed a single parade or political ceremony in their life, in having always fulfilled their commitment to the revolution.

Then others just don’t have the energy to accompany the marchers.  Still, like Joaquin, they will give their support from the armchair in their house, sitting in front of the TV.

Joaquin thinks about all the marches that he has attended in his life.  “All for what?” he moans.   After having worked for forty years, his retirement isn’t nearly enough to live on.  He has to do errands for neighbors to try to get by.  He can only pray that the inspectors don’t make him buy a license for that work.

“I’ve already done enough, now it’s time for others to do their share,” he says.  Like many people, he has been left exhausted along the road and has ended up forgetting what the original goal was.

But those who got tired don’t count.  They are not the ones who today appear on the TV screens in Cuba and around the world.  Instead, those who we see are those who still trust, despite the errors committed by the country’s leadership.

They prefer to remain united against the common enemy that Yankee imperialism represents.  They are the ones caught by inertia.  Though they don’t trust either, they believe there is no alternative.  These are the ones who are afraid of speaking their minds in their school, at their job or by their CDR (Committee for the Defense of the Revolution).  All of them fill Revolution Square.

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