Yesterday, July 28, I read in the Trabajadores ["Workers"] newspaper about the speech given by 6th grade pioneer Wendy Ferrer during the main event of a celebration in Artemisa marking the 61st anniversary of the attacks on the Moncada and Carlos Manuel de Cespedes Barracks. I could not help feeling shame and indignation over the vile manipulation that was so evident in the discourse read by this child.

To my understanding, the words and phrases used were not typical of a school-age child. If they were so, it would only be an even more lamentable proof of the terrible distortion fed to our students, a political manipulation that takes precedence over the true history of our country, and over true education. This is truly unfortunate. I believe that it is a civic duty to clarify for this girl, or actually for her teachers, some of the very sensitive aspects of her speech:

I completed my primary school studies — starting with a marvelous and unforgettable Kindergarten, as we then called what are today known as children’s camps — up to 6th grade in a public school, No. 31 of the Los Pinos suburb. Never, in our humble school, did we go without a school breakfast, as was provided in all public schools of that time. Nor did we ever lack notebooks — which I can’t forget included an imprint on the back of the tables for multiplication, addition, subtraction and division — or pencils, which were provided to all students at the start of — and midway through — each term. At that time, public education accounted for 22.3% of the national budget. There was also a private education sector, with wonderful schools founded and directed by great educators.

The Cuban educational system during the 1950s was made up of 20,000 credentialed teachers and 500,000 students. These figures are documented in the census and statistics of the era and confirmed internationally. Never in the public education sector was there discrimination against a student on the basis of race or religion. If a seeming dearth of black or mixed-race students is evident, this was only due to the fact that in those years, according to the 1953 census (which would be the last until almost 30 years later), 72.8% of the Cuban population was white, 12.4 was black, and 14.5 was mixed-race. At that time our population was six million inhabitants. The private schools were the only ones who had the prerogative to implement selective admissions.

According to my aunt, a great and respected educator and a public school director, the best teachers were to be found in the public schools because the government paid better salaries than the private schools. Also, many of these professors, above all those with specialties in music, art and languages, would also teach classes in private schools. For my lifelong love of music I credit — in addition to my family — those marvelous professors who I had in this subject throughout the course of my primary school studies.

To ignore these facts would be to cast aspersions not only on the Cuban educational system of that time, which was considered one of the best in Ibero-America along with those of Argentina, Uruguay and Mexico, but also on all those great Cuban educators who conferred lustre and prestige on our country. Among  them, to mention only a few, for the list would be interminable, we can name the following:

José de la Luz y Caballero, Rafael María Mendive, Enrique José Varona (youth educator), Max Figueroa, Camila Enrique Ureña, Mirta Aguirre, Gaspar Jorge García Galló, Raúl Ferrer, Carlos Rafael Rodríguez, Vicentina Antuña Tavío, Aurelio Baldor (whose texts are still utilized in Latin America), Ana María Rodríguez, Añorga, Valmaña, and many more who were the mentors of our most celebrated professionals.

For all this, I cannot leave unmentioned that, after 1959, government decrees so pressured the teaching profession that private schools closed down and a massive exodus of educators ensued, damaging the educational system to such a degree that new teachers had to be credentialed on the fly to educate “the new sons and daughters of the homeland”.  The result was a deterioration and decline of education in our country, what with it taking second place to politics. Many of our professionals, in exile today, cannot forget the discrimination they endured in the universities, due to their religious beliefs or sexual orientation, following the triumph of the revolution.

For this and many other reasons, I would suggest to this young pioneer – and to all the children of our country – to fearlessly seek answers from capable persons to clarify their doubts, gathering as much information as they can independently, and taking a bit more responsibility for their own education. Sadly, in our schools today, politics and government orders take precedence over knowledge.

Translated by:  Alicia Barraqué Ellison

31 July 2014

After having had to find out on my own — and wearing out the soles of my shoes in the process — what and where the registrar’s office for my area was in order to request a certificate that, in addition to other documents, was required to have the deed to my house certified, I finally found it. The premises, located on one of the most intricate and disrupted streets of Old Havana, were dark and unventilated. The very precarious furniture caught my eye. There was only one telephone, secured with a lock like those used on suitcases to prevent employees from making calls.

Luckily for me I had kept an old copy of the document in question. Otherwise, according to the employee — who treated me very politely, by the way — I would have had to look through those massive books, their bindings unglued and held together with string, under the same employee’s watchful eye, something which would have taken me all day. The books themselves were not particularly old but bore the hallmarks of long-term abuse.

Having completed the application, I then had to wait two weeks to pick up the document at the Courthouse. Imagine my surprise when on the appointed date I was allowed to go up to the office in question only after going through the annoyance of being forced to leave my purse and my belongings in a cubicle on the ground floor.

I did this under strong protest since I have never understood and still do not understand why one must leave one’s most personal articles in the hands of strangers. I let my displeasure be known, telling them that the same mistrust they displayed towards their customers — or users, as they like to call us — by making us turn over our purses, I felt towards them, adding that the only fair thing to do would be for them to provide a checklist of the belongings inside our bags so that we could confirm that nothing was missing when we later picked them up. Apparently, they did not like this idea.

I finally went up to the office where they had told me to go, but it turned out that the person who was supposed to give me the document had not yet arrived due to personal problems, so they suggested I take “a little stroll” and come back later. I spent the time taking photos of dilapidated buildings adjacent to the court.

By the time I returned, the employee in question had finally arrived, but the document that she was supposed to give me on the designated date was still not ready, so I had to wait in the office for almost two hours for her to prepare it.

During that time I witnessed situations that, as an outsider, should not have transpired in my presence. A pleasant one was when a worker from another department came to make an appointment to do some volunteer work the following day, but none of the five employees there took note of him.

Similarly, I witnessed the distasteful and loud protests of a woman claiming her son was still being held in detention in spite of her having paid his bail two days earlier. In a loud voice she threatened officials both present and absent and said that, if her problem was not resolved immediately, she would throw herself from the fifth floor window and those present would be responsible for her death.

Once they had handed me the document with its duly approved seals and relevant stamps, I headed downstairs as soon as I could and, in what was not a complete surprise, saw the woman who was having the problem with her son.

She was downstairs in the reception area, lying on the floor, very pale and barely breathing as the custodian and other employees were trying to revive her by providing first aid. Apparently, the pressure had been too much for her.

28 July 2014

The daughter of a Mexican mother and German father, Frida Kahlo was born in Coyoacán, Mexico on July 7, 1910.

She attended the Escuela Normal de Maestros and graduated from the Escuela Nacional Preparatoria. She dreamed of becoming a doctor until a terrible accident destroyed her body, forcing her to lay in bed for many months and receive painful treatments, causing her to stop studying medicine.

In the midst of her dramatic convalescence, her iron will and attachment to life led her to become extensively self-taught in the arts and the mysteries of painting. She became an artist and took advantage of her knowledge to teach classes at the Escuela de Artes Plásticas in spite of her physical limitations.

Her first exhibitions demonstrated her talent, which she continued to develop and which culminated in a magnificent work, turning her into one of the most famous painters of her type worldwide.

She impressed upon her work all the pain, feeling, and sensitivity that characterized her life. The memory of Frida is inextricably linked to the great muralist Diego Rivera, who was her husband, lover, confidant, and greatest critic and admirer. In spite of a tempestuous marital relationship, art united them until the end of her life, on July 13, 1954.

This month, Mexico pays homage to those who hold a seat of honor in the plastic arts of the 20th century. I am also joining in this commemoration since Frida was a source of inspiration and presence in my patchwork art.

Frida Kahlo narrated her life through painted images. The painting of this great artist is like no one else’s. As Diego Rivera, her husband, pointed out one day, she “is the only example of the history of art, of someone who tore open her breast and heart to tell the biological truth of what she feels in them.”

Most of her work is unknown; it is held in private collections and by friends. The value of it grows each day.

Translated by: M. Ouellette

21 July 2014

For several days now I have not published a post, despite my desires to do so and the nagging thought that it wasn’t getting done.

It is true that the World Cup robbed part of my attention, but that was not what impeded my writing. Rather, it was all the tasks that were piling up in relation to an upcoming exhibition of my works. Preparing for this event takes a lot of effort and dedication, as does the negotiating required to obtain adequate materials.

Even so, with all due respect, I would be remiss if I didn’t comment on the recent visit of Dr. Margaret Chan, General Director of the World Health Organization, and the statements she delivered in the University of Havana’s Grand Hall, during the unsuitably named magisterial conference. Dr. Chan expressed that, thanks to the Cuban government, our people do not eat junk food. She also praised the work of our public health.

I really do not comprehend how these people, who occupy such relevant posts in the United Nations (UN), take at face value the reports provided by totalitarian regimes, without taking the trouble to check the facts through other means and compare other data.

Most of us know that these people are hosted in our country by high-level officials, and that they are taken over and over to the same places, which obviously are set up for such purposes, e.g.: a certain floor of Almejeiras Hospital, the Biotechnology department, and the La Castellana special school for differentiated teaching, among others. In addition, the visitors are customarily taken down 5th Avenue in Miramar, and they never stop at locations that aren’t set up for these political purposes.

How is it possible that the supreme body that oversees all of these organizations — the UN — has yet to take the trouble to look into these matters more deeply?

Translated By: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

15 July 2014

 

My aunt is one of the many thousands of Cubans who never tires of thanking that nation that welcomed her and permitted her to safeguard the security of her adolescent son, giving her the opportunity to work and forge a better and more secure future.

Even so, since her prolonged exile, which began in 1961, she does not let a single day go by without thinking of that marvelous land where she was born, studied and had a beautiful family and which she never intended to abandon until she found herself forced to do it.

Within days she will turn 99 years old and still she keeps dreaming of returning to a free Cuba, although she is now aware that those who will enjoy that forthcoming moment are going to be her grandchildren.

Happy July 4th to the nation and people of the United States of America.

Translated by mlk.

4 July 2014

Map of the Ringling Complex.

I still remember with much fondness the circuses of my childhood, but above all the marvelous and spectacular Ringling Brothers, that would arrive in our country in December — in the early days encamping in the old Sports Palace on Paseo and Primera streets, facing the sea — and later, towards the end of the 1950s, in the then-resplendent Sports City.

Carmen, punctual as is her wont, came to get me at 5am so that we could go together to the meeting place from which the bus would depart that would take us from Miami to Sarasota. We were the first to arrive, even before the bus, because we are both like that, super-careful in meeting our commitments. Little by little the other tourists began arriving until the full group was assembled.

The tour guide was a “cubanaza*”- very amusing and active, with a great love of the arts – who specializes in putting together these types of excursions, all with a cultural purpose. And so, between storytelling, laughs and songs – including interesting raffles of books and small paintings created by some of the tour participants, among whom were writers, a poet and even a painter – we made this long trip which turned out to be most pleasant.

Arriving in Sarasota, the tour personnel provided us with ID wristbands and maps of this lovely place, so that each person could choose their companions and where to begin their journey through this grand cultural complex, a major attraction and pride of this city, which has been converted from the mansion, art gallery, theater and other property that belonged to the family of John and Mable Ringling, which they bequeathed as a heritage legacy, and which since 2000 has been under the guardianship of Florida State University.

Everything, absolutely everything, impressed me because of its grandeur and splendor, but what most amazed me, owing to its magnitude and level of detail, was the impressive scale model of the great circus industry that gave life to this family empire, whose spectacles I enjoyed every winter in my beloved Havana, up until 1959.

The family mansion, called “Cad ´Zan” by its owners — which in the Venetian dialect means “John’s house” — was built by the architect Dwight James Baum in 1924, in the Venetian baroque style, impressive for its luxury and excellent state of preservation.

Another great attraction is the Museum of Art which displays collections of the most famous European painters: El Greco, Rubens, Velázquez, Veronese, Gainsborough, and other great masters. The building is surrounded by splendid gardens, where the sculptures look to be enjoying the marvelous surroundings. We also visited the Asolo Theater, built in 1798, dismantled and transported from Italy to be added to the Ringling complex in 1948, becoming the only 18th century theater in the United States of America.

We returned well into the evening, satisfied and exhausted from so much walking and enjoyment of this well-organized and enjoyable excursion to one of the most interesting corners of this beautiful State of Florida.

*Translator’s note: “Cubanaza(o)” can be said to be a sort of “super Cuban” – someone who is almost a caricature of the Cuban style of speech, mannerisms, attitudes, etc. The term as used by a fellow Cuban to refer to another is often – as in this case – one of endearment.

 Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

16 May 2014

The heat was death, the Route 27 bus stop overflowing with people, from which we could conclude that not a single bus had passed for a long time. Asking one of those present, I was told they had been waiting for more than an hour.

I hadn’t been at the stop five minutes when I saw in the distance the yearned for “ghost bus.” We all ran towards it, having divined the intentions of the driver to not  stop where he was supposed to, which is a common occurrence. Between pushing, protests and rude phrases, I managed to climb the step, and at just this moment I was confused because the difficulty of getting inside was greater than I already knew it would be.

I’m sure I haven’t gained weight, I told myself, clinging to my bag, which I was wearing, as usual, hanging from my shoulder, and I put it in front of me. At that moment I realized that the narrowness of the access was because on both sides of the entrance steps where you access “the belly of the beast” they had placed some iron bars, like those used in corrals to guide the cattle into the pens.

Addressing the driver, who in these moments had left the wheel and was standing next to the fare box trying to collect, I protested loudly so that he could hear me, but those behind me were rudely pushing me, making me afraid to stay there. Whomever had designed this device, I said, thought that we passengers were cattle being led to the slaughter, without realizing that there were no cattle here, only sheep.

Nobody responded, everyone continued pushing and elbowing each other until finally, squeezing by, we managed to get aboard. Then the driver closed the doors and took off at full speed, and then two blocks later scared us all by braking suddenly at the red light at Paseo Street. We were all shaken up and when he started up again we fell all over the inside of the bus like dominoes.

The “brain” that designs these horrendous orthopedic gadgets, which are nothing more than technological bars, didn’t consider the safety of the passengers at all, because if there were an accident or a fire they would make evacuation extremely difficult.

Nor did they consider the discomfort of disabled people who have to use crutches, or the obese people who can barely squeeze into the bus without hurting themselves, or those who travel with children in their arms.

If the objective is to assure that citizens pay their fares, the solution would be selling the tickets ahead of time, which would also avoid the driver “appropriating” the corresponding change. This is another unresolved problem, because when you pay with a peso (often scarce) the driver always keeps the change from a forty centavo trip.

Every day that passes we receive the worst treatment on public services, but as the majority of us accept it calmly and quietly, the authorities have come to believe that we really are animals and they treat us like ones.

27 June 2014

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