Chapter One, page 7
speeches, but they were helpful to neighbors and often worked
without pay on Sundays, pouring cement to repair cracked sidewalks or planting
trees in community gardens. Despite their obvious political shortcomings,
were respected and even admired by some of the most militant members of the
neighborhood. Our downstairs neighbor, a woman who moved in after Marcelo
and Mery left for the United States, had fought in the mountains with Castro,
and her husband periodically received military training in the Soviet Union,
she talked to my mother every day as the two washed clothes on their patios,
their voices muffled by the floor that separated them and the sound of the
splashing in the sink.
Perhaps I should have lied then when asked about faith, but thus far my teachers had been kind to me, and in their kindness I had found a refuge from the dichotomy of my life. I could believe in God and Fidel. I could read Karl Marx and Mark Twain. I could play Angela Davis, the 1960s black radical, in a school play and sing in the church choir Saturday afternoons. Every day I tested my balance on an ideological tightrope, torn between school, where I was constantly told that the revolution had been built so that children like me could have a better future, and home, where the very mention of the word “revolution” caused my parents, particularly my father, to grimace. I had no reason to believe that my fifth-grade teachers would upset that balance.
To them, though, I was damaged goods, a smart kid who would never amount to anything because the counterrevolutionary attitude of my parents held me back. Teachers, especially ambitious young ones who aspired to join the Communist Party, aimed to shape the “New Man” that Che Guevara had dreamed about out of the pliable clay of a child’s character. But I, the daughter of professed gusanos—“worms,” the term applied to those who had not integrated into the revolutionary process and wanted to leave the country—was not moldable material.
My teachers knew that my father had been opposed to my becoming a Pioneer when I was five, the age at which Cuban children swear before the flag, in an elaborate ceremony, to grow up to be like Che Guevara:“Pioneros por el comunismo. Seremos como el Che”—Pioneers for Communism. We will be like Che. It had taken my mother two years to convince my father to let me wear the then white and- blue Pioneer neckerchief to school; she sensed I wasn’t going to thrive in