Chapter One, page 8
school unless I became a Pioneer. When I finally did, at the
beginning of third
grade, my mother attended the ceremony; my father did not. I bet my teachers
noted that, too.
How can such an intelligent girl believe in God? Tania asked me in a mocking tone. Does God put food on your table? Noooo, Fidel does. Does God give you your books and pencils so you can come to school? Nooooo, the revolution does. I lowered my head in silence. I had been marked.
In the Cuba of the 1970s, even children knew that no loyalty was more important than that owed to Fidel Castro and the revolution. Before I learned my multiplication tables, I had memorized Che’s final letter to Castro, the one in which he tells him he has to leave Cuba because he was made for the struggle, not for the spoils of victory. I was told that Nixon was an evil man before I learned who Hitler had been or what he had done. I could recite Castro’s speech at his 1953 trial for leading an attack against a Batista military barracks before I ever laid my eyes on a poem by Lord Byron or Pablo Neruda. In school we were often reminded of how many children went to bed hungry or died of treatable diseases in places like Nicaragua, Ethiopia, and even Alabama, and we were made to memorize slogans such as “Fidel es mi papá y Cuba es mi mamá.” I mouthed the words but never uttered them aloud.
from the day tania discovered I went to church, she began to make fun of my mother.
She waltzes in and she says, Miss, how is my daughter doing? How are her grades? Is she behaving in class? My teacher would say this, walking from the center of the room to the door, holding her hand in midair, the way my mother did, straining in vain, with her short, thick neck, to look like my mother. My mother was so tall and elegant that this woman couldn’t possibly ever look like her.
So there I sat, first to the teacher’s right, surrounded by my giggling classmates, not knowing if I should laugh at her for looking so ridiculous or cry at the caricature of my mother she had created.
Why doesn’t she ask about all the kids in the class? Tania asked, emphasizing