Chapter One, page 9
the word “all,” stretching
the vowel to make it match the sweeping arch of her
arms over the entire class of thirty. Why is she so individualistic, so bourgeois?
And why does she insist in calling me señorita?
To be polite was to be bourgeois, a sin in Castro’s Cuba.My teacher wanted to be called compañera. She wanted my mother to become a “combatant mother,” a much-politicized version of the hard-driving PTA mother. I had begged my mother to join the mothers’ group and to start using the words that the government had popularized. But she eschewed any kind of organized effort, and her thin lips seemed to be built for softer words, like “Miss” and “please” and “kindly.”
“ Comrade” was harsh .“Combatant” was a military word.
Oxen have partners, my mother used to tell me. We are people. I don’t have a compañera, and I don’t wage war.
The weeks of school went by. My mother never knew that la señorita Tania— so young and innocent-looking—was mocking her in front of the class. I dared not tell her, for I feared her reaction. If she talked to the teacher, I was certain, the mockery would never end.
One Saturday, as my parents were dressing for their weekly outing to the movies, my mother asked me why I hadn’t yet selected my clothes for church. Every Saturday my parents walked my sister and me to our weekly catechism class, and then they would quickly leave for the movies. By the time the movie ended, my sister and I were taking communion. My parents waited for us in the back pews, hoping no one noticed they had missed mass. Neither one of them had been brought up in a particularly religious home. Yet they insisted that my sister and I go to church because, they said, nothing bad could ever happen to us there.
But I wasn’t so sure anymore that church was good for me, and I told my mother just that as she was slipping on her black high-heeled sandals. She got up from the bed, looked me in the eye, and asked why.
I just don’t like it, I said. It’s boring, and I have to confess, and I don’t have any sins, so I make them up, and I’m tired of that. My eyes welled with tears. My parents were stunned at my words.