Margarita Alarcón Perea
I loved growing up in New York City. Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, Staten Island each borough has its own appeal. You didn’t even have to leave the island to enjoy life at the fullest and for very little money.
My mother used to take me to Little Italy for fresh canolli and then expect me not to be fat. She would romp around with me over on the Lower East Side hunting for good material to go and sew in Queens over at a fiends home.
Central Park was the place to ride a bike in the spring and summer on Sundays and Shakespeare in the Park was the way to end the days, learning about Tragedy and Comedy and Love through the minds and the voices of some of the greats, was the main course after throwing a Frisbee all afternoon and stuffing our faces with the best hot dogs in town.
School was easy. It was a drive down the FDR in the morning and a stay by the water. It was a time where gum and Marlboros were the forbidden fruits at UNIS (our Alma Mater back then). Where running in the halls was a mayor “no, no” and water fights in the stairwell could get you expelled. Metal detectors weren’t part of the scenario back then. Ironically, Punk Rock and the rise of Heavy Metal were.
I still miss those days and had always been dreaming of someday having a child and being able to have him or her relive my life back then.
I have the child, he is in grade school. He lives with me here in Havana. I tell him about UNIS, and Central Park, and Shakespeare and the hot dogs on 5th Avenue. He wants to visit my home town, I think he somehow knows how close the City is to me. What he doesn’t know is that my dream of having him there is slowly slipping away.
Cuba is a place full of problems and troubles. It is a small island with hardly any natural resources to speak of. It has been enduring a fifty year old economic blockade which has made life very difficult for everyone on the island. Especially children. Schools don’t have the best food for lunch and snacks, teachers often have to create impromptu teaching materials, uniforms don’t come easy. Even a pencil can be a thing to worry about. The school buildings are in much decay for the most part. At times, playing in the yard can be more of an obstacle race against holes and torn down fences than anything else.
It is also a country where children and Jose Martí are taken very seriously. Marti once said that children were born to be happy, and in Cuba this is a maximum that at times can be almost infuriating. You can’t scold your child on the street without expecting to someone to come up to you and softly intervene, at times simply hoping that your anger will subside with the tone of the persons voice. Kids are often seen running amok anywhere in town and far from being reprimanded, someone will always be at hand to say, “forgive them, they are young!”
Yet, it is still a country where many parents fear for how well they are feeding their children, how good an education they may be getting, how far in the world they will actually go.
For all of the troubles we go through, there is one thing we have as a guarantee: Cuban mothers will never ever have to go through what those families in Newtown Connecticut are going to have to deal with.
I’m not sure how much Cuba could teach the US on this and other issues, but something tells me there are more cards on the table than meets the eye.