I am Cubano and Granma is my keeper. Granma says she cares for me very much and always knows what is best for me – that I am always to trust her and let her guide my life, for she knows best.
She defends her control of my life by telling everyone of the free medical care I receive and the free schooling I can get. Except, if I want to go to university instead of a trade college it is much easier if mis padres are in Grandma’s special group called the party. But, if I work extra hard at school, to the very top, then maybe I can get in too.
Granma teaches me from the first grade what is right and wrong and I have learned my lessons well: all socialism good – all capitalism bad. We say it a lot in school in one way or another. She also has taught me to watch out for my friends who do not believe this so much, or for the ones who may even have other ideas. I am supposed to report them to Granma if they say the wrong things, especially if they say something bad about Granma. She gets really mad about this. It is not permitted, and they will be punished.
Granma keeps watch over everybody very close to make sure that no one strays too far from the right path. The men with the stone faces who stand on the street corners help her. She says she must do this because she cares so much for us and must protect us and watch out for us. Granma does not permit anyone to write or say anything bad about her or her party friends. If they do they will go to jail and join the other bad people who steal and rob and hurt people.
Granma tells me that everything that is bad, like when we have only a little rice and beans for supper night after night, and have to go to bed hungry, that it is the fault of the big mean neighbor who lives to the North. When we do not have medicine to help the pain in my stomach or when I catch the fever and have no medicine it is also the fault of the big mean neighbor. If I have to go to the clinic there are always very long lines, but sometimes we have the money to pay a one who stands in line for others who have the pesos to take his place.
Granma has now allowed many strangers from other places to come and visit our island and stay on our beaches and in the big fancy hotels to spend their green dollars. When I ride by on my bicycle I can see all the blancos with their sunglasses on the beach, but we cannot go there. It is forbidden. I am not supposed to visit with them when they walk by but sometimes it is hard when they are friendly. All my schoolmates want to work at their hotels some day because it is where you can make the green money to spend in the special stores that have everything, instead of the stores where we go that have mostly empty shelves. Granma says the shelves are empty because of the big mean neighbor to the North.
I have always really liked the sea but Granma says I cannot go onto a boat because she cannot trust me there—that I may want to leave the homeland. But it is not true, I love the homeland. One time three men took over a boat filled with other people and tried to go to the North land and they were shot in the head as a lesson. I love the sea and boats but I cannot visit my new foreign friend who invited me to come on his boat that now sits in the bay. It is not permitted. Someday if I am a fisherman like my Uncle I can go to the sea to fish, when I go out I have to first stop and tell Granma, and let her know when I return so she can take my fish and sell them to the foreign visitors at the hotels and restaurants for green dollars. Granma says she owns the fishes in the sea, so it is OK for her to take them.
If I want to make a separate party for those who think different, Granma says I cannot, it is forbidden. She allows only her party to be made and she is the only one who can make the invitations. If I try anyway to make a party on my own she will send her secret friends to come and watch our house and listen to our telephone and talk bad about us to our neighbors. It will scare them and they will not come over to visit any more. If we have a party anyway we can go to jail. If I want to leave for a visit to see my aunt in the other province I have first to get the permission of Granma. Then I must tell her when I will be back, and most important, I must tell her when I get back. If I forget I will be in big trouble.
Granma does not permit anyone other than herself to own a store; she says it is better if she is the only one who can sell things. If I want to buy a toy from my friend we have to go to the back of the house where no one can see because we might make Granma mad – all socialism good, all capitalism bad, except sometimes.
We live in Granma’s house and do not pay much money but the sink does not work, the toilet is broken and the window needs fixing. Granma says she will fix it sometime, and except for the mean neighbor in the North it would already have been fixed. We have a fan to keep cool and a little TV so we can watch Granma’s TV channel, but very often the electricity goes away from the wall—they say the mean neighbor in the North takes it. So we sit in the dark or with a little candle and fan ourselves to try and keep cool. When this happens we all pray that the electricity is returned before the little bit of meat in the freezer starts to stink and we have to cook it quick. Granma also owns the radio station that we listen to and the newspaper that is on the stand. This way we can get the good news of how much Granma cares for us and how much good she does for us and how things would be better except for the mean neighbor to the North.
Sometimes, when I am at the mass in la iglesia I see the stone face men sitting in the front rows. When the father has finished talking they get up and walk out without taking the communion. Everyone watches as they leave. I guess what the father says is good enough for them and they do not need to take the bread and wine.
All things considered I think we are much better for living with Granma. Everyone says so. They talk about the numbers and how our numbers are better than most of our neighbors who live in other places and speak our language. They say, if not for Granma, the mean neighbor to the North who wants to come and take our apartment would attack us, and we would have to live on the street like they do in other countries and have bad numbers. I am glad for the good numbers they say about us. When we are a little hungry and sitting in the dark we think about the numbers and it makes us feel better. The ones who say the numbers the most are the ones who drive by in the brand new shiny cars and have the fancy clothes and are fat. Everyone respects them and they are treated special because they are Granma’s extra special friends. They live in the big houses far away that have machines in their back yard that keep the electricity on all the time. But some of my friends are also very afraid of the fat ones. When they walk down the street, my friends walk the other way.
But I think it would be good to be a little fat.
John R. Bomar - Independent