And Where Does That Leave Me? / Yoani Sánchez

The first slap of her life came as punishment for mouthing an obscenity in front of her grandmother; the same phrase she shouted a thousand times in the street and at school but that, until that time, had not dared to articulate at home. The slap came suddenly, across her face, leaving a painful mark and a huge embarrassment. She was really annoyed with the old woman, because in the tenement where they lived bad words were an element of survival, the linguistic mark shared by everyone who lived there.

That blow was a painful but effective cure, because as she grew up she banished from her mouth almost all the thorny “flowers” of vulgarity. Even today, she blushes — with great frequency — when, in the middle of a conversation and for no reason at all, someone lets loose with a lexicon of vulgarity. She’s afraid that at any moment her Galician grandmother will interrupt the recital to slap the offender across the cheeks, berating him in front of his friends because “Your mouth is dirtier than a toilet!”

Last Saturday a military squad rehearsed for the upcoming parade shouting — on a central avenue — a slogan using the language of the barracks, sexist and dull. It was barely nine o’clock in the morning and the neighborhood kids weren’t in school, but at home and in the parks. The soldiers, marching by with their martial rhythm and red flag, energetically shouted:

The Yankees wear the skirts!
We wear the pants!
And we have a commander,
With the biggest b…s of all!

Her son looked at her scornfully, throwing back at her that she’d scolded him for swearing, when the same words were acceptable to the Revolutionary Armed Forces themselves. She couldn’t stop thinking about the bony hands of her grandmother, and how the tenement of her childhood had finally spread itself across the entire nation.

13 April 2011