Between Joy and Sadness, Cubans Celebrate Mother’s Day

Madre-cubana-con-tres-hijo-_mn-620x330Ivan Garcia, 10 May 2015 — Although the cloudy afternoon threatened a downpour in the area south of Havana, Mark came downtown to shop for some things on the eve of Mother’s Day.

In a state-owned hard-currency store he bought clearance-priced food for 43 convertible pesos for his mother, leather sandals for his wife for 24.70, and a 16-gigabyte flash memory for his mother on the black market, paying $10 CUC.

“I spent about 80 dollars. The business of selling tamales is not going well, but I saw it coming, so a month before I began to save dollars (foreign exchange). With this money I bought plenty of postcards to send to mothers of friends and relatives, three bunches of yellow flowers for my mother, my mother-in-law, and my wife, and on Sunday May 10 between a grilled snapper, a case of beer, and two or three bottles of rum, the tab was around 100 ’chavitos’ (CUCs),” Mark says, while waiting for an old state-owned taxi.

Ricardo, unemployed, has only been able to buy five postcards for a peso at the post office. “If I can sell two sacks of cement, for twenty pesos (about a dollar) I can buy a cake that they sell in the bakery. Other years I’ve been able to give better things. But now I’m ‘arrancao’ (broke). ”

For two packs of Hollywood cigarettes and a can of Nestle’s condensed milk, Yunier, an inmate at Combinado del Este maximum security prison on the outskirts of Havana, can get a fifteen-minute phone call to talk with his mother and his sisters on Sunday.

“Someone is always unavailable on Mother’s Day. Last year my husband was in jail for shoplifting. Now it’s my son, and my youngest daughter, who went to Italy with her husband. The point is that the family is never together, “says Diana, Yunier’s mother.

For various reasons, on the second Sunday of May, a day of harmony and celebration, many families in Cuba are not able to celebrate together. Emigration is one of those reasons.

People like Yosvier pay twenty-five cents (in convertible pesos) per minute at a neighborhood house where there is a cubicle for clandestine calls abroad and he can chat for a few hours with his mother who lives in Hialeah.

“In 2014 she was able to come for a visit and the whole family could celebrate together. This year she couldn’t come. My mother is saving to get me out of the country. She works two jobs in Miami so she can send a few dollars to my grandparents and me,” Yosvier says.

For Hiram, Mother’s Day is an irrefutable sign of the anthropological damage caused by 56 years of the olive-green autocracy on the island. “My mother and sister left Cuba as political refugees and as long as Fidel and Raul Castro are in power they cannot visit their homeland. It’s been eleven years since I’ve seen them. On Mother’s Day they call me by phone.”

It is harder still for Onelio. On the morning of May 10th he will go to Colon Cemetery in Vedado to place flowers at the grave of his mother, who died of an aggressive cancer two years ago.

“I’ve spent about an hour speaking quietly with her. Wherever my mother is, she is helping me and guiding me. I was raised to be a good person. That day is very sad for me. ”

As the story goes, the first celebrations of Mother’s Day date back to ancient Greece, where they paid homage to Rhea, the mother of the gods Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades.

In Norway, it is celebrated on the second Sunday of February. In Ireland and the UK on the fourth Sunday of Lent. In 1914 US President Woodrow Wilson declared the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day, a tradition that became international in several countries, including Cuba.

Although there is not agreement among Cuban historians, it is believed that in 1920 the sports writer Victor Muñoz was the promoter of that date to also be celebrated on the island.

Despite laughable wages, shortages, and daily hardships, Cubans celebrate Mother’s Day.

The regime of Fidel Castro buried old traditions, and many meals are a distant memory, but the family unit has survived the Marxist ideological nonsense and the planned economy. Luckily.

Iván García

Photo: Mother with her three children in a Havana suburb. Courtesy of EFE-TUR Travel.