News and Facts about Cuba

Accessories and Sandwiches

Accessories and Sandwiches / Regina Coyula
Posted on September 8, 2014

The year has just begun, the first for many children. Filled with
enthusiasm and wonder, these little ones are unaware of the disruption
their new status as students creates for many Cuban families.

Along with the canasta basica,* the school uniform is the last holdout
of the ration book as far as manufactured goods are concerned. It is
provided to each student upon enrollment in the form of a ticket to buy
subsidized uniforms, which he or she must treat with great care since
there won’t be any more given out until the fourth grade.

As everyone knows, in Cuba is free but other expenses related
to a child’s schooling come directly out of the family budget. I am not
referring only to shoes, a backpack or a lunchbox. The first parents’
meeting will confirm what families already know from their own
experiences or those of others.

There are always parents who offer to buy paint and others who offer to
paint. There are always collection drives for cleaning supplies and
sign-up sheets for mothers to clean bathrooms. It is now standard
practice to start the school term every year by collecting five CUC per
child to purchase fans.

Teachers and administrators adopt a stance of giving in to these family
initiatives in a game of role playing in which it is assumed that the
Ministry of Education will provide everything that is needed to do the
work and that the family wants what is best for its children.

All this and other things that follow are part of an unwritten but
demonstrably effective methodology, which only gets better from one
school term to the next The youngest children must not bring backpacks,
only luncheras (lunch boxes). If they bring soft drinks, they must be in
plastic containers, even if they are in cans. Everything must be able to
be kept at room temperature.

Special emphasis is given to the lunchtime sandwich. No roast beef,
ground meat or fish. Chicken must be shredded, ham sliced. Even better
if it is the ever popular perrito (or hot dog).

Every pre-schooler must bring a sturdy shoebox to store all his or her
projects for the entire school term. They must also bring scissors for
cutting paper, crayons, an eraser — all items available only in hard

The classroom is a place where the disparities that have become
entrenched in society are there to be seen. Every student has a right to
education but equality ends there.

From the moment they arrive at school, even before morning classes
begin, their footwear and accessories tell a story of which the students
themselves are ignorant protagonists and about which their parents will
speak in private with cynicism or shame, depending on their personal
ideas about what constitutes success.

Translator’s note: The “basic basket” is an allotment of foodstuffs
intended to provide Cubans with a minimum of 3,100 of calories per day.
The items include , , sugar, cooking oil and coffee. There is
also a monthly allotment of meat, chicken, and eggs. Prices for these
goods are heavily subsidized but the items themselves are often in short

5 September 2014

Source: Accessories and Sandwiches / Regina Coyula | Translating Cuba –

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