One of the main characters of The Death of the White Rose is a woman in her mid-thirties, who is the chief of the auditing section of the Cuban IRS, El Tribunal de Cuentas during Batista’s regime. While one of the top three people in her department, she worked secretly in the underground supporting Fidel, believing in his promise to return Cuba to democracy under the 1940 constitution. She is a strong woman, who is a single parent with three children. She lives in a middle-class neighborhood in Havana with her mother and children and manages to succeed in her career while actively supplying the rebels in the Sierra Maestra. In many ways, this 1959 protagonist would have been quite at ease with the feminist movement that changed the lives of women in the U.S. in the 70s and 80s and was typical of many women who worked and raised families in the Cuba of the 1950s.
In a posting in TRANSLATINGCUBA.COM, blogger Rebeca Monzo recalls the life of her grandmother and mother in Havana of the 1950s. Her recollections of her family’s matriarchs caught my attention. These real people lived lives parallel to that of my fictional heroine. The photo of her school class reminded me of my heroine’s children’s schooling in Havana. Note the uniforms of the children and the educator wearing a business suit. Pictured is a public school class, not a Catholic school. The students are well dressed and all wearing uniforms. What is lost in much that has been written about Cuba prior to Fidel is that there was a substantial middle class in Cuba that enjoyed lives similar to the population of post-war United States. In many respects, the women of Cuba were more socially advanced that their sisters in the U.S.
Below is Rebeca Monzo’s posting, from http://translatingcuba.com/?p=16296
Rebeca Monzo, Translator: Unstated
Cuban women were in the vanguard among the first in liberating themselves in Latin America.
I was born into a matriarchy: All my family were teachers and pedagogues or, like my grandmother, a court clerk. My mom was very young when she graduated and began working immediately. First in rural schools and after accumulating experience, in the city. She was widowed when my sister and I were still girls. She remarried years later and divorced where her marriage had lost its reason for being. We always did fine thanks to her work and she was a wonderful mother and a very worthy woman.
In Cuba at that time women were working, studying, voting, earning college degrees, driving cars and even smoking. Some, like my aunt, were active in politics. This was never a reason to abandon their husbands and children.
Everyone’s lives were governed by schedules that were respected. There were also many facilities that allowed women to work outside the home: food could be ordered, as could products from the drug store, by telephone and delivered to the home. The buses ran on time and frequently, there were laundries, dry cleaners and many other services that eased the chores. That was the normal course of development, which was abruptly interrupted in the year fifty-nine.
Now, we, their heirs, are “liberated” and what we have achieved it to make our lives a mathematical equation: They multiplied our challenges and tasks, they subtracted the pay, and even divided the family.
And so, on March 8 I want to congratulate all the emancipated and liberated women and above all those who, despite everything, have been able to maintain regular and close ties with their families.
March 10 2012