Brave Women

Catalina Pereira drives a worn down Fiat 125 down the streets of Havana. She is a humble woman of big stature. She struggles every time she gets into and out of her car. She never went beyond 9th grade in school. She finished her studies at night school for blue-collar workers. Her outstanding job working for eight years in sugarcane fields as a cutter made her an example of a national vanguard. In 1987, she was rewarded with a car in recognition of her work as a cane cutter and her militant vocation. She was never late for work nor was she ever absent due to illness. She even postponed being a mother numerous times just so she would not break her streak of productive years. When her brigade had the best results, she was summoned to a car dealership where the Union’s General Secretary said “Go Cata, pick whichever one you want.”

Fiat 125. Illustrative image.
Fiat 125. Illustrative image.

She recalls walking slowly around the car dealership searching through a sea of Ladas and Moskovichs fresh from the assembly line shining under the sun.

“There were also big luxurious cars from capitalist countries, but I am a humble woman who always hated showing off. I could not go home with any of those cars, so I picked a small Polish car. I thought I contributed to the country’s economy by doing so”.

Catalina today occupies the driver’s seat as well as part of the front passenger’s seat. The little Polish car has gone so many times to a mechanic shop that it looks like a mutant. The engine struggles to properly function and properly transport the Cata’s heavy weight. She mentions that she does not dare to drive out of the municipality fearing that her car would break down and leave her stranded in the middle of nowhere.

Sometimes someone shows up to her house with offers to buy her car, but she refuses each time. “I won’t. El Comandante gave me this car as a present! I won’t sell it for anything!”

Another woman with similar traits to Cata but with different horizons is Estela, who has been residing in Canada for many years now. She also finished her schooling at 9th grade, she also is so hardworking like Catalina and very daring when it comes to get what she wants. She has radically changed her destiny some years ago.

When she was very young, Estela was sexually abused by a highly influential and privileged man that lived on her street. The man was never charged with anything. She became pregnant with little Vania and became a tenacious, hardworking single mother until her daughter went to school. She then took classes in English, gastronomy and on international tourism. She got a job as a maid at an important hotel in Havana where she made good tips and got along well with guests.

The day came where “the miracle” occurred. A Canadian female tourist who closely resembled her,who also had a daughter who was at Vania’s age, stayed at the Estela’s hotel and the two immediately got along.

“They were weeks of intensive studies”, Estela recalled to a friend during one of her recent trips to the island. “I really did adapt to her Canadian character in terms of how they walk, talk, dress. The morning that she was due to return to Canada, without thinking twice, I took her passports and plane tickets. I then took Vania with me to the airport. In those times, customs were not as rigorous as they are today, but I was also very convincing throughout the departure process. I spoke English with the best pronunciation of which I was capable. When the plane took off from the runway and started flying over the ocean, I yelled in perfect Cuban Spanish:

“We did it Vania, we did it! The passengers wouldn’t stop staring at me during the whole trip, surprised at my behavior. Maybe they thought I was drunk or crazy, who knows. But I was really crazy….crazily happy that I was leaving Cuba”.

The friend asked her about the Canadian women and her daughter.

“They returned to Canada days afterwards without any issues. We are still good friends. Actually, we were already good friends in Cuba. It was her idea. She is an actress, writer and activist in defense of women’s rights.