Reflections on Cuba – Literacy, Part One

March 5th, 2014 by admin Categories: Cuba Destinations Feria del Libro Mobile Public History Programming No Responses

Reflections on Cuba – Literacy, Part One. My first day at La Feria del Libro

by C. Wiatta Freeman.

 

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Photo credit: C. Wiatta Freeman.

La Feria del Libro takes place at the San Carlos de La Cabaña fortress overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. On the day that I arrived and every day thereafter, there was a large, multi-generational crowd in attendance at the fair. 

 

Photo credit, C. Wiatta Freeman

Photo credit: C. Wiatta Freeman.

 

 It was exciting to see thousands of people participate in the celebration of literature and to see the importance given to literacy and reading by Cubans.  Most impactful was seeing young children enthusiastic about their books and to see parents with their children sharing the richness of the experience. It was inspiring to witness an appreciation for learning encouraged at a young age and to observe that literacy and the joys of reading are recognized and celebrated in society as a cultural tradition. I know from personal experience the great value of being turned on to books and reading early in life. I learned to read quite well by the age of four and thus began my love of reading.  

Photo credit, C. Wiatta Freeman

Photo credit: C. Wiatta Freeman.

 

An early memory dates back to about the age of seven, when I remember sitting on my porch reviewing phonetic sounds with my brother who was three or four years old, helping to teach him to read.  I remember that I was so into it and warmly recall the thrill of my strong appreciation for reading. This early start is the foundation of a lifelong love that I have had for the power of the written word, for doing research, and sharing the acquired knowledge. No doubt this contributed to my later majoring in English Literature in college, to my current enjoyment for the intellectual banter of being a radio host for a public affairs program and of course the mental stimulation of the research process, which is a necessary prerequisite in advance of all my interviews. 

 

Photo credit, C. Wiatta Freeman

Photo credit: C. Wiatta Freeman.

 

So it really touched me to see many groups of young children and adults engaged with books. I know what a powerful seed is being instilled for a lifetime love affair with learning that sustains in the classroom and beyond as a result of a personal relationship with books.  It also reminded me of what I had read of Cuba’s 1961 Literacy Campaign, and I further appreciated La Feria del Libro as a descendant of that national mobilization project.

 

Photo credit, Grace Lynis

Photo credit: Grace Lynis.

One of my favorite photos taken at the fair is of a lamp near the sign “Leer es Crecer,” translated it says, “To read is to learn.”  This image is a symbolic reminder of how the Brigadistas would all be given lanterns with their uniforms and teaching manuals as they ventured throughout the countryside to teach their fellow Cubans to read.

Photo credit, Grace Lynis

Photo credit: Grace Lynis.

It makes me also think about the 1956 Montgomery Bus Boycott in the United States that sparked the Civil Rights Movement. It was Jo Ann Robinson and other teachers heading the Montgomery Improvement Association and their university students who began mobilizing African-Americans living in segregated Montgomery, Alabama after the arrest of Rosa Parks for refusing to give her seat to a White passenger.  Soon after, Martin Luther King Jr. and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference built on this grassroots initiative, to lead the Montgomery bus boycotts that famously helped galvanize a national Civil Rights Movement, which ended legalized racial segregation in the United States. Both the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the 1961 Cuban Literacy Campaign provide opportunities to appreciate and reflect on how community mobilization can have long-term transformative impact on society.

Photo credit: C. Wiatta Freeman.

Photo credit: C. Wiatta Freeman.

Thank you for reading. 

The next post by C. Wiatta Freeman, “Reflections on Cuba – Literacy, Part Two” continues by offering further observations, commentary and analysis, which recognize the significance of literacy and open communication in the global economy for the African Diaspora World.  -Editor