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"The Forgotten Revolution"  literacy in Cuba

rec 9/29/06

1) 3:24 A radio essay Mp3

2) 4:32 B radio essay Mp3

 


THE FORGOTTEN REVOLUTION
===========================
[Col. Writ. 10/1/06] Copyright '06 Mumia Abu-Jamal

Because we all live in worlds where various social forces control our access to knowledge, some things in our fairly recent history fall through the cracks, especially in the U.S., where many of us are essentially ahistorical.

This applies to the Cuban literacy campaign of 1961.  As a Panther, I remember reading about it in my teens, but it was forgotten over the passage of time.

It really was a remarkable and unprecedented revolutionary act, one which was not accomplished by guns, but by pencils, and instruction booklets.

In 1960, a young Fidel Castro, announced at the UN that his country would address its illiteracy problems by attacking it directly, and waging a war against it.  By spring, some 100,000 schoolchildren volunteered to launch such a campaign, as "literacy brigadistas", who went into the rural areas of Cuba, among the peasantry, to wipe out illiteracy.

The miracle is by year's end, with the help of some 250,000 civil servants, they succeeded.  They worked hard, and quite a few lost their lives to U.S.-backed terrorism, accidents, and illness.  Yet, despite these hardships, they largely prevailed.

In an early work entitled *Children of the Revolution: A Yankee Teacher in the Cuban Schools* (New York: Delacorte Press, 1978) Jonathan Kozol interviewed a former brigadista, (and later foreign service officer), Armando Valdez, who recounted his experiences:

"I never could have known that people lived in such conditions.  I was the child of an educated, comfortable family.  Those months, for me, were like the stories I have heard about conversion to a new religion.  It was, for me, the dying of an old life and the start of something absolutely new.  I cried, although I had been taught men must not cry, when I first saw the desperation of those people -- people who had so little -- *No, they did not have 'so little,' they had nothing!*  It was something which at first I could not quite believe.

"I did not need to read of this in Marx, in Lenin, in Marti.  I did not need to read of what I saw before my own eyes.  I cried each night.  I wrote my mother and father.  I was only twelve years old.  I was excited to be part of something which had never happened in our land before.  I wanted so much that we would prove that we could keep the promise that Fidel had made before the world.  I did not want it to be said that we would not stand up beside Fidel." (pp. 22-23)

In one  year, the Cubans had done something that was never done before.  The nation's children, backed by the nation's teachers, left the schools, went into the rural provinces, went into the mountains, and taught people how to read and write.

Tens of thousands of these people would write to Fidel, with moving words written by fingers that had never written before.  One such grown student, Juan Martinez, would write:  "Nunca me he sentido cubano hasta que aprendi a leer y escribir."

In English, his words meant: "I have never really felt Cuban until I learned to read and write."

Why did Cuba, with such limited resources, in the afterglow of a hard-fought revolution, take on this task?

Kozol suggests that Fidel was inspired by the great Cuban revolutionary poet, Jose Marti, who once made the following call:

"It is necessary to engage in a campaign of gentleness and knowledge, and give the peasants a brigade -- not yet in existence -- of missionary teachers."  [Fr. *In the Spirit of Wandering Teachers: Cuban Literacy Campaign, 1961*, Alexandra Keeble, ed. (Melbourne, Australia: Ocean Press, 2001), p.8.]

The Cubans not only went on a literacy mission, they enlisted 100,000 children, to do so.  By so doing, they tied the urban to the rural, the middle classes to the peasantry, and enlarged the idea of what it meant to be a citizen of the nation.  They also taught a generation of children what the Revolution was truly fought for -- for the poor, the peasantry, the excluded people of the hinterlands.

Why is this remarkable to us, here in the US, in that era?

We live in an age of mega-riches, but also a time when schools are getting worse by the year, where literacy is a lost art; where Americans read less books (if they can read).

We have many lessons to learn from history -- this is but one.

Copyright 2006 Mumia Abu-Jamal
 

 


Copyright 2006 Mumia Abu-Jamal

[Mr. Jamal's recent book features a chapter on the
remarkable women who helped build and defend
the Black Panther Party: *WE WANT FREEDOM:
A Life in the Black Panther Party*, from South
End Press (http://www.southendpress.org); Ph.
#1-800-533-8478.]
===============================

 

[Check out Mumia's latest: *WE WANT FREEDOM:
A Life in the Black Panther Party*, from South
End Press (http://www.southendpress.org); Ph.
#1-800-533-8478.] 

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PLEASE CONTACT:
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Philadelphia, PA 19143
Phone - 215-476-8812/ Fax - 215-476-6180
E-mail - AND OFFER YOUR SERVICES!

Send our brotha some LOVE and LIGHT at:
Mumia Abu-Jamal
AM 8335
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175 Progress Drive
Waynesburg, PA 15370

WE WHO BELIEVE IN FREEDOM CAN *NOT* REST!!

Submitted by: Sis. Marpessa